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Wed, 2013-03-27 14:27

Leap of Faith: Texas Rose Advanced Course

Authored By: Mary Hirsch
The “Leap of Faith” – also known as the “into space” drop bank – under re-construction for the Advanced course. From left to right: David Vaughn, construction assistant; Kim Brunson and Kathy Brunson, daughter and mother co-owners. Mary Hirsch Photo.

Texas Rose Horse Park, home of 3 annual horse trials and the AEC for 2013-2015, has built the first Advanced horse trials course ever available in Area V.

A quick look through the 2012 USEA Omnibus shows a simple fact:  Most USEA Areas do not offer a horse trials or event with an Advanced course.  That includes the four contiguous Areas in the center of the U.S., IV, V, IX and X, stretching from Illinois in the east to the state line of California in the west.

But that changes at the end of March 2013 when Texas Rose Horse Park, located in the northeastern corner of the state within a day’s drive of a large part of the Midwest and Southeast, debuts a newly-constructed Advanced course designed by Captain Mark Phillips.  With an annual schedule of two events in the spring and one more in the fall, suddenly the horizons of the possible will open up for many riders in Area V … and the Areas beyond as well. 

Many eventers dream of riding at the Advanced level, perhaps someday even qualifying for Rolex Kentucky.  But even with ideal opportunities there are many daunting challenges for any rider, including the horse, trainer, facilities, time and finances.  All the challenges are magnified when the nearest Advanced competition requires days of travel for the horse, leading to extended stays to minimize training gaps and allow rest.  Great distances leave ambitious riders, trainers and families in a quandary to balance realistic goals with budgets and life responsibilities.  When the distance is too great, it may be the factor that over-shadows talent and hard work, even if the rider has the horse, the skills and the desire. 

Kathy and Kim Brunson, mother and daughter owners and managers of Texas Rose Horse Park, have a vision for Area V – they are bringing the mountain to the riders, as it were.   And their vision intentionally brings an Advanced level course closer to the riders in the midwest beyond Area V as well. 

“More riders are able to set Advanced as a goal when there is an event within a day’s drive, even a couple of hours for much of Area V,” is the way Kathy explains the Brunsons’ motivation.  Her daughter Kim explains  “That’s why we are committed to offering ICP clinics as well. Area V riders haven’t had a nearby Advanced to work towards before now.  Once they do, instruction qualifications generally must come up to help them prepare.” 

Kathy and Kim Brunson had always planned for an Advanced course for Area V, but their horizons expanded when they saw an opportunity to bid to host the Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Bit of Britain from 2013 through 2015.  Visits from eventing notables Buck Davidson and Robert Kellerhouse added glowing recommendations for Texas Rose as a promising location for the Championships.  The AEC were looking for a more centrally-located venue, and the choice of Texas Rose is an exciting new development made possible by the Advanced course.  Robert Kellerhouse has been named the competition director of the 2013 AEC at Texas Rose.

Finding the Ideal Eventing Location

The Brunsons' dreams are backed by a definite plan of action.  “When we needed to move from our old facility north of Dallas-Fort Worth, we looked for property with the Advanced course in mind,” said Kathy.  “We were willing to go anywhere in the large north Texas area to get the terrain, the footing and a location accessible to riders from out-of-state, as well as in-state.” 

It was quite a search, given the extensive reach of territory that is Texas.  But one day the call came to come see an ideal tract of land near Tyler, Texas.  The Brunsons found that the property, a short 10 minute drive west of Tyler, had the sandy-soil footing they were looking for, along with grassy slopes for challenging cross-country courses.  Level space for barns and facilities set the stage for comfortable equine accommodations.  A temperate climate normally blessed with rain holds further promise for both footing and beautiful vistas across the hillsides.

Tyler is known in Texas and nearby Louisiana for its legendary rose gardens and the surrounding rolling, green and wooded countryside.  Sightseers from metropolitan areas near Dallas and Houston come in spring to enjoy the blooming dogwood lining shady rural roads, the wildflowers that color the grassy fields, as well as the town’s many varieties of abundant roses.  With a population of just under 100,000 and an exit connecting the Interstate 20 southern corridor, “The Rose Capital of the World” has the feel of a small town along with many of the conveniences of a small city.  A fact little-known outside of Tyler – the “Adopt a Road” highway clean-up movement originated there in 1985, an inspiration from the local love of the surrounding landscape.

