Twenty years ago, Cindy Burge took a look at the permanent cross-country obstacles she used for training and wondered how many other local riders shared her passion for eventing. She decided that one way to find out would be to hold her own horse show. That's how the Deep Creek Horse Trials was born.
More than 40 riders showed up for that first show, but this weekend -- for Deep Creek's 20th anniversary show -- Burge is expecting 260 riders.
"Yeah, I guess you'd have to say it's grown a lot," she says with a laugh, as we talk in her small office. "Did I ever expect that? No, of course not. But it's great. People come on everything from ponies to large horses. Our youngest competitor is 9 years old and the oldest are in their 60s."
A group of riders clop by as we head out on a tour of the cross-country course. More than 100 jumps, including a large water complex, dot the pasture where cows still graze in the off season.
I immediately get butterflies in my stomach. It's more than 15 years ago that I last participated in one of these equestrian triathlons, but as Burge says, upon noticing my unbridled enthusiasm, "Once you get it in your blood, you've got it there forever." All I can do is nod.
Eventing is also known as combined training. It has its roots in Great Britain and in the rigorous training military horses used to go through. Military horses had to have endurance and stamina and be easy to ride under any circumstances. The horses also had to be brave enough to conquer any obstacles they would encounter on the battlefield, without hesitation.
As horses lost their role in military action, breeders continued to test especially stallions according to old military standards. Then, at the 1948 Olympics in London, the first international three-day event was held.
"It's a very unique sport, because it combines three different disciplines: dressage, cross-country and show jumping," says Burge. "And you really have to master all three disciplines; you must be competent at all three to do well."
On Friday, the dressage competition runs from 8 am to 6 pm. Dressage is the French word for training, and the purpose of the test is to show how obedient, smooth-moving and flexible the horse is. During the test -- which is conducted in an enclosed sand arena -- horse and rider perform a predetermined series of turns, halts and other movements at different paces. When performed correctly, it looks like the horse is moving on its own.
On Saturday, the cross-country part runs from 9 am to 6:30 pm. At Deep Creek, horse and rider are faced with a one- to two-mile course, which includes between 16 and 30 jumps. The jumps are solid, built into the landscape, and they take riders up and down embankments, over fallen logs and through the water. The purpose of this discipline is not only to test the bravery of horse and rider, but also to show the athleticism and endurance they possess.
Finally, on Sunday, show jumping runs from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Here, both horse and rider must prove that -- after the demands of the cross-country ride -- they still have the energy and accuracy it takes to clear a course of brightly colored fences in an enclosed ring. The smallest mistake will make the beams fly and cost penalty points.
To determine the winner, all penalty points acquired in the three tests are added up -- the one with the lowest score wins.
"Eventing is a great sport, I mean, where else do all ages compete against each other in the same group?" says Burge. "As for the horse you need, it doesn't have to be as flashy a mover as if you were competing only in dressage. This is a great sport for the average horse -- with hard work, you can take it far."
Burge should know, she has competed in eventing since she was 9. Today, at 37, she competes on the gelding Knight's Honor.
"The horse I have right now is really good," she says. "I was actively trying to make it on the Olympic team, but he went lame. So, unfortunately, I don't have a fairy-tale ending for you there."
As we head back toward the barn, I catch a glimpse of the riders we saw heading out, calmly taking turns over the practice jumps. Down below, in the sand arena, another rider is practicing extended trots for the dressage test. And I allow myself a moment of missing the show ring, the smell of ointment, horse sweat, sawdust and hay. I miss the excitement and that special sense of community -- regardless of the fierce competition -- among horse people.
It's as if Burge is reading my mind. "It's such a great show we have here," she says. "And it's not just about the horses and the riders. We have wonderful community support among sponsors and volunteers; we could never do it without all the people that help us year after year. Some have been with us since the beginning; we'd never have a chance without them."
Deep Creek Horse Trials are held at Deep Creek Farm,
811 N. Deep Creek Road, Medical Lake, Wash. On Friday, June 22, dressage runs from 8 am-6 pm. On Saturday, June 23, the
cross-country event runs from 9 am-6:30 pm. On Sunday, June 24,
show jumping runs from 8:30 am-2:30 pm. All weekend there will be
an equestrian trade show on the grounds. Free. Call: 244-9531.