In addition to being a boarding and training stable, Cobblestone Farms in Dexter, Michigan (Area VIII) hosts one USEA recognized event each year on the last weekend in July, offering Starter through Preliminary levels, as well as schooling shows and derbies throughout the year.
Jim and Darlyn Daratony purchased Cobblestone Farms in Dexter, Michigan with the dream of turning it into a premiere boarding, training, and eventing facility. Darlyn is a rider, as are her daughters, and Darlyn always dreamed of having a farm of her own. Her daughters were involved in the Area VIII Young Rider program, so when they decided to host an event for the first time over 10 years ago they already had a good idea of what it would take to pull it off.
Darlyn approached Jennifer Merrick-Brooks, who organizes several other events in Michigan, both USEA recognized events and unrecognized events through The Eventing Association of Michigan (TEAM). “They wanted to run an Eventing Association of Michigan event and wondered if I would be interested in [organizing] it,” said Merrick-Brooks. “The funny thing is, they said, ‘Would you come on board for a year and show us how it’s done?’ and I’m still doing that event.”
After their first year hosting a TEAM event, they decided to move ahead with hosting a USEA recognized competition in addition to other TEAM events and derbies. That first year, they offered Beginner Novice through Training level to the 100 competitors in attendance. “We had Bobby Stevenson come in [the first year] because he was recommended as a good guy to get us going and give us direction and it just developed from there,” explained Merrick-Brooks.
Cobblestone Farms is unique in that the event is hosted across two separate properties connected by an easement. The main boarding and training facility and dressage arenas are a 10-minute hack through the woods from what Merrick-Brooks calls “The Hub”, where the stabling, show jumping, and cross-country course start and finish are located.
The program cover celebrating Cobblestone Farms' 10th year. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Merrick-Brooks.
Over the last 10 years, Cobblestone Farms has undergone significant development to accommodate the 300 competitors that travel from all over Midwest, South, and Northeast to compete. “It used to be all generators and we had big water containers [to provide water],” described Merrick-Brooks. “Now we have an irrigation system, we have aerators, we have running water, we have wash-racks. It’s amazing, when you look back, it was 100 people the first year basically camping out in a field of generators. We put big round bales around the generators to try to muffle the noise!”
An incredible team comes together at Cobblestone Farms to make the event happen. Jeff Kibbie has been the cross-country course builder, and Debbie Boeh and Dave Emmons have been part of the crew as Technical Delegates (TD) for the past years as well. In addition to riding at Cobblestone Farms, Seema Sonnad continued to come back to volunteer and serve as TD at their unrecognized events. “She just kept giving back, which is her legacy,” said Merrick-Brooks.
Cricket Killen and her husband Paul have been involved with Cobblestone Farms from day one. Killen served as the volunteer coordinator for Cobblestone Farms until stepping down a couple of years ago, but she still volunteers at every event. “She’s mentored a number of people to help take over many of the aspects of the volunteer coordinator’s position,” said Merrick-Brooks. “She does the cross-country packets for the jump judges and she helps with hospitality. She’s been a wonderful asset.”
Cricket Killen (left) and Jennifer Merrick-Brooks (right). Photo courtesy of Jennifer Merrick-Brooks.
Megan Melaney is Merrick-Brooks’ right hand at Cobblestone Farms Horse Trials and has volunteered in virtually every position over the years. “As an organizer, you get stopped and asked a million questions as you’re trying to go to get something accomplished and [the first couple of years] she would actually stand there with a notebook and follow me around to remind me of all the things I was going to check on for people,” explained Merrick-Brooks.
Cobblestone Farms relies on the efforts of around 100 volunteers to help the event run smoothly. “People always say, ‘Thank you, you run such a great event,’ and I’m the first to say, ‘You have no idea, it is not me,’” said Merrick-Brooks. “It’s a team and it’s a village. It’s what we call the Cobblestone Family.”
Every year, Cobblestone Farms Horse Trials hosts the Eventing Rocks at Cobblestone Farm party and invites not just the competitors, but volunteers, spectators, and everyone else at the event to come and have a good time on Saturday night. Then, Sunday morning starts with the Sunday Morning Coffee and Cowboy Prayer up on the hill at 7:00 a.m. hosted by Jim Daratony. “It’s very short and sweet,” described Merrick-Brooks, “and a lot have people have said how that’s such a lovely added touch.”
Competitors "Pink Out" at the Cobblestone Farms Horse Trials! Photo courtesy of the Cobblestone Farms Facebook page.
Another unique aspect of the Cobblestone Farms Horse Trials is the “Jump for the Cure” fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, an idea formulated by two junior boarders at Cobblestone. T-shirts designed by the boarders are available for sale, and competitors are encouraged to “Pink Out” or “Purple Out” (in honor of Seema Sonnad) on the cross-country course on Saturday with prizes for the best presentation.
Merrick-Brooks explained that the most rewarding part of being an organizer is watching everything come together. “You always have some things that have to be dealt with, and as an organizer my job is to fix the things without anybody realizing that it was a problem. As an organizer, what are you? You’re a problem solver. You want to keep everybody safe, obviously, and [make sure] everybody’s needs are met, and things run smoothly. I’m so lucky that our crew is very good.”
“I love the people,” Merrick-Brooks concluded. “I love the people that I work with, and seeing people that come back and bring their friends. We started out as about 100 competitors and now it’s 300. [I love] to see these people that maybe you don’t see very often because they’re from somewhere else, but they come back.”
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