May 03, 2018

USEA Events A-Z: Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Mackenzie Williams and Leroy. Bill Gamble Photo courtesy of the Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials Facebook page.

The Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials is held annually in Genesee, New York (Area I) in mid-June and offers Introductory through Preliminary levels. The Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials is one of the longest running events in the United States.

The Livingston County Hunt was first organized in 1876 by Major W. Austin Wadsworth and became the Genesee Valley Hunt six years later in 1882. The Major was huntsman of the Genesee Valley Hunt for nearly 40 years and Master of the Hunt until 1917. The Hunt was disbanded from 1919 until 1922, when it was revived by Major Winthrop Chanler. In 1933, William Wadsworth, son of the founder Major Wadsworth, became Master of the Hunt, a role he held until his retirement 1975. William’s son, Austin Wadsworth, took on the role from his father at that time and his sister, Martha Wadsworth, joined him as joint Master of the Hunt in 1987. Marion Thorne, Austin’s stepdaughter, joined her stepfather as huntsman in 2001 and became a joint Master in 2006.

In addition to her roles as huntsman and Master of the Hunt with the Genesee Valley Hunt, Thorne also serves as organizer of the Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials, which was established in 1954 and is one of the oldest horse trials in the United States. “[The Hunt was made up of] a group of people that knew about eventing, it was obviously in its very early stages, and they had been in the military so they knew what it was,” said Thorn. As a member of the military, General Roger Reynolds in particular had experience with combined training as it was known back then and helped establish the horse trials in place of the hunter trials that the Hunt was hosting at the time.

The Genesee Valley Hunt. Photo courtesy of the Genesee Valley Hunt website.

The Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials is held today with dressage at Hideaway Farm, which is owned by hunt member Ed Harris and his wife, Jackie Harris, and cross-country and show jumping at the Wadsworth family’s Nations Farm. Both pieces of property are conserved land with the Genesee Valley Conservancy, so the property will be preserved for future generations. “The Harris’s had a lovely place and as time went on the Harris’s put in infrastructure, dressage rings, and barns. They’ve held dressage championship and all kinds of fun stuff [on their farm,]” said Thorne. “Hideaway has been hugely generous with their place and there’s a lot of other events going on there, the [Genesee Valley Riding and Driving Club] has an event in the fall and the spring, and [Hideaway has] a lot of local stuff going on there. It’s a great facility and we all share in the care of it. We share jumps that we can cart up and down the road so we don’t have to own so many. Everyone gets along pretty well.”

The cross-country courses still run on the same land they were held on for the first time in 1954, and remnants of those first courses can still be seen around Nations Farm. “I think that it’s a particularly open, galloping course with a nice amount of terrain in it, nothing terribly steep,” commented Thorne. “It’s just lovely to ride and perhaps not as technical a course as the ones you see now winding around themselves like a snake. We don’t have that, you’re just taking a big loop and that’s it; we have a lot of ground. We have natural water crossings and then we have a [traditional] water jump where the real jumping happens. From the patron’s tent you can see almost every single jump, even from the trailers you can see quite a lot. There’s an amphitheater that’s natural where we do the show jumping, so I think it’s just really nice and a little bit old-style.”

Sharon Presutti and Peterbilt at the 1988 Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials. Booth Photo courtesy of the Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials.

“The course designers we’ve had over the years, and we’ve had John Williams [as our course designer] for many years now, they love to work with our course because you’re not having to build mounds in order to [create terrain,]” she continued. “It’s just all very natural, natural slopes, and I think it’s nice to ride.”

The Donald T. Holland Memorial Team Challenge is on its third year at the Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials and was established by Darren Chiacchia to honor Donald Holland, who served as organizer of the Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials for many years. Holland, along with fellow member of the organizing committee Ed Young, were instrumental in bringing a professional course designing and building team on board in the late 1980s, which helped to significantly elevate the quality of the courses. “[The Team Challenge] been really fun and really successful,” noted Thorne. “It adds a spirit of camaraderie to the event when you have a team . . . Usually the local eventing trainers’ barns are hugely competitive with each other.”

Martha Wadsworth competing at the 2006 Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials. Dan George Photo courtesy of the Genesee Valley Hunt Horse Trials.

The Genesee Valley Hunt is nestled in a pocket of equestrians that have created a community that fosters involvement in horse sport, eventing included. “We have a lot of return customers,” said Thorne. “Eventing in our area is good because we have a lot of local stuff going on. You don’t really have to go far. We’re in a good spot . . . we have these amazing pieces of land, and the Wadsworth and Harris families have been so generous with their land. We fox hunt on it, we have the [Genesee Valley Hunt Races] on the same piece of ground as the horse trials.”

Because of how close-knit the equestrian community is, there’s a lot of competitors that come back year after year. “I love seeing all the people every year,” Thorne commented. “It’s a good feeling, the feedback that we get and the support we get from the locals. The volunteers, it’s just wonderful to see them back year after year and to know how much they want to contribute to our horse trials. That’s a good feeling.”

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

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