Out and About: The Great Lakes Equestrian Festival – Entertainment of Olympic Proportion

WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL

The Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF) in Traverse City is a prestigious, multiweek event of equestrian sport between elite riders with remarkable horses. International show jumping, hunter, and equitation competition draw huge crowds to witness the graceful agility and athleticism of the horse in partnership with the rider. The cash prizes at GLEF are significant, and the bragging rights even more so. Somewhat surprisingly, the Festival is also filled with family fun!

The six-week event running July 5–August 13 features the international Olympic discipline of show jumping as well as the hunter and equitation disciplines, and GLEF offers divisions of competition for equestrians of all age and experience levels. In addition, youngsters can take part in a “horseless horse show,” where kids hurdle over miniature jumps without horses.

On Sundays, kids’ activities, food trucks, and sideshows are part of the merriment. The special guests for 2017 have not been established at this writer’s deadline, but last year a favorite was the Olate Dogs, from the television show “America’s Got Talent”, while the concert series featured Josh Davis from “The Voice” series as a headliner.

The Olympic-level riding competitions begin at 2 p.m. on Sundays, and the committed competitors are of the highest caliber – a delight to behold.

With weekly hunter derby competitions, the Festival will also feature World Champion Hunter Rider week (week two), and a $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby during Week Four. Weeks Two–Six also highlight FEI-rated Grand Prix show jumping events.

The Festival concludes on Sunday, August 13, with the highly anticipated $100,000 Grand Traverse Grand Prix CSI3, a true celebration of the intimate horse and rider partnership. Last year, participants traveled to compete at GLEF from 13 countries and 47 states. Horses valued from roughly $30,000 to $10 million are flown in and delivered by trailers to Traverse City.

An event governed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the festival celebrates equestrianism in all forms and encourages the development of the FEI equestrian disciplines throughout the world. The core values of the FEI are fair play, equality, complicity with the animal, and respect for the horse and the environment, according to the association. Unique to this sport, and endearing, is that equestrian competition is the only Olympic sport where men and women compete as equals.

But again, this Festival isn’t just about professional riders and their horses. It is also about kids competing for the first time on their pony and the family supporting their junior/ amateur rider who’s home from college for the summer. Events are free Wednesday–Friday, and it’s fun to watch all classes of riders. There is an entrance fee for music and performances as well as the professional-level competitions on Sundays. Check the website for specific pricing and schedules.

The Festival takes place on 88 beautiful acres at Flintfields Horse Park, which showcases five competition rings in addition to spacious schooling rings. The park offers convenient on-site camping and is within a short drive of Lake Michigan, the Traverse City Airport, and all the charming restaurants and shops of the beloved summer destination.

Equestrian Basics

Equitation: The art or practice of horse riding or horsemanship.

According to Wikipedia, judging in equitation is focused on the rider’s ability to ride correctly, and typically covers the control of their horse, the rider’s form and poise, proper attire, and the cleanliness and polish of the horse and equipment. The horse itself is not judged, although a poorly performing horse is considered a reflection of the rider’s ability. A good equitation rider is always in balance with the horse, maintains a correct position in every gait, movement, or over a fence, and possesses a commanding, but relaxed, presence, able to direct the horse with nearly invisible aids.

There are a few categories or disciplines in equitation, including hunt seat, dressage seat, saddle seat, and Western. GLEF will offer and showcase competition in hunt seat equitation.

Hunt seat equitation includes flat classes (those that do not include jumping), where the rider and horse work together to maintain a fluid gait and movement while walking, trotting, and cantering in both directions, in patterns, and more.

Over fences classes are those where the competitor rides a course consisting of at least six jumps. Requirements of riders and their horses become increasingly difficult commensurate with skill level. In the hunter/jumper category, the horse’s performance is included in the judging.

FEI: The International Equestrian Federation (FEI), founded in 1921, is the international body governing equestrian sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

USHJA: The United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) is the United States national equestrian organization for hunters and jump-
ers. It provides educational and competitive programs, special classes, and more.

Flintfields Horse Park 6535 Bates Road, Williamsburg Michigan 49690 l (800) 237-8924 l GreatLakesEquestrianFestival.com