Derbyshire Farms is a boarding and training facility in Stevensville, Michigan (Area VIII) that hosts one USEA recognized event in June, offering Beginner Novice through Preliminary/Training level. They also host an unrecognized event for The Eventing Association of Michigan (TEAM) in September of each year as well as dressage shows, 4-H events, and cross-country schooling.
In the late 1980s, Lucinda Henderson and her two daughters, Samantha and Meredith, traveled to Hunters Run Farm in Metamora, Michigan for a tutorial on how to build cross-country fences and brought the knowledge back to their family farm to build a cross-country course to school. “Where we are there was really nothing to practice and that’s kind of why we started it,” said Henderson. “The girls started getting more serious about [eventing] and we started building so they had a place to practice. That’s how this whole thing got started.”
Situated just five miles from the shore of Lake Michigan, Derbyshire Farms was originally established in the 1970s and has been owned and operated by the Henderson family since 1985. After they installed a cross-country course on the property in the late 1980s, The Eventing Association of Michigan (TEAM) approached Henderson about hosting an event on the property. Derbyshire Farms hosted its first TEAM recognized event in 1991 with just 11 starters, and hosted their first USEA recognized event a few years later in 1997.
Now, more than 25 years after hosting their first event, Derbyshire Farms is one of the four Area VIII USEA recognized events that runs in Michigan every year. Until Chardon Valley Horse Trials joined the USEA calendar in 2015, Derbyshire Farms was the only USEA recognized event in southwestern Michigan. “[Until Chardon Valley started], you had to drive at least two hours to get someplace to school or anything like that,” said Henderson.
Henderson explained that while the event might operate on a shoestring budget, they work hard to use the proceeds from the event to make improvements every year. “I’ve heard people describe us as the old ‘Mom and Pop’ type show. We’re trying to get a little more sophisticated, but it takes time . . . We have 55 acres and we keep changing the track a little bit and keep working on the footing. Last year we redid our ditches and put in a new trakehner, and this year if it ever dries out [we’ll do more work] on our new water jump and [put more of it to use].”
One of the improvements they’ve made at Derbyshire is to add what Henderson calls the Pavilion. “We saw that a lot a lot of people had food to eat at these events but no place to get out of the sun and sit down. The way our farm is, you can sit in the Pavilion and watch the stadium and the dressage is a little beyond that.”
Derbyshire Farms has been a family affair from day one, with Henderson, her husband Nelson, and a few dedicated volunteers doing the majority of work around the farm to prepare for events. “My husband built all the stadium fences and did most of the work with the course building,” said Henderson. “We’re in the process of replacing a lot of the permanent fences with portables. We had a bunch of old fence lines in back and I’ve been busy tearing things out and opening up the whole course so it’s not so much in sections . . . I have one young gentleman that’s helped a lot this year building all my ditches, and then I have a couple students who have spent a lot of time helping out. No one really likes to go weed whack but somebody has to do it! We all work on the mowing and it takes us about three and a half days just to mow.”
Both Henderson and her husband are certified to design courses up through Training level and do all the course designing for the event themselves. While the courses are mostly flat and run through the fields on the property, they make use of what little terrain they have when designing the courses. “There’s a ditch that runs through the property, so we’ve used that to our advantage . . . the courses are getting so that they’re challenging, but challenging without all the humungous hills. [Riders] don’t have to really deal with the terrain as much here because that in itself can be real scary. It’s a good place to start and to work on stepping up, we’re in the process of getting it so our courses, starting with Training level, are closer to the maximum.”
Henderson is dedicated to providing a quality event for riders at Training level and below, giving them a positive experience and getting them excited about the sport. “Our concentration has been the lower levels. It’s always been our thought that you’re not going to have upper level people if the lower level people don’t have nice places to start, and I think for a while there a lot of people were losing sight of that,” commented Henderson. “One of our philosophies has been to make it a fun time and try to take the stress out of the showing . . . we give awards up to 10th place, so normally unless you get eliminated you get a ribbon. Ribbons aren’t that expensive when you consider how much riders are paying to come and do a show.”
Henderson works full-time and uses her vacation days to organize the events, but she said getting to see competitors and trainers returning year after year makes it all worth her while. “I enjoy seeing people that I don’t get to see too often when they come in [for the events]. It really pushes us to keep doing and expanding things.”
“We try and keep it friendly, we try and be helpful as much as we can, and we keep working and keep improving,” concluded Henderson. “The real payback is that a lot of the same trainers keep coming back because they love the show.”
The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the series, USEA Events A-Z.
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