Horses, sunshine, food and fun – these are a few of the delights awaiting the attendees of the 22rd annual Red Hills International Horse Trials held in the beautiful Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park in Tallahassee, Florida.
For the last two decades, Tallahassee has hosted the world-renowned equestrian eventing competition, attracting competitors for levels ranging from Preliminary to the four-star division.
This year, the competition begins Friday, March 6 with dressage, continuing with cross-country on Saturday, March 7, and completing the competition on Sunday, March 8 with stadium jumping.
What competitors love about the Tallahassee challenge is the spectator turnout, which creates a “sporting event” feeling, says David O’Connor, course designer and Olympic gold medalist. The Olympian (individual gold in the 2000 Games held in Sydney, Australia), is a former Red Hills competitor himself.
The international competition draws roughly 20,000 spectators throughout the weekend, and is accessible and accommodating for people with disabilities.
Spectators can wander the shady acres of the park and enjoy watching riders compete in the first the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) competition in preparation for the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo, Japan.
Attendees can stroll through an avenue of shops with local and regional vendors touting shopping delicacies such as jewelry, luggage, clothing, hats, art, top-of-the-line tack shops as well as a variety of food trucks. The weekend offers families a picnic space with a kids’ play area, bounce houses and sand pits. New this year is a beer garden featuring local craft brews and award-winning Farmer’s Daughter Vineyard wines.
There will be a number of interesting exhibits set up in the center of the park, and will include dog rescues, a gopher tortoise conservation program, pony clubs, Hands & Hearts for Horses and more.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome while on leashes.
The first phase of the competition on Friday challenges horses and riders in dressage. The tests are hosted in a wide-open field where onlookers can observe by standing or sitting on bleachers. Dressage is the equestrian equivalent of gymnastics or ballet.
Saturday’s cross-country brings out tailgaters, sponsors and families looking for a weekend event. This phase requires the horse to jump a series of roughly 20 to 40 solid, stationary objects spread throughout the park that the horse has not previously seen. Riders are allowed to walk the course ahead of time.
The fences are built of natural materials and are meant to look like obstacles such as ponds and streams, ditches, hills, and banks.
Sunday wraps up the weekend with the final stadium jumping round hosted in the sunny center of the venue. The purpose of this last phase is for the horse and rider to demonstrate their endurance after the cross-country day. Unlike the previous day’s jumps, stadium jumps are lighter and built with rails, which are easily knocked down.
At the end of the three tests, each competitors’ penalty scores are totaled and the horse and rider team with the lowest number of penalties, the lowest score, wins.
Sanctioned by the sport’s international and national governing bodies, the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and the United States Eventing Association (USEA), Red Hills hosts competitors from across the United States and the globe, including Norway, Australia and Canada.
Riders often bring multiple horses to compete during the weekend, and Red Hills is usually the first major eventing competition on a rider’s competition schedule.
“The road to Tokyo, or the World Equestrian Games over the years, comes through Tallahassee,” O’Connor said.
The 2020 Summer Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo.