Originally I was gonna stuff all of the Maryland trip into one post but that got ridiculously long and full of pictures so… it’s a two-parter.
We flew from Orlando to Philly on Wednesday night, then took an Uber from Philly to our airbnb in Elkton. My friends Julie and Dusty had the inside info on a great little house only a few miles from the show, so when they offered to share I was all over that like white on rice. It was at a gorgeous little farm and so close to the show, it worked out supremely well for us. We got to bed pretty late on Wednesday night, but were at the showgrounds bright and early on Thursday to watch the YEH dressage.
First of all, the new stuff they’ve built there at Fair Hill is jaw-dropping. The main arena, the track, all the cross country, the extra arenas… like, world class. Gorgeous footing, immaculate turf… it’s really stunning to walk into. Definitely smaller and more condensed than the other 5*’s I’ve been to, but really top tier in quality. They funnel you through the main vendor area on your way in, which was smart, a lot of things caught my eye on that first pass, but we didn’t have time to stop and look at all the pretty things yet because we had horses to see! I’d gone through the order of go the night before and made a list of all the horses we considered “must see” on Thursday and Friday so we could figure out where we needed to be and when.
We spent most of the morning up watching the young horse dressage, which was located right up close to the main arena/warmup, with a quick hop over to the 3* warmup to see a couple others that were on my list. We wandered briefly through the vendors, grabbed some lunch, and then hiked the LONG AS HELL ASS WALK over to Sawmill to watch the 4 year olds jump. Like for real, it was so far to get over to the jumping area. They had some shuttles running if you were lucky enough to find one, but we were not. I like the Sawmill field location and all, given the space and the little bit of terrain, but being so far from the main showgrounds is really… not ideal. It was hard to find even if you were seeking it out, on top of being super far away, plus there was zero seating down there at all. A set of bleachers would have gone a long way. Due to all of the above, it was pathetically devoid of spectators. Like we were often the only ones. We spent the afternoon standing in the blazing sun watching the babies jump, and it was pretty unpleasant. I couldn’t help but compare it to the young horse championships at Burghley, which are located near the edge of all the vendors, very close up to the main arenas and easy to find/get to. They have full stands and spectators stacked 10 deep all around the perimeter of the arena. If we want anyone to care about YEH, we have to make it easier and a lot more in-your-face to at least SEE it. Most people had no idea it was even happening, and that’s a bummer because there were a lot of really nice young horses, many of which were US-bred. Missed opportunity, IMO.
That soapbox aside, the course was really lovely and very appropriate IMO. I’d even say it bordered on soft, or at least softer than I’ve seen in the past. I didn’t get a pic of the first XC jump, but it was a small/basic table. The only semi-looky thing was the trakehner, which had a pretty legit ditch under it and caused some of the greener horses to either politely decline or clear it by a mile. All of it was about N height though, with maybe one or two bigger. Other than the trakehner there were very few problems, aside from one or two horses that hadn’t really been prepared for something of this level and were just very bug-eyed in general. When I was looking up the breeding of all the horses I also took a quick look at their show records, and it was interesting to see the wide range of prep that these horses had had… everything ranging from one or two YEH classes and nothing else to horses that already had a Training under their belts. Most fell somewhere in between, but it did seem (in general) like the ones who had at least run a Novice or two were better prepared and more confident.
The 4yo’s and the Futurity wrapped up on Thursday, but all the 5yo’s jumped on Friday, so we were back out to the showgrounds nice and early, and Holly met up to watch the 5yo’s with us. This time we got dropped off at Sawmill (thanks Dusty) so it cut down on some of the walking at least, but if you actually wanted to go back and forth between the YEH stuff and the main show, hahahaha good luck to you friend. Luckily we had met blogger Sarah the day before, who was volunteering at the YEH in-gate and told us we were more than welcome to sit in the volunteer tent when they weren’t occupying it. Just having somewhere to actually sit down in between horses was lifesaving at that point.
