Organizers Cancel Red Hills Event in Tallahassee

Organizers Cancel 2009 Red Hills Event Fundraising in Down Economy Scratches Popular Equestrian Event
By Linda Kleindienst


    TALLAHASSEE – The nation’s economic woes have claimed another victim – Red Hills Horse Trials, a perennial spectator favorite that brings world-renowned riders and a major economic boost to Tallahassee.

    The three-day equestrian event had been scheduled for March 13-15, but organizers decided to pull the plug on Wednesday because of fundraising problems.

  {mosimage} “It is with extreme sadness that we must cancel the 2009 trials…but we are already planning 2010,” said Jane Barron, president of the Red Hills corporate board of directors.

    “Fundraising has been difficult in the current economic environment, putting us in the position of requiring 200 entries in order to be financially capable of meeting the expenses of the event this year.”

   By Thursday morning, only 88 horses had been entered in the competition, an equestrian triathlon that tests a rider’s skill in dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping.

  “We put off the decision as long as we possibly could to see what kind of improvement in entries we’d see. We wanted to be very, very sure,” added Marvin Mayer, board vice president.

   Of particular concern was a growing trend of dramatically declining entries at events around the country.

     Not knowing how much money they’d have to pay upcoming bills – such as a $25,000 deposit for tents and $20,000 for stables – they decided to cancel.

   “We made a decision to retrench now and be in a super solid position for next year instead of being in the position of having to dig out of a (financial) hole,” Barron said.

   In 2010, Red Hills will be a qualifier for riders hoping to get into the World Cup, the Super Bowl of the equestrian community. It will also be the first of four competitions in the new Continental Cup series, which will attract more riders from Canada and Mexico.

  Tallahassee Mayor John Marks called it “regrettable” that a poor economy rendered the horse trials unfeasible this year.

  “We can look forward to the 2010 event, however, and I encourage the community to continue to support this well-loved tradition.”

   United States Eventing Association officials expressed concern over the cancellation and early indications that another major event in North Carolina scheduled for mid-April may also have to cancel.

   “The USEA is closely monitoring the economic situation in the country and its impact on the sport,” said Jo Whitehouse, USEA’s CEO, who put part of the blame on competitors waiting until the last minute to commit themselves.

  “The economic viability of competitions is put at risk if competitors react to economic uncertainty by withholding entries until the closing date,” she added. “Organizers must commit themselves to stabling, officials, housing, rental cars, staffing…well in advance of the closing date.”

    If the early entries to the competition aren’t as high as the previous year, she said organizers have no idea how many riders and horses will actually show up.

    The decision is a major disappointment to Darren Chiacchia, an Olympic medalist whose tragic accident on the Red Hills cross-country course last year left him with traumatic head injuries and in a coma for 42 days.

   Chiacchia, who was planning a major comeback at this year’s Red Hills, had planned to enter 11 horses, five of which he planned to ride.

   “I lived that competition and had a near-death experience there, so I really wanted to face that whole competition again, “ he said on the phone from his Ocala farm.

   Chiacchia said riders used to send in their entries four to six weeks before a competition but now wait until only two to three weeks prior to the event because of economic reasons.

    “If you have to withdraw a horse for some reason, you only get part of that money back,” he said. “If you are entering a bunch of horses, in these economic times you don’t want to gamble with that money.”

     But Chiacchia, who calls Red Hills one of the best-run events in the world, added that he trusts the organizers’ decision.

  “For sure there is some truth to the concept of wanting to do it right,” he said. “Red Hills has such an outstanding reputation, if they didn’t think they could do it the right way, of course they made the right decision.”


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