Six years after the purchase, what was once an open pasture is now a fully-operating horse-and-competitor-oriented show and eventing facility.  Texas Rose hosts approximately 15 shows, 3 horse trials, and several clinics, schooling days and other activities every year.  Five large outdoor arenas and an indoor arena, along with 3 barns with permanent stalls for over 300 visiting horses, keep the shows moving.  There are even small permanent-structures for vendor shops. 

“We want the horses to be comfortable, as well as the riders,” Kathy asserts.  Extensive wash racks are outside the barns, as well as exercise areas.  “I made sure the permanent stalls for visiting horses have electricity and water at every third stall,” says Kim.  Tent stabling is also given consideration for the convenience of the humans and the comfort of the horses.

Building the Course

In 2011 the cross-country course, originally built at the front of the property, was re-located and re-built across a wide and grassy open hillside.  The course for levels Intermediate on down has run six horse trials during 2011 and 2012.  The new course was first designed by Carsten Meyer of Hilltop Farm in Louisiana, laid out for the dual purposes of developing a strong Area V rider-base and later adding an Advanced course.  Carsten is a product of the rider-development system in Germany, although for over two decades he has based in central Louisiana. 

The Brunsons had the good fortune to secure the services of Captain Mark Phillips, the previous Chef d’Equipe of the U.S. Olympic eventing team through three Olympics, to design the upper level courses during 2012.

Meyer has the design of the lower level courses as his assignment.  The two work closely together to align and integrate all the courses, as they have on other course design projects in the United States and Europe.  Indeed, Meyer reports that Phillips was so “into it” that he was making notes on Texas Rose while they were working on a course in Germany. 

Hearing riders say “I was challenged – I learned something – It was great!” as they come off course is Kathy Brunson’s dream.  Solid, wide obstacles and terrain approaches are found throughout the existing course, with a good deal of maximum height for the level.  The flow, track and building of the upper level courses benefit the other levels as well.  Weldon’s Walls, ditches and other features were built to accommodate several levels. 

Carsten Meyer maintains that  “The horses should come through the finish with their ears up saying ‘Let’s do it again!’”  While challenging, the courses are intended to be inviting to horses as well as riders.  Open grassy gallops between obstacles ask many of the questions currently seen at top events in the U.S. and Europe, and perhaps a bit more besides.

The highlight of the advanced level courses is what Kathy and Kim like to call the “leap of faith,” or as the riders term it, “the drop into space.”  The riders must feel they have a ferris-wheel view of part of the state of Texas as the horse leaps down a tall bank onto a slope.  When you go to Texas Rose, keep walking beyond the main visible course and the viewing stand (yes, uphill) and you’ll see it as you peer over the hill at the vista beyond … don’t miss it!

The first rider to make the first official run over the new Advanced course will go out of the start box on March 30, 2013 for a fair, but not too demanding, first debut.  The Advanced course will not run at the June horse trials to allow time to prepare for the AEC in September 2013.  After the AEC, there will be one more opportunity in November to compete over the course in 2013.  Afterwards the course is planned to be available for all of the annual horse trials, unless necessity dictates otherwise to prepare for the AEC each fall through 2015.

Area V offers two recognized events ahead of the March 2013 Texas Rose Horse Trials, MeadowCreek Park in Kosse, TX on March 2-3rd (highest level Preliminary,) and Feather Creek in Norman, OK on March 16-17 (highest level Intermediate.)  The Area V calendar continues through the spring with two more events offering Intermediate courses, Holly Hill on April 19-21 and Greenwood Farm on May 2-5.  Greenwood offers CIC** and CIC* as well as Intermediate down to Green-As-Grass.

