Oct 26, 2017

USEA Events A-Z: Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Carl Bouckaert's son-in-law, Michael Pollard competing at Chattahoochee Hills during the AEC in 2011. USEA/Hannah Bennett Photo.

The Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials in Fairburn, Ga. (Area III) hosts six USEA recognized competitions a year offering Beginner Novice through Advanced levels and also hosts an international event every spring that offers CIC*, CIC2*, and CIC3* levels. Chattahoochee Hills also hosts several unrecognized schooling shows a year as part of their Southeastern Schooling Show Series.

Carl Bouckaert, along with Ritch and Kelli Temple, founded the Chatsworth International Horse Trials in 1988. Held every year on the second weekend in April, the CIC3* served for many riders as the final prep run before the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day event and was also the site for the 1991 Pan American Games. After Chatsworth hosted its last event in the early 2000s, Bouckaert turned his attention to an undeveloped 2,200-acre parcel that was part of 8,000 acres of property along the Chattahoochee River he had acquired piece by piece between 1988 and 1996. In 2007, Chattahoochee Hills hosted its first event.

The 400-acre hay field upon which Chattahoochee Hills now sits has undergone significant changes since that very first event to become the equestrian venue it is today. “A lot has happened since then,” said Hugh Lochore, Chattahoochee Hills’ organizer and course designer. “It was just an open field then, so you jumped on grass, you stabled on grass, you did everything on grass and since then [Carl has] build 240 stalls and lots of arenas and it’s become a fully-fledged competition venue . . . They ran a couple of events a year for the first couple of years and we now run six horse trials a year.” The stables and competition arenas were built in 2010, prior to Chattahoochee Hills serving as the site of the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) for 2010-2012.

A rider on course at Chattahoochee Hills in 2009 showing the construction of the barn in the background. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Chattahoochee Hills hosts one international event a year in the spring, offering CIC*, CIC2*, and CIC3* levels in addition to the national levels of Beginner Novice through Advanced. While the event has jumped around quite a bit on the calendar in the past, it has settled on the second weekend in April, the original date Chatsworth occupied all those years ago. Unlike some other international events on the calendar that simply run one event a year, or have a large team behind them, this is just one of six events for Chattahoochee Hills, and they work to maintain a grassroots feel at their international event as well. “We offer something different,” stated Lochore. “We have a bit of fun with it, we’ve got a good trade fair, good international judges and TDs, we put that international flavor on it.”

In addition to hosting six USEA recognized events every year, Chattahoochee Hills also hosts seven unrecognized schooling shows and this year held Championships at the end of the season. “It’s really popular in the area,” said Lochore. “We have anywhere from 150 to 250 horses, depending on the schooling show.” The last competition in the series will be held in just a couple of weeks and 220 horses are expected to compete. “We offer series-end prizes for trainers, top horses, top riders, and different levels . . . It’s a nice venue and people like coming here.”

During the summer, Chattahoochee Hills offers a Twilight Jumper series on Wednesday afternoons to give riders the opportunity to come school competition-quality courses in a low-key setting. In addition to the USEA recognized events, unrecognized schooling shows, and twilight jumper series, Chattahoochee Hills also hosts other jumper and dressage shows throughout the year. “We end up with 33 [equestrian] events a year at the facility,” Lochore said.

Lauren Kieffer competing at Chattahoochee Hills in 2017. Liz Crawley Photo.

Chattahoochee Hills has a small group of people that consistently contribute to make the events happen. “Ritch Temple was the guy that got it all up and going,” explained Lochore, “and then while he was here [he worked with] Mindy Friesen. Mindy’s great and she helps us out nowadays as well, she’s been a great supporter over the years. While I’ve been here the last five years, I’ve had Penny Morse as my volunteer coordinator and she gets involved in all the unrecognized events. She’s our sort of head volunteer and she’s absolutely wonderful. She also does our press office and that sort of stuff. Kelly Miller is currently in the office and she’s the face [riders see] when they come in to register at the event.”

Lochore also acknowledged the many volunteers who dedicate their time to the events at Chattahoochee Hills and come back over and over again. “A great crew of volunteers is what’s important, obviously at every venue, but we run 13 events a year and so we have a few that are just fantastic and keep coming out,” he said.

Not only is Lochore the organizer at Chattahoochee Hills, he’s also been the course designer at the venue since 2012. “I was the designer here the year before [I started as organizer], and then Carl asked me to come run the event. I started [designing] with the AEC in 2012 and then stayed on.” The event running at Chattahoochee Hills this weekend will mark Lochore’s 33rd event with the venue.

“Rob Mobley has been the course builder here since it started in 2007,” said Lochore, “so he’s been a [consistent figure] and has been a massive help to us.” Mobley also designs courses at the lower levels throughout the year. “Alex Torres is our main guy that works on the farm and he’s been here since the beginning too. He tells me what to do!” laughed Lochore. “He’s fantastic, he just puts his head down and gets on with it when there’s an event on.”

The cross-country course runs in the flatlands alongside the Chattahoochee River, providing excellent sandy loam footing that holds up well to rain, and the venue sits up on the hills overlooking the flatlands.

A view of the sprawling course at Chattahoochee Hills. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“There’s some really good topography around the edges of the flatlands down by the river,” elaborated Lochore, explaining how this unique terrain makes for courses with a mixture of flat grassland and rolling hills and allows for a lot of variety in his course designs. “That’s what’s fun from a course design point of view. You can decide if you’re going to run a flat track or give them a really good [gallop]. This next event will have a good hill in it; it’s the end of the season, they’re all getting ready for CCIs, the weather this weekend is going to be 65 degrees, it’s just perfect for giving them a really good blow up the hill.”

Lochore explained how, since the venue hosts so many events, they have worked hard to keep changing up the cross-country course so riders are always encountering something new and different. Chattahoochee Hills has a plethora of portable jumps to work with, which makes changing things up that much easier. “We start with a blank sheet every time. Quite often we find ourselves repeating certain loops on the course that we’ve had before, but I would say that out of 33 events we’ve never had the same course twice at any level.”

There are many different aspects that Lochore considers when putting a new track together, including the time of year, the desired length of the track, and the amount of terrain he wants to include. “We’re lucky to have an open blank slate to play with every time. [The course is determined] by time of year and what tickles our fancy they day we go and start putting jumps out in the field!”

The stabling at Chattahoochee Hills maintains a relaxed atmosphere. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

“It’s a very organic site,” said Lochore when asked what sets Chattahoochee Hills apart. “Some of the other bigger venues are a bit concrete, but [we have] a lot of open space for grazing. People like to come here a day or two early just to go for a hack . . . It’s always a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s very friendly, there’s no pressure. It’s a big open piece of space that people can come and enjoy. I think that’s what we offer that’s different from other venues.”

“I think people come to [Chattahoochee Hills] to enjoy the friendly atmosphere,” Lochore continued. “It’s a very friendly staff. Nothing’s ever too much trouble for the staff here, we’re always out to try to make people's stay an enjoyable one. It’s a very relaxed and friendly event to come to and I think 90% of our competitors that come here time and time again would agree to that . . . I think [the venue has] a good rep for being a fun and friendly place to come to.”

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

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