May 10, 2018

USEA Events A-Z: Groton House Farm Horse Trials

By Elizabeth Wheaton - Groton House Farm
Jacquelyn Littlewood Photo.

Groton House Farm in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Area I) hosts their annual event in late June each year and offers Novice through Intermediate/Preliminary levels. They also offer several unrecognized events throughout the year.

This June, across the beautiful rolling fields of Groton House Farm (GHF) in Hamilton, Massachusetts, horses and riders will follow tracks made over the past 40 years by legends in the sport of eventing. Novice through Preliminary level riders will gallop lanes once taken by eventing’s superstars, among them Mike Plumb, Bruce Davidson, Karen Stives, David O’Connor, Karen O’Connor, Bobby Costello, and Torrance Watkins. Along with the superstars at Groton House events, during those same years, many a junior novice rider competed in their very first horse trial. It’s all part of the history of an event that was present as the sport first came to America.

Mike Plumb at the Groton House Farm Horse Trials. Barry Kaplan Photo.

The very first events at Groton House ran in the late 1950s, when there was no USCTA, few rules and regulations, unlimited dimensions and distances, and no specifications for height, width, drop, or depth of water. Then came a three-day event at Groton House, the brainchild of longtime organizer Ann Getchell’s sister, Iris Winthrop Freeman, who deserves major credit for bringing the sport to the United States. Winthrop Freeman had been to Badminton to as a spectator and persuaded her father, Frederic Winthrop, and neighbor Col. FR Appleton to launch an event at Groton House and Appleton Farms. Neil Ayer came to watch and caught the bug, and in 1963 put on the first event at Ledyard in Wenham. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Without early inspiration and the continued generosity of the Winthrop family, on whose land the event takes place, and the tireless efforts of Organizer Ann Getchell, a Winthrop daughter who lives on the farm, there would be no Groton House.

Karen Stives at the Groton House Farm Horse Trials. Barry Kaplan Photo.

In 1978, the local Pony Club was asked to organize the Eastern New England Pony Club Rally at Groton House. Groton House decided to run an open horse trial as well.  That year, fifty competitors entered.  

By the mid-eighties, it took two consecutive weekends to accommodate the demand. Competitors came from all over the east coast, eastern Canada, and beyond to compete at Novice through Advanced levels, for a total of 600+ entries and a waiting list at every level. In 1996, Groton House was chosen as an observation trial for the Atlanta Olympic Team and was a mandatory outing for the Pan-American Games team in 1999.

Beginning in 2009, Groton House returned to its origins as a single weekend horse trial. Now, GHF offers Novice through Preliminary, with the addition of “hybrid” divisions of Training/Novice, Preliminary/Training, and Intermediate/Preliminary for those looking to move up. In 2018, after 40 years, traditions of the sport live on at Groton House—big stabling tents with picnic table camaraderie and tête-à-têtes about the best approaches to obstacles on the course, Saturday night fried chicken, three phases across three days, and come Sunday’s show jumping, the pageantry of music as magnificently braided and turned out horses and their riders celebrate with the victory gallop.

Jim Stamets and Hat Trick at the 1995 Groton House Farm Horse Trials. Cindy Arendt Photo.

We love Groton House because it both an opportunity to compete as well as a weekend to celebrate the sport in its traditional form. Not a long-format three-day, but still run over three days with dressage on Friday, cross-country on Saturday, and show jumping on Sunday to determine placings. Division ribbon winners are saluted at the end of each division with ribbons and a victory gallop. We like to think of Groton House as both a competition and a “happening.” We love having competitors gather at the picnic tables each evening in our stabling tent area for wine and cheese or pizza or a pulled pork meal, depending on the day.

The cross-country course at Groton House runs across the fields of a family property that has been a working horse farm for many years. Often it was not unusual to see horses turned out in the evening, just after their pasture has been part of the cross-country course. Many of the cross-country obstacles are incorporated into the split rail fencing of those very pastures.

The water complex at Groton House Farm with routes for all levels. Jacquelyn Littlewood Photo.

We are proud of our long association with Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation in nearby North Andover, Massachusetts. Windrush is a non-profit organization that offers equine-assisted activities and therapies for both children and adults with special needs as well as veterans, at-risk youth, survivors of human trafficking, and more. Sunday’s luncheon break on the main show jumping field provides a venue to feature Windrush student demonstrations and/or program descriptions for our spectators. All parking proceeds benefit Windrush, whose volunteers manage the entire parking operation.

The efforts of our own volunteer stewards, scribes, cross-country fence judges, and jump crew, and our officials, sponsors, patrons, and committee cannot be underestimated. Many return year after year, and we count them as part of the Groton House family.

Neil Ayer checking the river water crossing at one of the early Groton House Farm Horse Trials. Barry Kaplan Photo.

Soon the tents will be up, pots of geraniums will festoon the dressage rings, fields will be mowed and jump rails will sport new coats of paint. And then, the trailers will head down the long driveway for three days of sport and camaraderie, and our next 40 years will be underway!

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

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