Jun 07, 2018

USEA Events A-Z: Heritage Park Horse Trials

Lauren Stiver and Brementown. Marilyn Merrick Photo.

The Heritage Park Horse Trials in Olathe, Kansas (Area IV) offers Starter through Preliminary levels at their event held in October of each year.

The Mid-America Combined Training Association (MACTA) was formed in the mid-1970s by a group of individuals whose goal was to bring eventing to the Midwest. The group began working with the Johnson County Parks Department and arranged for the organization to use 80 acres of Heritage Park, a 1,200-acre multi-use park located 30 minutes outside Kansas City. Richard Newton was hired to evaluate the tract of land and then design and build Training and Preliminary cross-country courses as an introduction to the sport. Keep in mind that at the time, eventing did not offer Starter, Beginner Novice, or Novice levels. The Training level course was featured in Sally O'Connor's USCTA Book of Eventing along with an interview with Richard Newton. The inaugural Heritage Park Horse Trials were held in 1979.

Gary Goodwin, the original organizer of the Heritage Park Horse Trials, presenting current organizer Beth Stoker with the ribbon for third place in the Preliminary division in 1984. Gary Owen Photo.

On the 80 acres of Heritage Park where we host the horse trials we erect portable stalls for the duration of the event. Dressage and show jumping are both held on the grass and our cross-country courses run through terraced fields and gently rolling terrain. Our galloping lanes are not defined by rope and stakes, but rather by the natural grasses that wave in the wind. The park truly transforms in the weeks leading up to the show and even though our structures and arenas are not permanent, the atmosphere and beauty of the park keeps people coming back year after year. Over the years our event has stayed true to the traditional roots of eventing. We do not have a fancy facility with sand arenas, but we make the most of the small corner of the beautiful park we occupy.

As you can imagine, after nearly 40 years of running there have been innumerable people that have contributed to the Heritage Park Horse Trials. Roger Haller was our course designer for more than 10 years and really helped guide us with designing well-rounded courses that asked appropriate questions for each level of competition. Louis Blankenship and Dan Stark have been instrumental in building some excellent cross-country jumps for us that offer riders safe and fun jumps to keep them interested and challenged. Last year Louis built a large boat that offered a Preliminary and a Training question that was placed in middle of the water jump while Dan took on the history of Kansas and built some very cool covered wagon jumps!

Mallory Stiver and PF Hugo Boss. Marilyn Merrick Photo.

​John Michael Durr joined us last year as our course designer, and he did a great job of putting together tracks for each level that incorporated our water jump, ditches, and banks. The courses were forward flowing, but also included areas where riders had to test their control by strategically utilizing the terrain.

Louis also became the announcer at our horse trials several years ago and his witty commentary of rides keeps everyone informed and helps keep the atmosphere light.

The event has been lucky enough to have Susan Herrington, who has taken her three-horse trailer to the local garden shop to fill with live plants for the event. She decorates the cross-country course with these plants and then gathers them up to decorate the stadium course. Susan has taken on this role for at least the past 25 years.

Lacey Messick and Second Hand Rose. Marilyn Merrick Photo.

The Douglas family have, when needed, stepped up and volunteered time, equipment, and expertise to help our event. When I took over organizer duties in the late 1990s and started updating all of the courses, Jeff Douglas donated time and heavy equipment to help us build banks and ditches and complete all the other dirt work that needed to be done. In 2017 we undertook a remodel of our water obstacle and Jeff came through again, donating countless hours helping us finish the water complex. Hanrahan Asphalt Paving donated the use of the heavy equipment needed to finish this project on the weekends that work could be done.

Kristina Whorton, Jeff Douglas’ daughter, has also become an unsung hero for our event. The last two years she has worked with me for weeks leading up to the event to stain all of our cross-country jumps and is willing to take on pretty much any job that needs to be done. She is one of the last people working with me to get everything put away at the end of the show. She works tirelessly with a smile and takes on any job that she is able to do that can help make the event better.

This will also be the third year for our amazing volunteer coordinator, Renee Senter. She has been brave enough to tackle this job while being friendly, organized, and keeping our volunteers informed of any changes that may come up at the last minute. I can’t begin to explain the amount of pressure that is taken off an organizer’s shoulders when they have such a well-organized volunteer coordinator since volunteers are the heart blood of our sport! Sometimes I believe this job may be even more important than the organizer’s job because somehow the volunteer coordinator has to try and keep the volunteers happy and willing to come back year after year!

We have amazingly friendly volunteers whose main goal is to try and make sure everyone has an enjoyable time. Everyone that works at this show, except the officials, are volunteers. They are participating due to their love of this sport.

Marilyn Merrick Photo.

We work incredibly hard to better our event every year so competitors see improvements that allow them to have a great event at our facility. Every year our cross-country course tracks are changed, jumps are moved, and new jumps are added. We pride ourselves on having a beautiful course and are working diligently to continually better the footing. This year we bought an aerator to make our footing better for all three phases. Each year we look forward to making fun and new changes that keep our competitors coming back year after year!

​The best part of the event each year is having the opportunity to see and visit with returning competitors and see the smile on a competitor's face when they've successfully completed each phase of the event! Many of our competitors have been competing at Heritage Park since they began eventing and it is amazing to watch the progress both horse and rider make from one year to the next. The eventing community is a huge family and we like being able to give riders that opportunity to see old friends and meet and make new friends.

Marilyn Merrick Photo.

Our event is located, quite literally, in the middle of the U.S. in a suburb just south of the Kansas City metro area. It is easily accessible to competitors coming from any direction and we have hundreds of hotels within a 10 mile radius of the park. Some who are new to our event have called it a "hidden gem." Competitors don’t expect to find such a beautiful, tranquil location in the middle of the country and within minutes of a metropolitan area. The white dressage arenas are beautiful against the green grass, the cross-country galloping lanes are bordered by tall prairie grass waving in the wind. We have beautiful cross-country courses for Starter through Preliminary levels and very picturesque stadium courses.

We are also excited to have started looking at the possibility of hosting a fall CCI* in the next five years. If riders are interested in this possibility, please let us know!

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

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I’d like to start my Holiday Pressure Proof Tip with an excerpt from my new book Bolder Braver Brighter.

"Imagine leaning against a tree while your horse grazes happily beside you. You feel the warm sunshine and breeze on your cheek, hear the chirping of nearby birds, and smell the fragrance of the grass and wildflowers. Your horse nickers quietly and all you can think about is how lucky you are to have this horse and this sport and this life… right here, right now.

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