After being postponed because of the pandemic, the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill is set to take place from Oct. 13 to 17. Officials hope the event will attract 20,000 to 30,000 people to Cecil County this year.
“It is one of the few Olympic sports where men and women compete as equals,” Maryland 5 Star Organizing Committee CEO Jeff Newman said this week. “They’re all going for the same medal.”
Newman hopes to eventually bring 80,000 people to the $20 million facility.
The 5 Star at Fair Hill would be one of the most exclusive events in equestrian sports, with only 200 to 300 horses eligible for competition. Fair Hill is one of only seven 5 Star locations in the world.
Along with the five-star event, the area will host a three-star event, including the United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) National Championship and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Young Event Horse. They expect 175 competitors to participate in eventing, a three-phase competition akin to a horse triathlon, across the three events. The stages of an eventing competition are dressage, where the horse and rider complete a series of ornate movements, as well as cross country and show jumping.
Along with horse events, they hope to host a concert, a Maryland Fresh Food Festival, a craft beer and wine festival, and a champagne brunch during their opening weekend. Maryland Five Star will partner with the Maryland Food Bank.
There will be roughly 4,000 seats at the venue. Along with seats and three arenas, there will be a vendor village featuring retail shopping. A retail booth at the event will cost $700.
The Maryland horse industry is massive for a state of its size, with 52 percent of households considering themselves ‘horse enthusiasts’ and the largest number of horses per square mile in any U.S. state.
Newman hopes that in the fall, the outdoor venue will be open at 100 percent capacity. Ticket sales will likely occur in May and June, but the USEF currently has a ban on spectators until June 1, so the number of spectators is still uncertain.
Maryland Public Television will provide at least 15 hours of coverage to the event.
Newman said there are currently 120 stalls at the facility, and they’re bringing in another 80 temporary stalls to deal with the massive influx of horses. Council President Bob Maffley said Kent County is interested in helping keep horses during the event.
During a meeting this week, County Councilman Bill Coutz asked about the involvement of Cecil County businesses. Newman said that the sponsor levels for an event of this size are quite expensive, limiting local businesses’ involvement. However, the organization is finalizing a contract with Middleneck Farm to build and maintain a cross-country course. The competition currently has 18 sponsors.
“We’ve had conversations, and it’s been people who are still accustomed to a few thousand dollars, and so we’ve had to pass on a few of those frankly,” said Newman.
Coutz, however, expressed optimism that the business community will step up in support of the event.
“I think that the local businesses will come around once they see the extent to which this event has been promoted by not just the state, but also the country and worldwide,” said Coutz.
Councilman Al Miller mentioned the issues the Cecil County Fair has had in the past with traffic and asked what plans Five Star has created to deal with overcrowded roads. Newman mentioned that people’s low comfort levels with shuttle buses to and from the event could be an issue, though the event would promote public transit use.
However, Miller ended with an optimistic view on what a world-recognized event could have for the county.
“I want to say welcome back to the horse industry in the state of Maryland,” said Miller. “You know we were on top of the world’s 20 years ago and we were the best in the whole country. We kind of lost our grip, and we’re coming back, and we’re coming back strong.”