Traveling out Route 82 about five miles past the elegant stone kennels that house Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire foxhounds, visitors come upon a vast, sloping emerald hillside. It’s a stunning mix of meadows, wooded cover, and historic stone foundation ruins encompassing roughly 300 acres of conserved land.
It is also the site of the sixth annual Plantation Field International Horse Trials and Country Fair, September 20-22. A triathlon of equestrian events, the prestigious Plantation competition is one of a few three-star competitions along the eastern seaboard. Spectators at its sprawling cross-country course get a birds-eye view of many of America’s elite three-day eventers at Plantation Field, once part of the famed King Ranch. Members of the United States Olympic Equestrian team–Including Chester County’s Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton of Chester County–will return to participate.
“Plantation Field is an important eventing competition for the riders because the results are used to qualify for national and international championships,” said Plantation Field’s Amy Ruth Borun. “We are expecting more than 200 riders from Canada, the Midwest and East Coast to compete during the three days. You’ll see some of the best riders and horses here.”
This fall’s competition also pays tribute to the wildly popular PBS show “Downton Abbey”; the vendor village at Plantation Field becomes the “Village of Grantham Shoppes,” while the new Victory Beer Garden Pub changes to the “Grantham Arms,” and even the sponsor tent is decorated in an English country style, with all furniture and decor available for purchase.
The competition each day takes place from 8am until 4pm with the main events beginning late morning, and the dressage phase held on Friday, September 20. Admission is free, but there is a $20 parking fee for Saturday, the show jumping day, and Sunday, the cross-country day. The fee includes a program and admission to the grounds for everyone in the car.
“Chester County is a mecca for all types of equestrian pursuits,” added Katie Walker, a member of the executive committee. “Championship horses have been bred and trained in the county, and some of the top riders in all disciplines of riding and jumping have called Chester County home.”
Three-day eventing is the ultimate test of horse and rider–one event, three disciplines. Dressage consists of an exact sequence of movements ridden in an enclosed area. Judging is based on balance, rhythm, suppleness, obedience of the horse, and harmony with the rider. Cross country includes jumping of fences over a three-mile course and requires both horse and rider to be in excellent physical condition. Show jumping tests the technical jumping skills of the horse and rider.
Besides the competition and the spectacular view, spectators are treated to a country fair. This family-friendly event features activities for children, food, and shops with equestrian themes. A parade of hounds takes place on Sunday as well as an antique car exhibition and an antique carriage parade.
The Saturday night CIC sponsor and owner cocktail party will be costume optional, following the proper English country theme. All tailgaters on cross-country day will be judged on their best use of the “Downton Abbey” theme. So start plotting how you can turn your tailgate spot into a scene from the English countryside that would make the Crawley family proud.
“Everyone loves the period costumes and traditions depicted on the show, so this is a perfect theme for Plantation Field,” Walker related. “Tailgating is a wonderful tradition. It’s part of the festive atmosphere. We will be enlisting a guest judge, and prizes will be awarded.”
An added attraction this year is live music. Other events include a Chester County craftsmen exhibition on Friday, celebrity bareback jumping on Saturday at noon, and a wine bistro and beer garden all day Saturday and Sunday. The shops and country fair operation begins each day at 9am. Proceeds benefit the Cheshire Land Preservation Fund, the Barn at Spring Brook Farm, and the Chester County Food Bank.
Last year the event attracted more than 4,000 people, according to Walker.
“Spectators will see top-flight horses and riders competing, and we’ve added some wonderful new attractions, so we’re expecting large crowds this year.”