Mar 02, 2023

Get to Know What’s Happening in Area X in 2023

By Jonathan Horowitz - USEA Staff
Faye Gandolfi and Mischief Managed at the 2022 Summer Coconino H.T. and Western Underground, Inc. 3-Day Event. Faye Gandolfi photo

Note: Throughout 2023, the United States Eventing Association will be putting the spotlight on each area and sharing how they will uniquely contribute to the growth of the sport of eventing. The first area featured is Area X.

The United States Eventing Association’s Area X of Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico will kick off its 2023 calendar of USEA-recognized horse trials in March with the vision of growing the SAzEA Horse Trials and returning the Coconino Horse Trials to their profile as a destination event following the effects of COVID-19 and then wildfires in the area.

The first of five horse trials will be the SAzEA Spring H.T. at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Arizona, with dressage and show jumping on Sat., March 11 and cross-country on March 12, offering levels from Preliminary to Pre-Comp. Pre-Comp will include a walk-trot dressage test and jumps at a maximum height of 2’.

“We increase a few riders every horse trials we have, and the word gets out a little further,” said Taharra Morris-Reid of the Southern Arizona Eventing Association, citing entrants traveling from California, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Morris-Reid said that SAzEA has received positive feedback from the investment the organization has made into improving the quality of jumps and footing.

“They really are impressed with the level of craftsmanship in our jumps and the technicality of the courses and level of challenge,” she said. “One of our course designer’s intents was to compete with the more-renowned horse trial venues and that we’re a serious course. We’re a real contender for people trying to qualify and move up and go to some of the bigger venues.”

Sophia Hardesty and Castle Black Jack at the 2022 SAzEA Fall H.T. Faye Gandolfi photo

Then, the attention will shift to three horse trials offered at Coconino at the Fort Tut Hill Fairgrounds in Flagstaff, Arizona. The first will take place on Memorial Day weekend, followed by two on consecutive weekends surrounding July 4.

“We look at our neighbors to the east, and we get quite a few people coming out from Texas, Utah, Colorado, all those states that touch the border of Arizona,” said Alice Sarno, the organizer at Coconino since 1991. “They continually return to Coconino, and that’s something I’m really proud of.”

The two horse trials at Coconino in July will go from Pre-Comp up to Intermediate. The Summer Coconino H.T. and Western Underground, Inc. 3-Day Event from July 6 to 8 will also be part of the USEA Classic Series, offering Beginner Novice Three-Day (BN3D), Novice Three-Day (N3D), and Training Three-Day (T3D).

“I really want people to realize that they can get out there and do the long format at the lower levels, and it’s more of an educational thing,” Sarno said.

Manuela Propfe and Master Swatch at the 2022 Summer Coconino H.T. and Western Underground, Inc. 3-Day Event. Faye Gandolfi photo

Then, the Area X Championships will be held at the SAzEA Fall H.T., which will shift four weeks earlier from when they’ve been run in November since 2019 to the weekend of Oct. 21 and 22.

“So maybe the colder-weather states don’t have to drive through blizzards or worry about snow,” Morris-Reid said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some more participation from the colder-weather states.”

Coincidentally, the fact that Flagstaff has cooler weather in the summer compared to the rest of Arizona is a big attraction for the horse trials at Coconino.

“Everyone is really excited about going north and getting up into the beautiful pine trees in Flagstaff, and a lot of people plan their vacations around the back-to-back weekends,” Sarno said. “In between the two shows, they can go see a number of historical things like the Grand Canyon and Sedona.”

Sarno said she's looking forward to Coconino returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

“We’re still recovering from COVID, and then we had forest fires,” she said. “We had two years of COVID, and then we got knocked on our butts because of the forest fires [in 2021]. Last year was the first time we were able to crawl out from the burden of COVID and the forest fires.”

Looking to the future, SAzEA plans to lease additional land to expand their cross-country courses, according to Morris-Reid.

“We added a second show [in 2019],” she said. “We’ve been asked to add even a third, and we would be happy to run four if we raised enough money to fund the horse trials. We’re happy to grow because we owe it to the area. The more shows we have, the more we see new people show up to the sport.”

Annabelle Nieman and JLo at the 2022 SAzEA Fall H.T. Faye Gandolfi photo

Area X is where five-star riders Kim Severson and Jonathan Elliott cut their teeth before moving to other areas. Exposing new people to eventing remains a goal of organizers of Area X events.

“We have a lot of grassroots people here because we don’t have as many events as we used to have,” Sarno said. “We are always grooming a new group of people, and that’s probably one of the most important things about Area X is introducing new people into the sport.”

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