Nov 30, 2017

USEA Events A-Z: Dunnabeck Horse Trials

By Leslie Mintz - USEA Staff
Meghan O'Donoghue competes at one of the first Dunnabeck Horse Trials in the dressage arenas built by Mark O'Donoghue. Photo courtesy of Jill O'Donoghue.

Dunnabeck Horse Trials in Carbondale, Illinois (Area IV) hosts one USEA recognized event every year in early September. The event is sponsored by the Boskydell Pony Club and offer Beginner Novice through Preliminary levels.

Every horse trials gets its start differently, but for the Dunnabeck Horse Trials it was the result of a longtime dream. In 1979, Mark and Jill O’Donoghue opened Le Cheval de Boskydell, a horse boarding facility located just outside of Carbondale, Illinois that offers lessons, clinics, and shows throughout the year. The O’Donoghues both grew up eventing and would go on to compete through the Intermediate and CCI2* levels in the late 1980s. After opening Le Cheval de Boskydell, Jill founded the Boskydell Pony Club a few years later. While the stable, pony club, and their growing family were keeping them busy, the couple decided to find some time to add event organizing to their plate. 

The whole community gets behind Dunnabeck. Photo courtesy of Jill O'Donoghue.

“It was always a dream of Mark’s,” explained Jill. “Not only has he been an instructor and competitor, but he is also a carpenter. From building homes to furniture to cross-country and show jumping fences – it was a dream of his to build and run his own horse trials. We sent an invitation out to everyone we could think of and had a meeting to see who was interested in helping make that dream come true.”

There was enough interest from the local community, so the O’Donoghues purchased a 100-acre piece of property about a half mile from Le Cheval de Boskydell and Dunnabeck Horse Trials was born. “There's been a lot of hard work done to the property by a lot of dear friends to get it to a place where we could run the horse trials,” said Jill.

The Dunnabeck tree house has been on every cross-country course since the beginning and is an icon of the event. Photo courtesy of Jill O'Donoghue.

In 1999, Dunnabeck ran their first unrecognized event with just Beginner Novice and Novice. The following year the event went recognized and in 2001 they added the Training level. In 2003 Preliminary was added and the event has run continuously since then. Dunnabeck has a great location – just six hours south of Chicago, Ill., three hours north of Nashville, Tenn., and two hours east of St. Louis, Mo. – but the entries have remained small over the years. “It's a small event, anywhere from 80 to 120 competitors, but I like it that way cause it's easy to handle those numbers,” said Jill. “It has a very warm and friendly atmosphere.”

For the past 18 years, the O’Donoghues have continually improved the land that the event has run on. “It's been a gradual build – each year trying to improve something,” said Jill. “It's not always an easy piece of property to work with – part of it is flat and low land, so it can flood in a hard rain (in 2016 the event had to cancel due to excessive rain). The rest is beautiful rolling hills which really add to the difficulty of the cross-country course. Both dressage and show jumping are on grass, with the most beautiful dressage rings ever which Mark built.” The cross-country course has two water jumps, a bank, and ditch complex. The course is designed by Steve Buckman from Canada and Jill said that the course is different every year as 90 percent of the jumps are portable.

The show jumping course winds through the old trees that are present throughout the property. Photo courtesy of Jill O'Donoghue.

While Jill and Mark are at the helm of the event – their two daughters, Meghan and Kelty, have followed in their footsteps. Meghan and her great partner, Pirate, competing at his first event at Dunnabeck – finishing in fourth in the Novice in 2006. The Thoroughbred would go on to compete at the Kentucky Three-Day event three times and was short-listed for the 2014 World Equestrian Games team.

The Dunnabeck party brings all of the competitors and volunteers together for a fun night. Photo courtesy of Dunnabeck Facebook Page.

Like all events, Dunnabeck wouldn’t be able to succeed without great volunteers who focus on making the competition all about the competitors. “Our stewards and all our volunteers are so friendly and do everything to help our competitors. It's a very friendly and homey atmosphere! And of course there is a great competitor’s party with a live band each year.” The event is sponsored by the Boskydell Pony Club who put in a lot of the work each year.

Jill O'Donoghue presents an award to a winner from the horse trials. Photo courtesy of Dunnabeck Facebook page.

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

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