Jan 25, 2018

USEA Events A-Z: Fresno County Horse Park Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Gina Pearson Photo.

The Fresno Country Horse Park (FCHP) in Fresno, California (Area VI) hosts four USEA recognized events and one USEA recognized combined test each year, offering Introductory through Advanced levels as well as CIC* and CIC2* divisions. FCHP also hosts competitions for the USEA Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse Programs and the USEA Classic Series. In addition to events, FCHP provides a venue for clinicians, driving events, and dressage shows throughout the year.

In 1957, eventing trainers Pat and Marian Humphrey were searching for a property in the Fresno area where they could host horse trials. Pat had a friend who worked for PG&E, and one day when they were playing golf together that friend mentioned how PG&E owned some property outside of Fresno that would be perfect for what Pat and Marian had in mind. That 140 acres of land along the San Joaquin River would come to be known as Ram Tap, which got its name from the first three letters of Pat’s and Marian’s names spelled backwards.

Pat and Marian owned and operated Ram Tap for 25 years before passing the torch to Bill Burton, who had grown up working and riding at Ram Tap. Bill and his wife, Margaret, presided over Ram Tap for the next 30 years until health problems forced them to sell the property in 2012. When the sale of the property fell through at the last minute, the Burtons announced that they would be closing Ram Tap’s gates for good at the end of the 2012 season.

Pat and Marian Humphrey. Photo courtesy of the FCHP website.

The Area VI eventing community reacted strongly to the news that they would be losing Ram Tap, which hosted several events a season. John Marshall, who has been attending events at Ram Tap since 2005, stepped in and purchased the property in December of 2012. With the help of a great group of volunteers, Ram Tap became the Fresno County Horse Park, and to this day the facility is the second oldest continuously operating three-day eventing venue in the country.

Marshall, who is a staunch eventing supporter and was recognized for his contribution and commitment to the sport by being awarded the Andrew H. Popiel memorial trophy at the 2017 USEA Annual Meeting and Convention, was quick to recognize the members of his team that helped get FCHP up and running. “[Donna Nelson] came to me at the very beginning and volunteered to do our books for free, because she wanted to help,” recalled Marshall. “She’s a CPA by profession, and she’s now also the Area VI Treasurer. She’s doing that as a volunteer as well.”

Stefanie Gladen, another local eventer, also reached out to Marshall at the outset to offer her help. “She’s been very, very helpful,” said Marshall. “She’s helped me with all sorts of stuff. Right now she manages our program but she’s done scheduling, she’s done all sorts of stuff. She’s been my best volunteer.” Marshall’s girlfriend, Cheryl Gentzler, is Fresno’s hospitality chairperson and handles all those arrangements for the horse shows. It was suggested to Marshall that he hire Christina Grey as the secretary for the event, and that was, according to him, “A great decision."

Gina Pearson Photo.

Bill Burton had been both building and designing the courses before Marshall took over the facility. With Burton’s retirement, Marshall knew he would need to find a new course designer for FCHP moving forward. “It was a big decision, and it was a tough decision,” he recounted. “I talked with a couple of different people, and Lauren Billys, who used to be my teacher, came to me with a couple of ideas that Derek and Bea di Grazia had. I set up a meeting with Derek, and he’s obviously extremely knowledgeable, and I said, ‘I have a direction I’m going but I don’t know what to do, it’s a big decision,’ and he said that what we want to do is give the riders variety.” Di Grazia ultimately suggested that Marshall hire Canadian course designer Jay Hambly, who is the course builder at Bromont. “It’s worked out great,” said Marshall. Burt Wood works with Hambly as the course builder.

In December of 2015 at the USEA Annual Meeting and Convention in Washington D.C., Bea di Grazia, Area VI Chair Chris Scarlett, and Wendy Wergeles approached Marshall about hosting a fundraiser to benefit FCHP and help raise money for improvements to the cross-country courses. In just one month, they pulled everything together to host the fundraiser clinic in the first week of 2016, and many trainers volunteered their time to instruct in the clinic with all proceeds going to FCHP. “It was a really nice thing for them to do, and I will not forget it,” said Marshall. FCHP has held the fundraising clinic for three years in a row now, and despite heavy rains in 2017 and the featured clinician’s flight getting cancelled in 2018, the clinic has continued to be a great success and the funds raised have allowed Marshall to continue to make improvements to the facility.

Gina Pearson Photo.

Marshall commented that FCHP’s sandy loam footing truly sets the venue apart. “The key thing for Fresno is the footing. If there’s any place during the winter in California where you’re still going to be able to run if it rains a lot, it’s Fresno, and that’s because it drains so well.” He explained how it rained all week prior to their CIC and horse trials in February last year, and many riders chose to scratch, but that James Alliston approached him on Saturday morning to comment on how well the footing was holding up. Ultimately, they were able to run the CIC* and CIC2* divisions without incident due to the footing.

“What we’ve been trying to work towards as a show is we want to be a friendly show, and I think we’ve accomplished that,” noted Marshall. “We’ve got a bunch of great volunteers; we have been spending a lot of time and money on the cross-country courses; we’ve rebuilt the arenas. We don’t have some of the things other places have, but we have awesome footing and between Burt [Wood] and Jay [Hambly] they know how to get the most out of it.”

John Marshall serving as traffic controller for a rider crossing over the road from one side of the property to the other. Photo courtesy of the FCHP website.

Hands down, Marshall says that his favorite part of the events is the people. “I meet new people at the shows, I get to see people I’ve dealt with in the past, including riders and trainers. I like getting to deal with the people. I like getting out to watch the riders, and I keep pretty busy so I don’t get to see a lot of it, but I get to see some. But mostly I like interacting with the people that come to the shows.”

This February, FCHP will host a continuing education clinic for “r”, “R”, and “S” Eventing Officials, as well as a promotion clinic for prospective “R” and “S” officials looking to upgrade their licenses, during their CIC and Horse Trials. Richard Jeffery, Captain Mark Phillips, Marilyn Payne, and Janis Linnan will all serve as panelists ofer the course of the four-day clinic. “This is a great opportunity for officials to continue their education with instruction from excellent teachers,” said USEA Senior Director of Education Nancy Knight. “Thank you to John Marshall and the Fresno County Horse Park for supporting this clinic and the education of our officials!”

“Our goal is to deliver the best shows that we can and we’re going to continue to work in that direction,” stated Marshall. “We are continuing to work on our cross-country courses to make them better. We want to make our cross-country courses as good as we can make them and that’s why we keep putting money into them. We want our shows to run as efficiently as they can and we want them to be the best experience that we can provide for the riders.”

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

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