The Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana is beautiful. Beautiful, and off the beaten path. Abutting the Canadian border, flanked by formidable mountain ranges and millions of acres of undeveloped wilderness, this remote region hardly seems a likely mecca for eventing. However, for a week in July, it’s precisely that.
The Event at Rebecca Farm is the largest eventing competition in the nation, drawing hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators. Many of them can be found sporting pink ribbons—they adorn clothing, gear, tack, even hindquarters. Riders and fans are here to support more than the sport, they are here to support Halt Cancer at X, Rebecca Farm’s initiative to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness.
Field of Dreams
Rebecca Farm’s namesake, Rebeca Broussard, moved to the Flathead Valley with her family in the mid-1980s, attracted by the region’s rugged beauty and Western spirit. An avid eventer, she became closely involved with the area’s small but close-knit eventing community and was a regular competitor at the local horse park, Heron Park.
Rebecca was enthusiastic about bringing more people to the sport and had bold aspirations for the future of eventing in Northwest Montana. Soon, her ambitions outgrew the limitations of Heron Park and in 2000, she pieced together the parcels of land that would become Rebecca Farm. Where others saw acres of fallow cropland and cow pasture, Rebecca saw an opportunity to make her vision for an equestrian competition destination a reality.
Her passion and dedication—along with plenty of community support—saw rapid success. In 2002, Rebecca Farm hosted its inaugural competition; in 2004, The Event became a USEF and USEA-recognized Gold Cup Series and FEI World Cup eventing competition; and by 2009, The Event had more than 500 entries.
When Rebecca passed away from breast cancer in 2010, her loss was felt keenly throughout the equestrian world and her local community, in which she was heavily involved. Seeking a way to honor her mother, Sarah Broussard founded Halt Cancer at X in her memory. People rallied in support of the cause.
“We raised 50 grand that first year,” says Sarah. “I was happily overwhelmed.”
When the initiative launched, donations and competitor pledges were the primary fundraising avenues. Today, there are multiple ways to contribute, many of them taking place at The Event through pledges, a silent auction, $10 parking donations (admission is free), and a 5k fun run. Since its inception in 2012, Halt Cancer at X has raised and awarded a remarkable $600,000 in grants to local organizations and national research.
“It’s so humbling to see that enough people have gotten behind this idea to raise that kind of money,” says Sarah. “This was just a small idea to make The Event mean something more, and to see the numbers that come in year after year really blows me away.”
Though much of that money goes toward funding national research, Sarah is especially proud of the money raised for local programs. She says, “Supporting research is great for the long run, but there are people dealing with cancer today—right now, right here—that need help.”
In addition to medical stress, cancer patients and their families face incredible financial, logistical, and emotional hurdles. Many of the Flathead Valley programs that have received grants from Halt Cancer at X focus on paying non-medical bills and improving their participant’s quality of life outside the hospital.
“A lot of these people can’t work and they’re spending a lot of money on treatment,” explains Sarah. “It’s something special to know that we helped pay someone’s rent for three months so they could concentrate on their treatment and taking care of themselves instead of worrying about where the rent money is coming from.”
Grant recipients in 2019 included a program that covers the cost mammogram screening, an organization that teaches healthy cooking and nutrition, a fly fishing retreat for patients and survivors, and more.
Making a Difference
When Sarah started Halt Cancer at X seven years ago, she had no idea it would be so successful. And she’s not content to simply rest on that success. Like her mother, Sarah has the vision, drive, and ambition to make the world a little better, starting with her community. Using the network and resources she’s cultivated through Halt Cancer at X, she plans to take on another devastating health crisis: the inaccessibility of mental health services and treatments.
She encourages others to take up the reins of a cause they care about.
“If I could wish something, it would be for people to start an initiative where they’re located, for a cause they hold near and dear,” she says. “Maybe it’s a hunter/jumper show or another event. Anything to get people involved. That would warm my heart. Everyone has the ability to make a difference in their community.”
photos by Shannon Brinkman Photography