Equestrians Institute Horse Trials in Cle Elum, Washington (Area VII) is held twice a year, at the end of May and the end of September, at the Washington State Horse Park, and offers Beginner Novice through Intermediate level competition. Equestrians Institute also hosts dressage shows, hunter paces, clinics, and combined driving events at different venues throughout the region and supports local sport horse breeding programs.
Equestrians Institute (EI) is a non-profit organization that was established in 1974 to provide educational and competitive opportunities for the equestrian sports of dressage, combined driving, and eventing in the Pacific Northwest. “Because we are a cross-disciplinary group, we do not use a single venue for our shows, but use lots of different facilities for the shows we offer,” explained Meika Decher, Director of Eventing at EI. The Equestrians Institute Horse Trials has been running for more than 40 years but moved to its current venue at the Washington State Horse Park (WSHP) in 2012.
Todd Trewin, President of the Board of Directors for the Washington State Horse Park, was instrumental in bringing the Equestrians Institute Horse Trials to its current venue. “[He] has been one of the most amazing people to work with. Without him, the Washington State Horse Park would not exist,” stated Decher. “Todd believed that WSHP and EI are a perfect partnership, and he really got the two together and thriving.”
The Washington State Horse Park is 112 acres of open pine forest nestled in the heart of the Cascade Mountain range. Decher, who spent time living and working in North Carolina, said the area resembles Southern Pines. “The Park is ever-growing, and while there are four really wonderful arenas that we use, all of us involved with the Park are looking forward to the addition of an indoor arena in the coming year.” The stabling and parking areas are ideally located with wide aisles, easy water access, and plenty of open areas for lunging, all within easy access of the Park’s campsites, which, as Decher points out, “is a favorite past time for Area VII eventers.”
Kathryn Nichwander and 360 flying through the pines to take the win in the Open Intermediate division. Hank Greenwald Photo.
The cross-country courses at Washington State Horse Park are designed by John Williams and Todd Trewin and traverse galloping paths through the forest on sandy loam footing, making for a very different experience from galloping over an open course in the field. The lower-level courses each have a significant hill on them, which Decher said “really requires the rider to adjust the horse safely for a roller coaster moment. I have heard a few people complain about the steep hill, and I have heard a hundred more say how much fun it is to ride. My advice to people is to stop staring at their watch and ride the hill appropriate for themselves and their horse!”
The equestrian community in the Pacific Northwest is a very tightknit group, many of whom have been involved with Equestrians Institute in one way or another over the years. “There are so many people who have helped with EIHT over the years,” she said. “In fact, one of my current students, Viki Schimke, was a past president [of EI]! While I was living and competing in North Carolina, my mother [served as] the president, and the organizer for the fall event, Dorothy Hamilton, was also a past president. It’s just amazing to know that so many people who currently event in Area VII have had some connection with EI in both big and small ways.”
Longtime Equestrians Institute supporter Johanna Heringstadt with EI Board Member Penny Leggott and Susan Devoille, volunteering as the cross-country starter. Hank Greenwald Photo.
As a non-profit organization, Equestrians Institute relies on the hard work of their dedicated volunteers. “I think that the most special thing about EIHT is the fact that there is a 43-year history of volunteerism,” commented Decher. “Everyone in our area knows that many of us don’t get paid for the jobs that we do, and are in fact doing them for the betterment of our sport. It is really wonderful to be a part of that culture.”
In addition to being the Director of Eventing for EI, Decher is still an active competitor herself, and she said that while it’s challenging to hang up her helmet to help organize the event twice a year, “It is worth it, every single time, when I get to see so many happy people at our events.”
Misty Payne and Danger Ranger, winners of the Open Novice B division with EIHT Organizer Dorothy Hamilton and WSHP Board President and course designer Todd Trewin. Hank Greenwald Photo.
Decher also explained that there are pros and cons to hosting an event at another venue versus on one’s own property, but the community pulls together every time to make sure they leave the park just the way they found it. “When Sunday evening rolls around, nearly everything has to be put away and stored so that the Horse Park can function for the public. Sometimes I fantasize about leaving out the cross-country flags and decorations until the next week, but it’s not logistically possible to do that when I live over two hours away. The flip side is that when people know their help is really appreciated, they rally to help and we get so much done quickly because of generous parents and riders who pitch in!”
The best thing about Equestrians Institute Horse Trials, according to Decher? “The events are put on by eventers, for eventers!”
The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the series, USEA Events A-Z.