Sep 21, 2017

USEA Events A-Z: Course Brook Farm Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Photo courtesy of Course Brook Farm's website.

Course Brook Farm in Sherborn, Mass. (Area I) hosts one USEA recognized event in early October offering Beginner Novice through Preliminary level in addition to the several schooling shows, pony club rallies, and clinics they host throughout the year.

The history behind Course Brook Farm stretches all the way back to 1927 when the property was known as Fairfield Farm, a 300-acre dairy farm established by Donald Mayo. Matt Mayo, Donald Mayo’s grandson, now owns the remaining 60 acres that is known as Course Brook Farm.

The dairy farm began its transition to a boarding stable in the seventies when the milk business was on the decline due to the Oil Embargo and the rising price of gas. “My father had the foresight to build 10 stalls and he [leased out] the barn in 1970. Both [the milk business and the boarding business] ran concurrently until about the end of the decade,” explained Mayo. By that time, the cows had been sold and the farm was taking in milk from other sources to be processed, bottled, and delivered, and by the early eighties the milk business was gone. Over the next 15 years, the property made adjustments to accommodate a boarding and training operation, including the addition of more stalls in several small barns around the property and the construction of an indoor arena.

Photo courtesy of Course Brook Farm's website.

Fast forward to the late nineties. Mayo had decided to take a leave of absence from his corporate job and come home to the farm. “When I came home in 1997 there was only one arena and the only jumps on the property were in that ring. The only trail wasn’t even on our property, it was across the stone wall on conservation trails,” described Mayo. “I was out mowing a field and there was a group of women in the woods. They were slashing away with these hand machetes building this small trail through the woods. I said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and they said, ‘Trying to get you motivated to build a cross-country course!’ I said, ‘What do you guys do, ski in the wintertime?’ I had never heard of the term.” After doing some research, a neighbor put him in touch with Jim Gornall, and he helped Mayo put in the property’s very first cross-country track.

To this day, Gornall is still heavily involved with the event. “He has been the course designer and builder [since we started hosting] schooling horse trials and unrecognized events,” said Erika Hendricks, the event’s organizer. “He is not designing this year's courses but will be present as the Technical Delegate. He has lent his support, wisdom and inspiration to the event and to [Matt] the entire time. We absolutely could not have done any of it without him!”

Mayo still remembers the very first schooling event they offered at Course Brook Farm. It was during a freezing snowstorm in October of 1998, and there were just 14 horses and riders competing at Beginner Novice and Novice levels. “I’ll never forget that first rider, Jessie Shull.” Mayo recalled. “I’ll never forget she was the first rider that went off, and I remember Jimmy at the end when she finished, he said ‘How does that feel?’ and she said, ‘It was amazing.’”

Course Brook Farm offers cross-country schooling, clinics, and schooling shows. Photo courtesy of Course Brook Farm's website.

Over the last 20 years, Course Brook Farm’s property has evolved and expanded to accommodate a full-time boarding and training operation as well as the numerous schooling shows and clinics hosted on the property. The farm now boasts indoor and outdoor arenas, three sand dressage courts, stabling for over 40 horses, trails, and a cross-country course that snakes in and out of the surrounding woods.

In 2010, Course Brook Farm held their very first USEA recognized event for Pre-Elementary through Training level. Mayo knew he wanted to expand the cross-country course, but felt limited by the size of the property and wasn’t sure how to proceed. In 2013, he attended Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials and got connected with course builder Eric Bull. “I couldn’t believe the quality of the jumps and the ruggedness of them,” said Mayo. “I called him and he put me in touch with John Williams. John came up on Labor Day 2013 and put a [Preliminary cross-country course] design together in one day. He came up for one day, spent the whole day on the property, and he’s been back every year since.”

Course Brook Farm will offer the Preliminary level for the first time at their event in just a few weeks, but they’ve been working on building the jumps and excavating the track since Williams first laid it out in 2013. Luckily, Mayo’s brother owns an excavation business and has been instrumental in the work that’s taken place to make this possible. “There were a lot of trees that needed to come down on that part of the property, and it was a lot of excavation work to get those stumps out and get them moved, and create another loop everywhere in the woods."

Photo courtesy of Course Brook Farm's website.

Hendricks and her co-organizer Nici Hornblower know that Course Brook Farm Horse Trials is special because of all the people that are involved in making it happen. “We have a wonderful group of show staff, all of whom are boarders, as well as volunteers. The event definitely has a down-home, family feel to it, and we think people feel welcome and have a great time. We really look forward to hosting this event every year, seeing everyone have fun and enjoy all the property has to offer to the sport of eventing.”

"Nici and I both agree that while the few months, weeks, and days leading up to the event are quite stressful, the day the event arrives, and we see all our hard work unfold is definitely what we look forward to," said Hendricks. "It is so rewarding as organizers to watch the farm all decked out in its finest and hosting hordes of competitors. It's also nice at the end of the day to reflect back on everything and feel good about the event we put on and the day that we had."

For Mayo, Course Brook Farm Horse Trials truly is a labor of love. “Obviously, I’m not an event rider, the most riding I do is after a snowstorm, getting on the horses and going bareback through the property,” he laughed. “But I love when the events run, [during] Training and this year Preliminary, I walk around through the trails as they’re riding, it just reminds me of so many things from the last 20 years, of all the work that we’ve done.”

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

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