Situated in the middle of horse country, Plantation Field has steadily grown from a local horse trials into a destination event. This past weekend riders flocked to Unionville, Pa., from up and down the East Coast to participate in the CIC and horse trials. Joanie Morris had the chance to sit down with organizer Denis Glaccum and landowner Katie Walker to discuss the evolution of the event, what it means to the community, and what it can do for the sport of eventing.
How did you end up having this event here on this wonderful piece of land?
Denis: I approached the Walkers in 2000 and suggested that this field, which until then had been primarily used for grazing cattle, would be a superb place to run a horse trial. I always wanted to go back and do an international event, but that wasn’t the first thing in my mind then. The biggest change now is that we have the property behind the original piece of land, we have access from four roads, and we don’t have to use the ground across the street. That has created a whole new dynamic.
Cuyler Walker, whose family has owned this land for years and years, had no eventing background, but now they are not only enthusiastic about our event, they are also enthusiastic about the sport and making this a go.
Now we have the community, led by Katie and some other wonderful people who manage the “non-equestrian” side of it, and we all get along relatively well with each other. I don’t work well on a committee; I like the old Frank Welling phrase that a committee of three is two too many. So we don’t really call it a committee. We call it a small group.
Did this evolve past your expectations?
Denis: Yes. There were limitations on the property. Most of them now can be addressed through growth. It’s a much better venue than I thought because of the natural old turf and the type of soil. I haven’t seen any place in this country where the loamy topsoil is as plentiful.
When you started to get involved in this event beyond as the landowner, what was your vision for the event and your involvement in it?
Katie: Denis had been a tenant for years, and we had attended the event as spectators, but when Denis started the international levels, I think we did it for one year, and then Phillip Dutton sat us all down and said, “I think this could be something.”
That piqued my interest as well that of a few others. We met a few times, came up with some ideas and threw it together. We are now in our fifth year, and year by year it’s just gotten way beyond any of our expectations and fulfilled what Phillip had talked about in that first meeting.
We wanted to make it a community-oriented event. We had two goals: to get people out here to see the majestic beauty of this open space and to expose people to this wonderful sport of eventing. We definitely achieved the first one, and the second is a work in progress.
When I first sent out sponsor mailings, the money just started coming in; people were behind it from the start. There were hiccups and bumps, but everyone stood by it. There is a lot of loyalty there. It has been far, far beyond what we had hoped.
Denis: You can run a horse trial and survive, but you cannot run a CIC without sponsorship. Katie and her crew got involved and have done an amazing job.
Talk about the arena.
Denis: Mary Alice Malone of Iron Springs Farm and Joy Slater gave us the Tapeta footing. I designed the arena to be as natural as possible, and that’s why it’s an oval because that was what the property is: an oval. I’m not an architect, but Frank Lloyd Wright was, and he believed in natural architecture, and that is how the arena fits. And then we got someone to build it, and I designed it. What was fun is that each step of the way Katie and Cuyler would come up with ideas, and we would improve upon the initial design.
For example, when we had it pretty much done it was apparent that we were going to have a dirt bank. We thought, “Wouldn’t that be great if it were a stone wall?” Immediately, Katie and Amy Ruth Borun jumped on the idea and found the funds to do it and found the people to sponsor it.
Katie: And Amy was one of them. I got all the stone donated, and she funded the construction.
Denis: We need more footing and more arenas and a lot of other things. But they will come as long as the eventing community wants to support this. American horses, even when they go to Rolex Kentucky, are at a disadvantage to the rest of the world as they aren’t in venues where there is atmosphere and an electric environment. One of our biggest objectives, by keeping it just at the upper levels, is to give them experience competing in a high profile and highly electric atmosphere, and that is what we are trying to create.
Tell us a little bit about the work that has gone into the course.
Denis: When we came in off the old road, the course was a serpentine coming up the hill. As soon as we changed the orientation of the venue to the top of the hill, the whole direction of the course changed, and the serpentines are across the property.
It was a challenge. But we got together with Tremaine Cooper, who designs the CIC*** and the committee, and we said, “Look let’s have a strategic plan even if it’s a loose one—let’s have a plan where we can come up with a track.”
The gallops are dedicated lanes and are mowed, and we have a wonderful person on our committee, Jamie Hicks, who is from a third generation farm family, and he advises us. We put mushroom soil down this summer, which improved the nutrients and the footing.