The CCC Spring Gulch Horse Trials is held once a year in May at the Spring Gulch Equestrian Park in Littleton, Colorado (Area IX) and offers Intro through Preliminary levels.
In 1977, the State Parks Board in Colorado accepted a proposal that had been put forward by several groups to transform the 112-acre facility at Spring Gulch into an equestrian area, complete with cross-country course. Rowena “Roe” Rogers, who was a member of the Arapahoe Hunt and Platte Valley Pony Club and a volunteer member of the State Parks Board, worked with a small core group to raise the money necessary to begin building the cross-country course. Their vision was to build every type of cross-country fence for each level so that Pony Clubbers could use the facility for schooling. In 1978, the first 12 cross-country jumps were built at Spring Gulch by Steve Gardner, who continued to build at the facility for many years.
The property upon which the Spring Gulch Equestrian Area sits is a “dry” dam that belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the flood control program at Chatfield State Park. For many years, the property was leased, administrated, and maintained by the State of Colorado before the Highlands Ranch Metro District took over administration in 2009. Since then, the area has been maintained by Friends of Spring Gulch, a non-profit organization, and the Mountain States Eventing Association: Central Colorado Chapter (MSEA-CCC).
Karrie McLaughlin and Rhetoric competing at the Preliminary level at Spring Gulch in 1994. Tricia Jones Photo.
The Central Colorado Chapter of MSEA became involved with hosting a Horse Trial at Spring Gulch in the 1980s as a way to raise funds to continue to build and maintain the cross-country course, trails, and arena on the property. To this day, Spring Gulch Horse Trials relies on donations to the Friends of Spring Gulch and the countless man-hours donated by volunteers to maintain the property. Spearheading these efforts is Gennifer Giustina, Spring Gulch Horse Trials’ organizer.
Giustina stressed the need for riders to give back when and where they can to help keep Spring Gulch alive. “It’s true with any event, but with ours its so important [to give back].” All of the maintenance is done on a volunteer basis, everything from mowing and arena dragging to fence construction, and all the funds to perform maintenance come from donations to the Friends of Spring Gulch.
Some dedicated members of MSEA-CCC volunteering at Spring Gulch. Photo courtesy of the MSEA-CCC Facebook page.
Spring Gulch Equestrian Area is unique in that it is government-owned and administered, is open to the public year-round, and attract both English and Western riders of all disciplines. “It’s a great place to come do gallop sets or trot sets,” said Giustina. “A person who’s in a barn and has no access to outside areas can really come over and condition their horse, and we have a lot of people do that. It’s truly an area that’s used by the public to go out and work their horses, and there aren’t very many [areas like that].”
Because the property is heavily schooled, all the cross-country jumps need to be very sturdy and well-constructed. Steve Buckman, a USEF “R” and FEI course designer, has been Spring Gulch’s course designer and builder since 2000. “All the jumps are built to national standards and we have approximately 125 jumps on site now,” explained Giustina. Many of the jumps are portable so they can be moved off the galloping tracks and free up space for schooling, a task that Giustina undertakes herself.
A competitor at the CCC Spring Gulch Horse Trials. Photo courtesy of the Spring Gulch Equestrian Facebook page.
The cross-country course runs inside the bowl of the dam, which makes for gently rolling terrain for all the courses. The footing is sandy and provides excellent drainage, so even after heavy rains or snows the footing remains good. Indeed, last year it snowed six inches the Thursday before the event, but the footing was perfect for the competition over the weekend. “In the past, we’ve run dressage and show jumping on Saturday and cross-country on Sunday, just because of the way our land is [limited],” explained Giustina. “But, this past year [we had the snowstorm] so we switched it and ran just dressage on Saturday and then we did show jumping and cross-country on Sunday where they went straight from show jumping to do the cross-country. I really liked it and I thought it ran really well so we’re going to do it again like that next year.”
One of the most unique and challenging things about hosting an event at Spring Gulch is that the facility has no running water or electricity. “We don’t have a water source, so we have to drag 900 feet of fire hose through a neighbor’s backyard downhill to fill the water jump from the fire hydrant in front of his house. Needless to say, the water jump is only open a few times a year for schooling and the horse trial,” said Giustina. “There isn’t any electricity so computers and the sound system are run from generators.” While there also isn’t any stabling on grounds, competitors who come from further away can stable at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds or Colorado Horse Park, both about 30 minutes away.
Spring Gulch draws approximately 100 to 125 riders each spring, which makes for a very tight-knit community with familiar faces at every event. Spring Gulch is also the first Area IX event in Colorado every spring and is the first chance for many riders to get out to compete again after the winter, which is longer for eventers in Colorado than those in California or on the East Coast. It might not be the biggest event on Area IX’s calendar, but Spring Gulch has been on the calendar for nearly 30 years and Giustina looks forward to continuing to provide a quality event for Area IX eventers.
The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the series, USEA Events A-Z.