Jul 13, 2017

USEA Events A-Z: Aspen Horse Trials

By Leslie Mintz - USEA Staff
Mt. Rainier makes a jaw-dropping backdrop for the Aspen Farms cross-country course. USEA/Caroline Culbertson Photo.

Located in Yelm, Washington (Area VII), Aspen Farms runs two USEA recognized events each year in June and September with 300 competitors each. They are the only event in Washington state to host an Advanced level event. This year the fall event is the Area VII Championships and part of the Adequan USEA Gold Cup Series. Learn more about Aspen Farms on their website.

What do you get when two four-star riders team up to create the best event they can? Aspen Farms Horse Trials. After successful upper level eventing careers on the East Coast, Jonathan and Suzy Elliott decided to move back to their roots in the Pacific Northwest in 2005 and start an event.

“With both Suzy and I being competitors in the past we tend to organize the event with that in mind,” explained Jonathan. “Taking the good things from all of the various competitions we have been to across the U.S. and improving upon when things don’t go as planned or as we had hoped.”

A competitor on cross-country at Aspen Farms. USEA/Caroline Culbertson Photo.

Organizing an event from the viewpoint of the competitors has proved a successful formula for the Elliotts and they fill nearly everyone of their events on opening day and have to do a lottery from the extensive waitlist. This speaks to the popularity of the event that has been carefully developed over the last decade.

In 2007, Jonathan and Suzy purchased 240 acres of raw land just outside of Yelm, Washington. They cleared the trees and laid out the track and scheduled a USEA recognized event. “Of course it rained quite heavily because we ran on the third weekend in October in Washington state,” said Jonathan. “As it turns out it that isn’t the best time on this side of the mountain, but everything came off in the end. Now it is 2017 and it is our tenth year.”

Jordan Linstedt competes in the Advanced division at Aspen Farms. USEA/Caroline Culbertson Photo.

The first year the event ran Beginner Novice through Preliminary, but Jonathan enjoys tackling a new “project” each year and that is often adding a new level. “After the first year we made sure we could maintain what we started with and then we added the Intermediate in 2008, in 2010 it was CIC divisions for a one and two-star and in 2012 it was the Advanced.” Aspen Farms is the first and only event in Washington state to host an Advanced division.

Developing an entire new facility from raw land is definitely an undertaking, but Jonathan and Suzy brought in some great people to help them. “Tremaine Cooper does the upper level courses, and I do lower level and that has been quite a good collaboration over the years,” said Jonathan. “It is a bit of a family at this point with the guys that come in and build as well. Travers Schick, Joe Stylos and Josh Sylce have been with us for the last nine years and that has been a huge help for us getting it going.” The Elliots, Cooper and the course builders have created a unique course that utilizes the rolling terrain that runs through open fields and swaths of fir trees with 100 foot paths.

Photo courtesy of Aspen Farms.

Volunteers are the backbone of any successful event and Aspen Farms has some great ones that have returned year after year including Suzy’s father who used to run a horse trials in Canada. “[My first year] I got a USEA handbook for running an event and it broke out all of the different positions for the volunteers. Thankfully most of the people have done it with us since the first year and having the same people in the same positions has been a huge benefit,” said Jonathan.

Want to see the Aspen Farms cross-country course from the rider's perspective? Check out Erin Gallagher's helmet cam from the Preliminary in June.

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

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