Holly Hill Equestrian Center in Benton, Louisiana (Area V) hosts two horse trials, one in April and one in October, offering Starter through Advanced/Intermediate levels. Holly Hill is also a boarding, training, and breeding farm year-round that hosts clinics and unrecognized events.
My husband Bobby and I purchased the first piece of property in 1987 because we both had always wanted to live in the country. It was a barbed wire cattle pasture filled with briars, weeds, and even cactus but it was beautiful rolling land with sandy well-drained soil. We spent the first year cleaning it up and putting up board fencing around the front 15 acres. I was boarding my two horses in town so I was anxious to get them moved out to the farm. We moved them out before we even had a barn and I just rode in the fields. Being a former Pony Clubber and eventer from upstate New York, I soon had Bobby pulling logs out of the woods for jumps and digging holes for ditches and a water jump!
Soon other riders I knew started asking about keeping their horses at Holly Hill, too. One of my first boarders, Caroline Sibley, is still here and is one of the Holly Hill trainers now. We built a small six-stall barn about a year or so later and then the growing took off. More and more people wanted to board so more and more stalls were built and more fencing put up and more land purchased. Now we have gone from the 63 original acres to 280 acres. We have over 55 boarders, over 100 stalls, a covered arena, a jumping arena, and a permanent dressage arena as well as a separate breeding operation with numerous broodmares, babies, and five stallions. Bobby is an equine veterinarian with a special interest in breeding as well as sport horse medicine so he is kept very busy around here. We were very lucky to have Regis Webb with her eventing background living in the area to teach here from the very beginning, and she still does. Two more of our trainers, Julie Norman Shamburger and Sydney Conley Elliott, started riding here as little girls at around the age of seven and have never left. Now they have both competed through the four-star level and are trainers here!
Our first horse trials was a schooling event back in 1995. We had about 45 entries and the eventing bug was catching on. When Prairie Creek Horse Trials shut down in Texas, Red Doyal and Ana Schravesande asked to run the horse trials here at Holly Hill. Doyal came and designed and built courses from Beginner Novice through Intermediate and the entries began to grow and grow. Bobby and I took over organizing the event about a year and a half later and have continued the growth and improvements.
One of the differences in our event from others is that we are primarily a large boarding facility with a very family-like atmosphere that translates over to the horse trials. Just about every one of the boarders volunteers in one way or another, even if they are riding in the event. There is even a crew of boarders that walks every gallop path marking any holes to be filled before the show. Being riders ourselves makes us aware of what is most important to the competitors and we try to make the event as rider and horse friendly as possible. Bobby does a lot of the jump construction and I use a lawn mower to mow every gallop path so it looks like a golf course from jump to jump. Our courses are very open with lots of fields to gallop through.
After 22 years of holding horse trials here we have accumulated an amazing group of volunteers as well as staff that is really what makes it successful. My show secretary, Marty Harper, is amazing in organizing the ride times and stabling as well as a thousand other things. My parents are very involved in the event with my mother taking care of housing assignments for the officials as well as the airport runs for pick ups and drop offs. My dad is my Grounds Steward and spends weeks preparing the grounds and equipment for the event. They host the Saturday night official’s dinner at their house every time too!
Another way we make our event special is that we design a new t-shirt for every event and give one to every volunteer. We usually have an artist design the artwork and have featured several of our trainers on the shirt over the years. We also have the popular Holly Hill candy cups given out to every rider that has a perfect entry turned in. What I look forward to most at each event is how it pulls all the boarders together to help and how it gets the farm cleaned up and looking its best!
The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the USEA Events A-Z series.
On this episode of the Equiratings Eventing Podcast, show host Nicole Brown talks to Pan American Games gold medalist and U.S. team stalwart Boyd Martin about his career to date, highs and lows, and coming back from injury.
On Monday, March 8 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, USEF will host a member webinar providing updates on the impacts of the case of EHV-1 (neurological) reported in Ocala, Florida. This case is similar in nature, but unrelated to the neurological strain of EHV-1 impacting Valencia (ESP) and other European countries.
As competitors rise through the levels, they often see the costs associated with competition rise and, unfortunately for most organizers, this can’t be avoided. With fewer competitors requiring more jumps, officials, footing management, etc., the expenses for running higher levels – especially FEI – are greater than lower levels.
Our sport is going to present you with many amazing opportunities, and some equally amazing challenges. While you’re sure to enjoy the opportunities, it sometimes takes a little more effort to enjoy the challenges. Contrary to the common misconception (from non-equestrians) that our sport is easy, it’s actually one of the hardest and most demanding sports of all!