Horse Trials will host hundreds

The Whidbey Island Pony Club is hosting its Horse Trials July 7-9, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the event.

The trials annually attracts over 240 competitors from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Montana, Nevada and Canada, and regularly attracts Olympic hopefuls for their qualifying rounds and practice. It was the first event in the Pacific Northwest to offer the preliminary level.

“It’s the second largest event at this level on the West Coast, and has the most beautiful site for an event in the Northwest,” said Roberta Piercy, Pony Club volunteer.

Whidbey Island Pony Club has been in existence since 1964. Clubs usually focus on a particular type of riding and they usually have to do some form of fund-raising to help defray the cost of facilities for lessons, clinics and the like. The club’s primary fund-raiser is the annual WIPC Horse Trials.

“It is important to note that even though our club is for young people, the event is for competitors of all ages and is sanctioned under US Eventing Association,” Piercy said.

Horse Trials are three-day events and are one of three internationally recognized sports offered at the Olympic Games with competition throughout the world. It is the equestrian version of a triathlon. The event includes:

Dressage on Day 1: This tests the horse’s elasticity and movement, obedience and acceptance of rider’s aids.

Endurance (cross country) on Day 2: This is the most exciting portion of the event. The horse’s speed and endurance over a course of natural obstacles is tested.

Stadium Jumping on Day 3: This tests the horse’s fitness and recovery on the third day, over a course of bright show jumping fences, where the nick of a hoof could drop a pole and score a fault.

The WIPC Horse Trials is the oldest recognized event in the Northwest, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and it’s the only event in Washington to host an Olympic screening trials, held in July 1977.

The cross country course is the most expensive part to build and maintain. The course has to meet standards of safety and challenge set by the United States Eventing Association to become a “recognized” event. Course building requires manpower, machinery, natural lumber and building materials.

“We maintain over 30 natural jumps, some with water, ditches, and banks,” Piercy said. “All of these require regular maintenance as boards and logs rot or come loose from wear, ground erodes, footing must be maintained, as safety is paramount for the horse and rider.”

Each year in July competitors from all over the West Coast descend upon Whidbey Island. There have been about 250 competitors for each of the last three years and they usually bring with them a friend or groom to share in the experience. Many of them camp alongside their horse’s stabling, but others seek rooms in local motels, inns and B&B’s.

“The event is growing,” Piercy said. “We currently have 275 entries for 2006.”

The competition starts on Friday morning and lasts until Sunday evening, but the competitors start arriving by Thursday morning. Once the horses are cared for each day, many people venture into Oak Harbor and Coupeville to their restaurants. Others eat at the on-site concession which serves up hot meals three times a day.

There are many vendors who vie for the opportunity to set up booths at the events, knowing a captive audience that is available to generate business.

“It is truly remarkable that a small group of dedicated parent volunteers have been able to bring this event to the status it enjoys today,” Piercy said.

A few years ago the Pony Club lost the use of the Navy’s survival grounds and the club had to move and rebuild at a new event site, the one occupied today.

Piercy credited Chuck Arnold and family for making the new site possible. The Pony Club leased approximately 70 acre next to the Arnold farmland off Zylstra Road. Most non-equestrian Whidbey Islanders would not even know of its existence, since the land is quite private and during the duration of the event the horse trailers and vehicles are mostly hidden from the roadways.

The public is welcome to attend the competitions and there is a steady flow of visitors each day. The heaviest day of spectator activity is Saturday, during the cross country jumping portion of the event. “Everyone loves watching these magnificent animals galloping across open fields and jumping huge logs, fences, barrels, ditches, banks, corners and, of course, through our water complex,” Piercy said. “The athleticism of horse and rider amazes and exhilarates the spectators. It is always a day of excitement for everyone.”

The event site is open to visitors from 7:30 a.m. to dusk. It is located 1.5 miles north of Highway 20 on the east side of Zylstra Road, just south of Van Dam Road. Signs will be posted. For volunteer opportunities, call Roberta Piercy at 929-3607.