It’s a ballet of sorts, a carefully choreographed dance that shows off a horse’s balance, accuracy and obedience. It’s called dressage in the equine world, an Olympic discipline. It’s one of the competitions for the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event.
“It’s the triathlon of the equestrian world, and we have hosted here for 18 years, this event,” said Allyson Jeffery, president of Horse Park of New Jersey. “This year is a World Games qualifier in an Olympic year. It’s an Olympic qualifier, so you’re seeing a caliber of horsemanship that is far superior to the average event that we host here.”
Horse riders travel from as far as New Zealand to compete. The JFI, as it’s called, is held at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown with competition broken into three parts; dressage, the main event; cross-country; and stadium jumping.
“That’s where horses gallop over a course and they are jumping, they are going through a water complex. It is really a test of endurance, and speed and skill,” Jeffery said.
“I’ve won the Three Star three times. It’s sort of my home event. I’m from just across the border in Pennsylvania, and we love coming here and they keep trying to improve the place and make it a top-class competition,” said equestrian Buck Davidson.
To keep high-level competitors coming back, they unveiled upgrades to the Horse Park’s main ring coinciding with the 30th anniversary. Although the land is leased through the Department of Environmental Protection, the Horse Park is a nonprofit and doesn’t receive state funding. That means improvements are slow, lagging other, well-known parks throughout the country.
“We have addressed the issues with drainage. We have taken out the center drain, and now we have a level competition surface that drains very well and provides a stable and safe footing for the horses. And that is the most important thing here, is the safety of the horses competing and the riders,” Jeffery said.
“It is a total gem within our state that brings us so much recognition. It’s an economic generator for the equine industry and has the prestige around the globe,” said New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher.
The park, and in fact this area of the state, is known as the “cornerstone of the pleasure horse sector.” It’s faring far better than the racing industry. The event also hosts retail vendors and food tents and is designed to be a spectator sport. The course designer also created the questions, as they’re called, for the world competition, and it promises to be tough.
“I very much try to help the horse and understand a little bit about how the horse sees. We know the horse sees in contrast, not color, like we do. We know it sees front and back and it can’t focus in front like we can. We know the blue and yellow it picks out very good, so with the colors and the decoration and things we’re trying to help the horse see and understand the questions and the fences as much as possible,” said course designer Mark Phillips.
This event alone is responsible for about half of the park’s entire revenue for the year. The athletes who qualify will move on to compete at the World Equestrian Games held in North Carolina this September.