When the sun rose this morning in Fairburn, Georgia, the encampment known as Chattahoochee Hills may have looked like a Civil War re-enactment site. That's just about the only time you would see this many horses assembled in one place out in the wide open spaces beyond the reaches of Atlanta.
And yes, it's a battle, all right. But not a war. There are no weapons, just wits. No officers, because every rider is a four-star general. No guns, just guts. And glory? That comes after the guts--long after the guts. And yes, they will take no prisoners. Seven hundred event horses of every size and shape are swishing their tails under the cloudy sky. The riders wonder how hot it will get, how humid, or both.
For a handful of the 700, the wondering is a-thundering. For these riders, this is the last stop before Lexington--if Lexington turns out to be punched on their tickets--and their next stop will be the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. We'll find out soon which horses and riders will be on the U.S. team and which will not.
But first, we have four days of Chattahoochee-style eventing for the national titles in all divisions for all ages of riders. And everyone's here. They call this place Chattahoochee Hills Eventing. As you'll see on the video, it's an 8,000-acre parkland owned by Belgian eventing rider Carl Bouckaert. Even in its infancy, Chattahoochee has become a household word in eventing.
It is the proud new home of the Land Rover/USEA American Eventing Championships for the next three years. And this week American eventers have come home in search of their national titles in an extraordinary international year, the likes of which we have never seen before.
For the 11 riders on the 2010 Land Rover US Eventing Team Short List, there is more at stake than the national titles. They know this is their last chance to impress the team selectors. They also know that there is a chance that one of the 11 will develop a soundness or health issue with a horse while here in Georgia, leaving a door open for someone else. Or closing it. Chattahoochee is the last stop on the road to international dreams.
But they don't have much time to think about it. There are horses to keep cool and hydrated. And some riders have set themselves a serious task here. Karen O'Connor has four horses to ride. Even she would have to pity--or marvel at--Phillip Dutton, who entered six horses, all in the Advanced division. He'll be literally hopping off one and onto the next on Saturday, although one horse, Kheops Du Quesnay, has been scratched.
The Canadian team is camped in the lovely new stablng at Chattahoochee Hills, too. This event is a mandatory outing for them as well as the U.S. team. After Sunday's awards, they'll head south to Ocala to train up to Lexington at David O'Connor's farm.
Chattahoochee Hills is many things, all of them special, every week of the year. This week, it's the epicenter of a sport that may be at its strongest point in history in this country. One of the many things the organizers have done well is the website for the venue, Chattahoochee Hills Eventing. Be sure to "visit" the Hills this weekend. Event coverage and results via every form of social media will be provided online the next few days, or check with your favorite horse sport publications' websites. The AEC's live scoring site is easy to navigate. We'll all be turning up the volume so you can hear what's happening down in the Hills.