Feb 22, 2018

USEA Events A-Z: Fitch's Corner Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Booli Selmayr and Legga Holly competing in the Open Training division at Fitch's Corner. Joan Davis/flatlandsphoto Photo.

The Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials in Millbrook, New York (Area I) is held once a year in late July and offers Beginner Novice through Preliminary levels. Fitch’s Corner also hosts clinics throughout the year.

In 1992, Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels purchased the 150-acre property known as Fitch’s Corner, a well-known hunt fixture in Millbrook, New York. The following year, Kellogg’s daughter, also named Fernanda, wanted to spend the summer at the farm, but Kellogg told her, “You have to have something to do that will keep you out of trouble.” A week later, the 16-year-old came back to her mother with a proposal to host a horse trials at Fitch’s Corner. She would serve as secretary, and the farm’s manager, 19-year-old Eric Bull, would build the courses and prepare the property.

That first year, Kellogg recalled that they hardly knew what they were doing. “Thank God it rained, hard, and washed away all the scores, because we didn’t even know how to score,” she laughed. Realizing they were a bit out of their depth, Kellogg enlisted the help of Brian O’Connor as their announcer and course controller and Captain Mark Phillips as the course designer for the event’s first year as a USEA recognized competition the following year.

Three generations of Fernandas: Fernanda Kellogg (right), with her daughter, Fernanda Jess (left) and granddaughter, Frances Fernanda Jess. Mary Hilliard Photo.

As the event prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Kellogg explained that, “I try to run the event as if it were an upper-level event, but our specialty is making it tops for the lower levels.” Indeed, Fitch’s Corner has a reputation for its dedication to providing a world-class experience for the Preliminary level and below. This year, $25,000 in prize money will be up for grabs, as well as silver julep cups for the winners of each division in honor of the event’s 25th year and a range of other prizes from premiere equestrian brands.

One of the ways that the event goes above and beyond for the lower levels is the Novice Master Amateur Challenge. The Challenge is unique to Fitch’s Corner and allows adult amateur riders over the age of 40 to compete against their peer group in a special division. Kellogg said that she created the Challenge in part because she’s been eventing for nearly as long as Fitch’s Corner has been running and she’s always been a Novice level rider, so she wanted to do something special for her fellow Novice level amateurs. On Saturday evening, the stadium jumping phase of the Challenge takes place in front of the crowd at the Saturday Nite Social, which creates quite the atmosphere. “It’s really exciting but tremendously nerve-wracking for those who never get to ride in front of a crowd,” said Kellogg. That same atmosphere persists throughout the weekend and is one of the reasons the event is such a popular stop on the calendar for upper level riders trying to expose their youngsters.

Nancy Read and Caribe PCH, winners of the 2017 Amateur Novice Master Challenge at Fitch’s Corner. Joan Davis/flatlandsfoto Photo.

Part of Kellogg’s strategy for creating that “upper-level experience” for the lower levels has been enlisting the best designers and officials that the sport has to offer. “I’ve always tried to get the best people possible to be involved so that every aspect of the event would be at the highest level possible.” Derek di Grazia has been designing the courses at Fitch’s Corner for six years now after taking over from Phillips, and Marc Donovan will design this year’s show jumping courses.

Another important aspect of the event at Fitch’s Corner is all of the other attractions that attendees can enjoy throughout the weekend. The Fitch’s Market is an open-air shopping area next to the show jumping area that showcases everything from fashion and gifts to fine art and equestrian supplies. The Saturday Nite Social features live music, cocktails, and gourmet food stations while competitors in the Novice Master Amateur Challenge complete their show jumping phase.

The Saturday Nite Social at the Fitch's Market was new in 2017 but is already a popular part of the weekend at Fitch's Corner. Mary Hilliard Photo.

The Spectator Luncheon is held on Sunday where guests can enjoy watching the show jumping, the Collector Car Parade, and the presentation of the Fitch’s Corner Award, which is given annually to a person or organization who has made an outstanding contribution to the Millbrook equestrian community. All proceeds from the Luncheon go to the Millbrook Rescue Squad, who provide emergency medical services to the Millbrook community throughout the year. All of these things add up to make Fitch’s Corner an entertaining weekend for the whole community. “It’s a great place to bring family and friends who are non-horsey because there’s other stuff to do,” Kellogg remarked.

Kellogg has assembled a team to help her put on the event at Fitch’s Corner each year. “It really takes a village to put all the pieces together,” she said. “Eric Hill is my co-organizer and he has done it for abut 12 years. Nancy Henze and Bill Hamilton look after the social side of things, and Diana King has been running Fitch’s Market for 15 years. My very beloved husband Kirk Henckels organizes the Collector Car Show and Parade and is my unofficial partner in every aspect. He is a rare husband who is a huge participant.”

A 1957 Ford Thunderbird, one of the many vehicles on parade in the Collector Car Show. Mary Hilliard Photo.

Even though she has an incredible team behind her, Kellogg is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to hosting the event at Fitch’s Corner. In 2013, the USEA recognized Kellogg’s contribution to the sport as an organizer by awarding her with the Andrew H. Popiel memorial trophy for her dedication to providing a top-quality event for horses and riders.

The volunteers who donate their time to the Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials are also essential to making the weekend a success every year. “Many of the volunteers come to Fitch’s Corner because they love being a part of the family,” said Kellogg. “It’s their insider’s view into eventing as many of them don’t ride, and they want to be a part of this community activity.”

The equestrian events in Millbrook, including Fitch’s Corner, are vital contributors to the community's culture. “The equestrian culture is part of what makes the Millbrook community very special and unique,” noted Kellogg. “Everybody feels lucky to be a part of the community.”

Will Coleman and Off the Record in the Open Preliminary division at Fitch's Corner. Joan Davis/flatlandsfoto Photo.

Kellogg’s favorite part of hosting the event at Fitch’s Corner doesn’t take place during the event. It takes place several months later, the day after Thanksgiving, when they turn over the donation check to the Millbrook Rescue Squad and hold a celebration to honor their contribution to the community at the Millbrook Fire House. “It’s the motivation to give back to the community,” she explained. “Everybody’s had a good time and worked hard at the event, and we raise anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 that we turn over to the Millbrook Rescue Squad. Everyone knows that horse trials don’t make money so it’s really amazing that we can do that.”

What would Kellogg say to someone who hasn’t attended Fitch’s Corner before? “It’s going to be a quality event and it’s going to be fun. Come and celebrate with us!”

Check out this highlight reel from the 2017 Fitch's Corner Horse Trials to get a feel for the event!

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

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