The Brunsons expect that riders from other Areas will develop an interest in the Advanced course as word of mouth spreads.  Kathy and Kim recognize that winter conditions limit how much northern riders can condition and school outside to prepare for an early spring event.  They are ready to offer assistance finding stabling for anyone that would like to come to Texas early to prepare.

The Brunson Family Journey to Texas Rose Horse Park

The Brunsons’ journey to hosting the AEC has grown from a lifetime with horses, riders and a family horse business in north Texas.  Kathy and husband Robert Brunson’s Wagon Wheel Ranch gave daughter Kim and son Bryan their start working in a lesson, show and trail-ride barn that began in Coppell, Texas, a northeast suburb of Fort Worth.  Kim became a driving force behind teaching, riding and boarding.  Although Kim’s specialty has always been jumpers, at Wagon Wheel she and Bryan taught, held shows and led rides for English, Western, bareback and more.  Kim’s openness to endeavors that connect people and horses led her to establish channels to the rapidly-growing dressage and eventing communities in the area.

“I love getting people into riding,” says Kim.  She focused on getting newbies started, helping each student find the discipline they most wanted to pursue.  “I had Western riders who wanted to learn to jump, and English riders who wanted to trail-ride Western.”  Kim explains that being open to what her riders want has carried over to the development of the vision of Texas Rose as a service to horse people.

Thanks to Kim’s father Robert Brunson’s real estate acumen, Wagon Wheel Ranch was located in a semi-rural area that was gradually overtaken by the growth of the DFW metroplex.  After 20 years in the once-rural and now-growing suburbs north of Fort Worth, Texas, the ranch found itself located on land badly wanted by the next-door neighbor.  The adjoining neighbor was the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center (now a Marriott property).  People drive by the Gaylord just to view its beauty – and drive by again during holiday season to marvel over the lights and decorations. 

The sale to the Gaylord meant starting over for the family horse business.  The family saw it as a chance for a fresh vision.  A series of connections – and an openness to following where horse people lead – brought the possibilities of the rural, un-developed Tyler, Texas property onto the family radar.  It was ideal for horses – and for eventing, Kim realized as a board member for the North Texas Eventing Association (NTEA).  The Brunsons invited Area V and NTEA board members to walk the property with them and heard the enthusiasm for the wonderful footing and terrain, just one to two hour’s drive east of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and within a day’s drive of a large part of the midwest.  The collective dream of a top-of-the-class eventing venue, with an Advanced course, began to grow and gather momentum.

“The established horse trial organizers of Area V and the NTEA could have resisted and said they were worried Texas Rose would take entries from them.  If they had, we might have gone a different direction.  They didn’t – instead, they have been supportive.  So many people in the eventing community from the board members, organizers, trainers, riders and more have offered their input to the vision.  We have listened to everyone,” said Kim. 

“We followed what horse people wanted.  And we love eventers!” says Kim, speaking for the family.  Although it has meant the venerable Wagon Wheel is now in the past, the family ethic of service to horse people has moved forward to the Brunson’s creation of the Texas Rose Horse Park.   

Not only do the Brunsons continue their emphasis on service for both horses and people, at Texas Rose they continue to do it as a family.  Kim still starts beginners and helps them find the horse and discipline that suits them best at the on-property boarding barn, as well as helping mother Kathy and the family manage the larger horse park.  Robert Brunson sadly passed away in 2011, but his legacy of hard work and personal vision continue to inspire his family.  Kim’s brother Bryan “does everything,” focusing on the footing, and is Mr. Fix-It-Right-Now to keep the horse park and its competitions going.  Robert Brunson’s brother Charles Liljesprand is a major part of operations, setting up and maintaining the computer and network systems.  Charles’ wife (Kim’s aunt) D’Anne handles the office work.  All live on the property.

“If you build it … “ the leap of faith

“If you build it, they will come” is more than a leap of faith for Texas Rose Horse Park.  Owners Kathy and Kim Brunson believe that if you have a plan, with dates and resources, the input of top designers, competitors, trainers and advisors, a location selected for its quality, a customer-base that wants the product … and most of all, the heart, passion and commitment to see it through all the highs and lows … Texas Rose Horse Park will help the world of Area V eventing be a stronger and better place.

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