For two decades, the equestrian set has gathered in a quiet township in Chester County for the annual Plantation Field International Horse Trials, a display of cross-country jumping, show jumping, and the finely controlled riding known as dressage.
Now its future is in doubt. The prestigious, if obscure, event has been caught up in a debate over racial sensitivity. The issue: its name.
The owner of the property that has been home for the event canceled its lease this week after an online equestrian magazine suggested that because of its association with slavery, “Plantation” be removed from the event’s title.
In defense of the event, the U.S. Equestrian Association said the property in East Marlborough Township had no known connection to slavery and was merely named for plantings on its grounds.
That online unsigned editorial in Eventing Nation made clear that it didn’t believe the organizers of the three-day trials, which it termed “one of the most iconic and beloved events in North America,” intended to offend anyone. But it said that in a sport striving for more diversity, the name was offensive and a barrier to change.
“Silence on this topic would not be responsible in light of the issues that have surfaced this summer,” the editorial stated.
Eventing Nation provides equestrian-related news and commentary from several reporters in the United States and abroad. In a subsequent post, its editors noted that the publication had hoped not to close the trials but to prompt discussion. “We are deeply saddened that the property owner has chosen this path,” it said.
The event’s organizers characterized the editorial as “an attack.”
“I find it incredibly sad that the staff at a publication who do not understand the history of the area are directly causing the end of one of the best and most consistent events in the country,” Denis Glaccum, a longtime Unionville resident who heads Plantation Field Equestrian Events Inc. (PFEE), said in a statement.
The U.S. Equestrian Association, in a statement of its own, said it was working to salvage the Chester County trials, though it provided few details. While saying it was “deeply sensitive to the history of the word plantation and its connection to slavery,” the association said shutting the event “isn’t the right solution.”
The owner of the Plantation Field venue is Cuyler Walker, a lawyer, PFEE board member, and former member of the state Horse Racing Commission. A graduate of Yale, the Wharton School, and Penn Law, he served 17 years as a Republican township supervisor.
Walker, who owns more than 500 acres in the township, did not return telephone calls. Leslie Wylie, editor of the Eventing Nation, declined comment Friday. Glaccum could not be reached.
The Plantation Field trials, which had been scheduled to start Thursday, are recognized as one of the nation’s premier events in the eventing competitions, as the sport is called.