"We went from netting a few thousand dollars to highs of $210,000 in 2002," said HCC's Education Foundation Executive Director Melissa Mattey. "With the recession, we took a hit, and in 2009 only raised $70,000. Some of our sponsors dropped out, but they're starting to come back."
Over the past 25 years, nearly $3 million has been generated for the college's scholarship fund from Grand Prix proceeds, with more than 200 students receiving scholarships annually.
Those students are grateful for the help. Adam Leatherman, who graduated from the community college in May, said the Grand Prix scholarships helped cover some of his regular tuition and also allowed him to study abroad.
"I'm the oldest of three, and my sister was in college and my younger brother was about to go, so my parents needed the help," Leatherman said.
Move to Clarksville
In 2010, the year after it moved from the college campus to the Marama horse farm in Clarksville, the event's name was changed to the Howard Community College Grand Prix. The move was prompted by the school's dramatic increase in enrollment, which forced it to build on the school's front lawn and left little room for the Grand Prix.
The horse farm's owners, Marilyn and George Doetsch, allowed the college to use the land for the event. It allowed for a larger ring and more space for the horses to warm up. It also gave organizers more space for vendors and entertainment, such as hay rides and side shows for those who are not major equestrian enthusiasts.
Still, the move cost the event its gem of a marketing location on the campus lawn, which initially caused Pat Kennedy, the Grand Prix's first chairman, to be concerned.
"I was very skeptical because although the farm is beautiful, you can't see it being set up like on the lawn, and I feared we'd get less participation," Kennedy said. "And if the participation fell off, I thought sponsors would drop out, but none of that happened."
Fargis, the Olympian, thinks the farm is an improvement.
"It's more rural, with room for the horses to work out and breathe and the course is better," Fargis said.
In the future, Grand Prix organizers are trying to find ways to increase attendance and revenue. In the past, they brought in celebrities such as Bo Derek and Jane Seymour to boost ticket sales. One plan they are contemplating is to make the Grand Prix a multi-day event.
"One day for the Grand Prix is perfect for us in terms of our crews, the riders coming in for one day, which they like getting in and out," Mattey said. "But since we have the tents up already, maybe we could do something like a polo match on a second day or another type of horse event."
Pat Kennedy is not sure if Marama's owners would welcome a multi-day event. He thinks the way to increase attendance is to publicize it more aggressively so it becomes better known.
As for this year, organizers and riders say good weather always helps attendance and they are not just hoping for a sunny day, but claiming it as well.
"I hope it goes well this year and continues for another 25 years," Fargis said. "I won't be there competing this time because I got my dates mixed up and will be in Kentucky, but for sure, I'll be back."