The Jump Start Horse Trials is hosted every September at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky (Area VIII) by the Keenland Pony Club (KPC), offering Starter through Intermediate/Preliminary levels. The Jump Start Horse Trials serves as the main fundraiser for the Keenland Pony Club.
The Keenland Pony Club was founded in 1958 and was named for the Keenland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, where the club’s initial Rallies were held. In 1990, Nancy Newton and Helmut Graetz started the Jump Start Horse Trials to serve as a fundraiser for the Keenland Pony Club, with proceeds from the event offsetting the cost of entries to Pony Club Rallies, Championships, and clinics for members.
Over the years, the event has evolved to offer Preliminary and Intermediate/Preliminary divisions in addition to Starter, Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training levels. When the event first began it hosted around 100 riders each year; now it hosts nearly 400 competitors every fall.
The Jump Start Horse Trials is truly a labor of love for all those involved with the Keenland Pony Club. The KPC Organizing Committee, led by KPC District Commissioner Sally Lockhart, serve as the organizers for the event, and the volunteer base is primarily made up of KPC members and their families. In fact, all of the KPC parents volunteer for the event in some way, from painting fences and weeding in the weeks before the event all the way to volunteering at the event itself. “Some parents are knowledgeable, many are not but they learn as they go,” said Lockhart. “Many continue to volunteer years after their children have graduated! The support of the club parents really makes the event special.”
Shelley Ryan, who has been involved with the Keenland Pony Club for many years, added that, “Carolyn Borgert has been a huge help in recruiting experienced fence judges for the event.”
As the Kentucky Horse Park has evolved over the years, so has the Jump Start Horse Trials, particularly the cross-country course. “We now have a course builder Tobiah Bingham who, with the help of Graham Schick and Dave Leonard, set the courses designed by Jeff Kibbie,” shared Ryan. “Jeff has added new designs to fences which keeps the event fresh each year.”
“Our courses are straightforward and galloping,” added Lockhart. “Jeff Kibbie has designed our courses for the last couple years, and although built to standard, the courses are very fair and fun.”
Each event that runs at the Kentucky Horse Park maintains their own set of portable cross-country fences and shares in the maintenance of the permanent installations on the course. “In the earliest days, there were permanent jumps at the Kentucky Horse Park,” explained Ryan. “Over time, those obstacles were removed and we started building portables. Some parents did some of the building initially; we asked families to sponsor jumps so we could build.”
Ryan continued, stating that the Kentucky Horse Park now hosts cross-country schooling days and that the Jump Start organizers as well as other organizers that host events at the Park provide cross-country jumps for the schooling days, which support projects and footing maintenance at the Park.
Last year, Jump Start Horse Trials partnered with the University of Kentucky Dressage and Eventing Team (UKDET) to offer the inaugural UKDET-hosted Intercollegiate Team Challenge and the event will be hosting another Intercollegiate Team Challenge this year at their 2018 event.
As part of the Pony Club mission to develop character, leadership, confidence, and a sense of community in young people, members of the Keenland Pony Club gather gently used tack, horse equipment, and attire for the annual tack sale at Jump Start Horse Trials. All proceeds from the sale benefit Central Kentucky Riding for Hope (CKRH), a non-profit therapeutic riding program based out of the Kentucky Horse Park that is dedicated to improving the quality of life and the health of children and adults with special physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs. In 2002, CKRH developed a partnership with the United States Pony Club (USPC) which enabled members of KPC to mentor CKRH students and in 2008 CKRH was granted “Pony Club Member Center” status, meaning that CKRH students could now join the USPC and enjoy the full Pony Club experience.
For Lockhart, the competitors and the volunteers that come to the Jump Start Horse Trials really shape the experience for everyone, making it an event that she looks forward to every year. “I personally love preparing the cross-country courses and then watching how they ride,” she said. “I also love getting positive feedback from the competitors - some of whom come year after year!”
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“I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it was an amazing experience.” Twenty-five years ago, Kerry Millikin and her off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding, Out and About (who was only 8 years old at the time) won the individual Olympic bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, making her one of five females to have earned an individual Olympic medal for the U.S.