So what’s next? You had a huge crowd here over the weekend. What’s the next step to keep growing it?
Denis: Well physically, we know we need to improve the electricity, the water and the arenas, and we need better access. We will continue to make changes on the cross-country. What was really great yesterday was that you saw thousands of kids here, and that is what we want.
Katie: The atmosphere we’ve created here is basically that they pay a low donation of $20 at the door, and when they come in as a family, whether there are two or six people in the car, they come in the door, and everything is paid for. They can ride the mechanical bull or the moon bounce. There is face painting and all kinds of fair food. I think we’ve started a tradition here that everyone is going to remember and want to come back to annually.
Denis: I don’t want to shock Katie, but I will be very surprised if we don’t have one or two international riders next year, maybe not with their horses but on loaned horses. In the U.S. today, and people don’t like me to say this, we aren’t competitive, and the way to get competitive is to compete against those that are. We must create not only the venues, but also the programs. People must be held accountable, and the results will come.
What were some of the new features this year, such as the tailgating?
Katie: We strive to make it a full weekend for riders, owners, spectators and everyone involved, so in doing that we decided to sell some tailgating spots across from where the vendors are to see how that would go. Of course it exceeded expectations. We probably had 50 or 75 cars where we expected to sell 25 spots. I went with the chef from The Whip Tavern and judged the tailgate competition, and they were all thrilled.
Another fun thing we did was have a mechanical bull on the site. On Friday night, we had a friendly competition between local foxhunters and local steeplechasers and all the eventers who were in town for the weekend. That was a huge hit with hundreds and hundreds of people watching at the Friday night party.
Other than that we’ve doubled our vendor fair with more than 40 booths and food carts, and we also added a special raffle and a silent auction, which both once again exceeded expectations. In the raffle, you could win a lesson with an Olympian: Phillip Dutton, Will Coleman, Boyd Martin or Karen O’Connor, all of whom were riding at the event this weekend.
Denis: Chester County is very much into agriculture and open space. We are trying to get the 4-H involved, and if you said, “Where will you be five years from now?” I would say I hope this event is running with many agricultural things.
The Amish are amazing craftsman; they are a huge part of this community. There are a lot of artisans and museums and history here. With destination venues you have to make sure they can be successful by not putting inhibitors to their growth through either other events going on simultaneously or changes in the calendar which can impact the growth. Events will only succeed in this country, and I have said this for 25 some years, by their own growth.
Rolex is a classic. The first 10 years of Rolex were a tough, tough event, and now it’s a destination situation. There are not any other Rolexes now in this country, and we should have five or six or 10.
This is already a historic venue, as it’s right across the street from Chesterland, right?
Denis: I left Chesterland in 1985, and their last event was 1988. You have a county that has one of the largest and greatest dressage shows in the world at Dressage At Devon. You have three Hall of Fame steeplechase trainers who come from here. You have multiple Maryland Hunt Cup winners that come from here, and you have owners who’ve had Olympic dressage prospects, Olympic jumpers. There are nine current or past Olympians who live in this county. This should be a Mecca.
Katie: And one Paralympian, too. Rebecca Hart is also here.
Denis: So that is rare and unique. People say, “Well it must be easy because you are in the horse community.” But the other side of it is that all the horse community is being pulled by their own interest.
Katie: Also on that, the reason Unionville, in particular, is such a magnet for all types of equestrians is because of the amount of open space. Talk about something rare: On the Eastern Seaboard to have 30,000 acres of contiguous conserved and preserved acres of land—to never be changed—is something that isn’t going to exist in 10 or 20 years. This is a Mecca now, and it will be even more so in the future. I’m not going to pat myself on the back, but in the mind of Cuyler and his family as well as others in this area, years back they had the vision and foresight to see what this land could be, and they wanted to keep it this way. It’s magical that it’s still unchanged.
Denis: Plunkett Stewart stood on the hill above the cross-country course one day and went out and bought several farms.
Katie: That was in 1912…just think of that vision.
Denis: It’s mainly been a foxhunters’ delight, and the foxhunters realized that to keep it open and useful, other disciplines have to be welcome.