Galway Downs Gears Up for Unprecedented Eventing Championships

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As four eventing championships come to Galway Downs Nov. 1-5, the Robert Kellerhouse-led organizing team is preparing to blow up already high expectations about what’s possible in the West.

The day after California-based Tamie Smith and Mai Baum won the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day in April, the United States Equestrian Federation announced Galway Downs’ selection as host of the:

  • 2023 USEF CCI2*-L and USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championships
  • 2023 USEF Eventing Young Rider National Championships, presented by USEA.

In addition, Galway Downs earned hosting duties for the:

  • USEA Area VI Championships, which, for the first time, are open to contenders from other Areas – making it, in effect, a regional championship.

All four championships will be staged concurrently with the Galway Downs International Horse Trials. Thanks to early enthusiasm from sponsors and donors:

  • $50,000 in prize money is already assured and $100,000 is a realistic goal as excitement builds.

The unprecedented simultaneous hosting of these four championships is a key milestone in Galway Downs’ remarkable ascent. Kellerhouse explains that he and his team waited for the right level of readiness before submitting their bids to host.

Galway Downs hosted the 2020 USEF CCI3-L* Eventing National Championship to rave reviews from top riders, including the winner, Boyd Martin. Martin had not visited the facility in many years and was impressed with the cross-country challenges. He described the standard of competition as “just as high” as it is in Europe.

Better Than Ever

Since then, things have gotten even better. In addition to hosting international eventing competitions since 1999, Galway Downs now stages international dressage shows and three multi-week circuits of innovative hunter/jumper competition organized by Ali and Francie Nilforushan’s Equisport Events. The Nilforushans’ improvements have built on those of Galway Downs facility owner Ken Smith and equestrian venue operator Robert Kellerhouse to set the stage for the highest level of equestrian sport, plus elegant spectator and social opportunities for that aspect of the equestrian lifestyle.

Galway Downs’ sponsors are key to its growth.

  • CWD/Devoucoux, Land Rover Mission Viejo, Defender, Equine Insurance, Animal Health Solutions, Auburn Labs and Shires Equestrian are longtime Galway Downs partners. Adequan I.M. is newly returned as a gold-level sponsor and ProSeries Equine is a new addition to the sponsor roster for the Eventing Championships.

Excellent footing on the cross-country tracks is now matched in the eight arenas where jumping and dressage unfurl. The Grand Prix Ring has a world-class vibe with the VIP Pavilion on one side, grandstands on the other and low-key, yet luxurious gathering spots in between.

Riders appreciate the upgrades around footing and horse and rider safety, but Kellerhouse admits the fuss over dazzling new individual restrooms is off the charts. It might seem frivolous, but Galway Downs has risen in national prominence thanks to meticulous attention to detail and that includes the restrooms.

Federations Support

“One thing I can easily say is that Galway can and will put on a world-class competition that should be on everybody’s bucket list,” said USEA CEO Rob Burk. Speaking specifically about young riders, he notes that aspirations to represent the US in international competition should include a willingness to “get out of your element and compete in an unfamiliar Area and against the best. Many of our top athletes come from the West. If those in the East aren’t willing to travel there, they’re not going to be able to show how competitive they are.”

As a regular visitor to Galway Downs, Burk expects first-timers will be in for a pleasant surprise. “The footing on cross-country is so well prepared by the designers and builders. It is really some of the best footing to run on in the country. I almost feel like those riders are a little spoiled in that regard.

“I’m so impressed with the hospitality, the food, the VIP area and all the parties,” Burk continued. “They do a spectacular job with ‘normal’ events, so I can only imagine how great this is going to be.”

The USEF’s Managing Director of Eventing Amber Braun relayed the Federation’s enthusiasm. “U.S. Equestrian is looking forward to Galway Downs hosting the 2023 USEF Eventing National Young Rider Championship presented by USEA, and the CCI2*-L and CCI4*-L USEF Eventing National Championships. The allocation of these Championships to the West Coast is an exciting opportunity for our athletes and sport. Spotlighting a quality West Coast venue such as this is important to support and continue to build the eventing presence in this region of the country.”

Social Scene

Social events start early and continue through the week.

  • On Halloween Tuesday, Oct. 31 – Champions dinner honoring all who have earned that distinction over Galway’s 24 years of hosting eventing competition.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 1 – Young Riders reception sponsored by MARS Equestrian.
  • Thursday, Nov. 2 – Eventing Owners Task Force dinner and a cocktails and course walk with Leslie Law, USEF Emerging and Development Coach; and Clayton Fredericks, Galway Downs course designer.
  • Friday, Nov. 3 –  Welcome Reception for all competitors, sponsored by Pro Series Equine.
  • Saturday, Nov. 4 – Competitors Party in the VIP Pavilion.

Young Riders Showcase

Those who completed an Area Declaration and have met the qualifications and their Area’s Selection Process will compete in their own CCI1*/2/3* USEF Eventing Young Rider National Championship divisions for team and individual honors. They also receive free stabling, compliments of the US Eventing Association. To boot, if their scores are better than Open contenders in their division, they get the prize money!

They’ll jog separately and enjoy their own spotlight in prize giving ceremonies, all features of the Championship’s origins as an international FEI event.

 Area VI Says “Bring It On!”

With the Area VI Championships happening, too, Area VI chairman Andrea Pfeiffer is excited about the opportunity for local riders and those from surrounding regions. With the unusual decision to allow out-of-Area contenders, the Area VI Championships are hoped to build into a strong regional championship.

“Anyone can try to beat our kids,” Pfeiffer says. “Bring it on!”

On behalf of all members in the Area, Pfeiffer is excited about the Eventing Championships at Galway Downs’ ability to showcase the West and one of its venue jewels. “There are so many exciting things happening at Galway, they have spent a lot of money putting the infrastructure in place, and it will be fun to show this venue off.”

Whatever level riders are contesting, “They are going to understand why we West Coasters do so well when we travel east to compete,” notes Pfeiffer. “We have amazing facilities where you can produce a horse to the highest level. Tamie (Smith) has been very clear about that. She did not travel east to prepare Mai Baum for their Land Rover Kentucky win.”

Tamie tops a long list of West Coast-based riders who rely on Galway Downs and other West Coast facilities as perfect prep for their international accomplishments. James and Helen Alliston, Bec Braitling, Lauren Billys Shady and Hawley Bennett-Awad are among many to launch national and international achievements primarily in the West.

They welcome contemporaries throughout the country to come and compete on their home turf and enjoy the region’s renowned camaraderie, beautiful backdrops and lovely weather. Thanks to wonderful on-site lodging options, all of that can be enjoyed without leaving the 242-acre Galway Downs property.

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Galway Downs Equestrian News
PR: Kim F Miller

Photos available on request