Aug 22, 2022

The History of Huntington Farm H.T.

Amy Donohue Photography

Even after a long, hot day of riding, teaching, and managing a 205-acre farm, Carole Ann “Pinky” Tullar glows when she talks about Huntington. Situated in the lush hills of Strafford, Vermont, the farm has been in Pinky’s family since 1983 when her aunt – Ann Kitchel – bought the property from Read and Essie Perkins, who started the horse trials there in 1969. Today, Huntington is one of the oldest continuously running horse trials in the country.

“It’s a special place,” says Tullar. It’s a place where preparation for competitions and schoolings is tuned to the rhythms of the hay harvest; where homemade egg salad sandwiches are served to fence judges; where town residents open up their homes to provide accommodations to competitors; and where a photo album of the farm’s history is set out on show days so that riders, judges, and the community can flip through and reminisce about their lifelong connections to the farm.

Amy Donohue Photography

Connection - both to history and among riders - is one of the defining characteristics of Huntington. “If you look in the kitchen on show day, you’ll see people in their late 70s and 80s mingling with 9, 10, 11-year old kids,” Tullar says. “This is what life is all about. Seeing the next generation learn from these horsewomen who have been competing for decades.” The farm’s role in providing a sense of continuity is grounded in its unique equestrian history. Throughout the years, Huntington has provided a training ground for some of the biggest names in the sport: Tad Coffin, Karen Stives, Denny Emerson, Mara DePuy, Jane Savoie, Kelly Temple … the list goes on. When Beth Perkins – daughter of Read and Essie – was a member of the United States Eventing Team in 1973 and 1974, the team came to train and school on the property. Since that time and throughout Ann Kitchel’s tenure, the farm’s legacy has been conscientiously maintained by such individuals as Mary Hutchins. Recently celebrating her 90th birthday, Hutchins has been with the farm since the Perkins’ time and now keeps her license in order to maintain her role as show jump judge.

In March of 2021, the farm changed hands when Skylar Clemens purchased it from Kitchel, under whom Clemens had been working for two years. Originally from outside of Bucks County, Pennsylvania where they sold meats and produce direct to consumers, Clemens's family was looking for a change as the land around their farm became over-developed. Having been involved with horses and worked on a farm his whole life, Clemens moved with his family to Vermont during his last two years of high school. “I fell in love with the land and the farm and the town,” he recalls. “It’s true small-town Vermont. It just felt like home.”

Now, Tullar and Clemens run almost every aspect of the farm on their own. Despite the movement of the sport toward larger equine venues, Huntington still maintains a busy competition calendar, offering two recognized events, three schooling horse trials, and two dressage shows every summer along with cross-country schooling. While they do not see the horse trials as a money-making endeavor but rather a continuing labor of love, Tullar emphasizes that the competitions must pay for themselves: a system that only works successfully through the support of the town and of the Area I community as a whole. Last year, Huntington introduced cross-country fence sponsorships, and the community stepped up immediately and donated fences in honor of loved ones and family members. This year, when tent stabling was needed again after not being used for over a decade, an individual sponsor came forward to cover the cost. During the competition, townspeople celebrated “the glow of the tents back in the valley.”

“Generosity is what fuels us,” says Tullar. “People here pull together because they care about the event. They don’t just offer opinions and advice; they offer up the work behind the advice. They show up. They help you build it.”

Joan Davis Photos / Flatlandsfoto

The supportive community spirit also helps Huntington to maintain the rigor for which its competition has always been known. The diversity of terrain – varying from flat ground to rolling hills – allows for a uniquely challenging course with an old-school cross-country feel to it. Designed by Janine McClain and built by Jamie Gornall, the course fully utilizes the rolls and knolls that form the backbone of the land in this area. Last year, Captain Mark Phillips came to do the Preliminary course inspection. “He saw what we see every day, which is that this is a magical piece of land,” recalls Tullar.

“This is real cross-country,” Phillips said of the course. “This is what cross country is built off of.”

“It was amazing to see it through his eyes,” Tullar says of the visit.

The future of Huntington depends very much on what the equestrian community wants to support. Tullar envisions building a bigger team to help organize and coordinate the events as well as to develop the vision. “This has to be a collaborative effort for Area I,” she emphasizes. “The work is not done.” Speaking as a horsewoman through and through, she describes the work with an analogy we have all heard from our trainers: “We need to harness the energy and channel it in the right direction.”

It appears there is no scarcity of energy and enthusiasm to draw from in this area. Huntington will continue to grow and evolve as surely as horsewomen return to impart wisdom to future generations and horse-crazy kids remain eager to paint jumps in the barn until midnight

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