We stayed out there watching the 5yo’s for a good chunk of the day. There were A LOT of really nice horses. Like… several that I would have taken home. For the most part the scoring seemed pretty right-on with my thoughts, aside from one particular major head-scratcher (I’m not sure how a horse can jump with it’s knees pointed straight to the ground every single time – and yes I have photos to back that up – and still get 4’s and 5’s out of 5 for it’s jump scores, but I digress) and a few minor head scratchers (I don’t think one who clears the tops of the flags at every single fence while spooking off the ground looks much like a 10 out of 10 type of event horse to me either but at least it was safe). I did find it kind of funny that the 4yo’s Presto showed with at Chatt all scored like 10 points better across the board than they did at that qualifier.
After we’d had enough of the young horses (aka were hot/sunburned/hungry/bored) we headed back to the main showgrounds. This time we were lucky enough to snag a ride from Amanda of Boy o Boy Bridleworks – she came over to say hi and it was great to finally meet her after all these years – so she saved us from the long walk. Which is good, because then we hit the vendors, since we had a little bit of time before Mason’s 5* dressage.
I may or may not have bought a black Espoir coat with black glitter accents to match the new boots I ordered. I will neither confirm nor deny this but I will say that it’s really pretty and fits like a glove and I have no regrets but also please god no one leave Michelle and I alone in any of the vendor tents again. To be fair I actually DID try to find the two things I actually intended to buy while I was gone, a vest and some breeches, but didn’t find any that knocked my socks off. The jacket (which I may or may not have bought) was a consolation prize at that point. Not my fault.
After we meandered around the vendors for a while we headed over to 5* dressage warmup so I could properly stalk Mason (Mama’s Magic Way aka Presto’s brother from another mother). I’ve said forever that he reminds me so much of Presto, but y’all… in person, OMG. They are SO incredibly similar. Seeing him warming up was eerie AF too, because they start out the same (tight back, not stepping up with the inside hind) and Will even warmed him up pretty much the exact same way Megan warms up Presto (sloooow tempo, lots of change of bend and transitions but keeping it calm and quiet and toned down). I had to send some video to Hillary since she’s seen Presto warm up so much and she thought it was super freaky how similar they were, too. Mason is like… a fancier version, but I’m pretty certain they’re the same horse. I mean, they’re bred really similarly so it shouldn’t be a shock, but still. Crazy similar.
We were able to get up into the owner’s seating to watch his test (Holly had a groom’s pass since she was there helping a friend, it came in very handy several times over the weekend) and then exit right by the ring when he was coming out. Up close and personal with my favorite 5* horse for the first of many times! He even gave me a very hefty skeptical side-eye as he passed, just like someone else we all know.
After dressage wrapped up for the day we headed out to the Jimmy Wofford course walk so we could get a feel for the XC course and decide what we wanted to prioritize for spectating the next day. We stuck with the group for the first several fences but then it started taking a really long time and we were running out of daylight, so we ended up branching off on our own and walking a little bit further out. We’d been able to scope out a good bit of the back half of the course on our walks to/from Sawmill for the YEH stuff, so we mostly just took a big loop of the first and last third to see the rest of it.
Really there were interesting jumps scattered all around the course, so ultimately we decided we’d just start at the beginning around jump 4 and travel along the whole course watching a handful of horses at each of the more interesting fences. The course was really lovely – not as big and gnarly looking as Burghley but boy the terrain. I know anyone who has followed Maryland at all has heard “but the terrain” a thousand times, but y’all… the terrain. There were some serious hills, and basically the entire last third of the course was a climb. It was one thing to see it in pictures/video and an entirely different thing to actually walk it. I was really excited to see how the course would play out… the unknown factor of being the very first Maryland 5* added some extra intrigue for sure.
We walked A LOT that day, so we all figured we’d more than earned ourself some ice cream from Nottingham Creamery. I mean, ok, we had dinner too, but… the ice cream. I got Cookie Monster and I’m pretty sure it contained an entire package of oreos and a whole roll of cookie dough. It was good, but also I don’t think I’m going to want any cookie dough again any time soon. The local eats were top-notch this trip, though. Dusty has spent a lot of time up here and knew all the best places. 10/10 recommend eating ice cream until you want to barf after a long day at a horse show.
We went to bed pretty early that night since we were all whooped, and then we were back up and at it again the next day for some cross country! To be continued…