Jul 02, 2020

USEA Events A-Z: Abbe Ranch Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Petra Kadrnozkova Photo courtesy of Susan Farmer.

Abbe Ranch in Larkspur, Colorado (Area IX) hosts one horse trials a year in late June offering Introductory through Training levels.

James Abbe was a world-famous photographer of theater and movie stars in New York, Hollywood, Paris, and London in the 1920s. In 1922, he met Polly Shorrock, a former Ziegfeld dancer, in Rome and they were married in Paris shortly after. In 1924, their first child, Patience, was born. Their second child, Richard, was born in 1926, and their youngest son, John, was born a year later in 1927.

In 1932, James was photographing in Russia where he met Bob Lamont, who owned Perry Park Ranch in Larkspur, Colorado. Lamont invited James to visit the ranch, and in 1934 he and his family traveled to the states to take him up on his offer. For two years the Abbe family lived in the guest house at Perry Park Ranch, and during that time, the three Abbe children wrote a book entitled “Around the World in Eleven Years” which described their upbringing roving around Europe.

When James traveled to cover the Spanish Civil War, Polly took the children to Hollywood for screen tests. They wrote a second book, “Of All Places,” which was published in 1937. With royalties rolling in from the first book, James reunited with Polly and his children and traveled east from California looking for a place to settle. The children insisted on living in Colorado, and so the family returned to Douglas County where they purchased 320 acres of land and built a log cabin. Their housewarming party in March of 1938 included local friends and friends from nearby Denver, a German band, a keg of beer sent by Adolf Coors, the kids on horses with an American flag, and Polly placing a copy of the first book in the corner stone of the cabin.

The historic Abbe Ranch House. Photo courtesy of Susan Farmer.

A year later, Polly and the children left to travel Europe for content for a third book. James declined to travel with his family, ultimately divorcing Polly and remaining behind at Abbe Ranch. Given the climate in Europe as World War II loomed, Polly found that Americans were no longer welcome when they stopped in Berlin. For six months, Polly and her children traveled around Europe before eventually returning to Colorado on September 1, 1939 – the day the Nazis invaded Poland. When they returned to Abbe Ranch, James was nowhere to be found. That winter, the Abbe children wrote their third book, “No Place Like Home.” The third book, like the second, was nowhere near as popular as the first. Eventually, Abbe Ranch was sold.

Richard Farmer grew up in Pueblo, Colorado and left for West Point and the US Army in 1950. Nineteen years later, he arrived back in Colorado with a PhD in engineering from MIT to take a job with Lockheed Martin. A widower with three children, he began house hunting in Douglas County. “I was looking for a modest home with some space and I finally was introduced to [Abbe Ranch],” he said. In 1970, he purchased Abbe Ranch and a portion of the original 320 acres.

Melinda Hofmeister Photo courtesy of Susan Farmer.

At the time, Susan Robinson was making a living as a traveling riding instructor, using her certification from Margaret Self’s New Canaan School of Horsemastership. She met Richard in Snowmass, Colorado. “I proposed and she refused,” Richard recalled, “and I persisted for another six months until we married.” That same year, Susan and Richard purchased an additional portion of the original Abbe Ranch property, bringing their total acreage to 198 acres.

Susan immediately began hosting Pony Club rides and regional rallies as well as tetrathlons, pair pace events, dressage shows, and clinics. Abbe Ranch hosted its first USEA recognized horse trials in June of 1976. Abbe Ranch was also the site of the USPC National Eventing Championship West in August of 1981 and has been host of the Area IX Championships three times, first in 1984 and most recently in 2006. Few other events in the United States has run for as long without interruption.

An excerpt from USCTA News about Abbe Ranch's first event in 1976.

The Abbe Ranch Horse Trials now runs once yearly in June and offers Introductory through Training level. The property is closed to riders except for during the event in June and during the clinic the Farmers host in May to give riders the chance to prepare for the event and school the cross-country course. “It was important to me because of all the good we could do for kids by helping them ride their ponies and horses better,” Susan said. “We really think that the Abbe Ranch is a special place and we try to keep it natural and treat the wildlife in the right way.”

"[The facility is] very rustic and old school with a view to die for in a valley surrounded by mountains!" said Laura Backus of the nearby Pendragon Stud Equestrian Center. "[There are] acres of cross-country fences. [It's] like the most beautiful eventing playground. [There is] lots of terrain - riders really learn to balance and support without losing impulsion."

"This event is the cornerstone of Area IX eventing and our riders' successes outside the area," Backus said. "It is still in the top three on my daughter's favorite events and she has ridden in many events in America and the UK. Also, Dick and Susan hold an amazing four-day clinic in the spring which helps riders prepare for the competition season and has introduced many many riders to the sport of eventing. All of this done by two octogenarians!"

A self-proclaimed history buff, Richard began digging into the history of Abbe Ranch. “They’re not just objects – they’re what remains of people,” Richard said. That was how he and Susan came to learn about the history of the Abbe family. They even invited the three Abbe children to visit their old home and local childhood friends. Motivated by their visits with the Abbe children, Richard and Susan nominated the Abbe Ranch House as a Douglas County Historic Landmark in 2004. In 2011, they donated all 198 of their acres to a conservation easement with the Douglas Land Conservancy, guaranteeing that the land will remain open space forever. In 2019, Richard and Susan were presented with the Douglas Land Conservancy Oak Leaf Award for their commitment to conservation in Douglas County.

Photo courtesy of Susan Farmer.

“We hope that you find the facility and organization ready to provide you with a memorable riding experience,” Susan said. “We like to chat with each of you about how things are going, and we will try to do that, but our responsibilities often get in the way. Please accept it if we have to settle for a brief hello ‘on the fly!’”

The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the USEA Events A­-Z series.

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