The Larkin Hill Horse Trials in North Chatham, New York (Area I) are held twice a year in mid- June and late September as one-day events offering Introductory through Preliminary/Training levels.
Margie Hutchison, owner of Larkin Hill Farm and organizer of the Larkin Hill Horse Trials, has been involved with eventing and event organization in Area I since the 1980s and has always wanted to have a farm of her own where she could put on an event. “I’d always wanted to run an event. Why? I don’t know,” she laughed. “Obviously I enjoy organizing, and yes, it’s really hard, but there’s something about it that I like doing. I like the sport and I like giving competitors a good venue because I’m a competitor myself.”
So, Hutchison began her hunt for the right piece of property where she could run her training business and host events. “I looked at every [property] knowing that someday I wanted to do competitions,” Hutchison recalled. “It took me about three years to find this location, but as I looked at it, running competitions was high on my list, as well as running a business. I was very particular about the soil, where parking would be, drainage, road access, terrain for the cross-country, space for the arenas . . . and I wanted to stay in [New York] because I’ve been here since the early 1970s and my clientele is here. This is home.”
Hutchison ultimately purchased the Larkin Hill property in 2005, but the 75-acre parcel was all corn fields – completely undeveloped. Far from being a detriment, this allowed Hutchison to build the facility from the ground up exactly the way she wanted. “It was fun in a way because I’d been through various jobs and worked at a couple different places. I tried to take everything that I had learned from other locations and make [my farm] the best I could with the money I had available so it’s labor-efficient, attractive, safe, and good for the horses. I did what I could and it’s turned out pretty well. I’ve been quite happy with it.”
While she was working on building the 12-stall main barn and the indoor and outdoor arenas, she was also working on developing the corn fields into a cross-country course. Luckily, she had some help. “I became friends with Chris Milanesi, who has worked a lot of events all the way up through the Olympics and is very smart and knowledgeable about soil,” Hutchison explained. “His insight helped a lot about things I don’t know about soil and drainage. It’s not a perfect piece of ground – every piece of ground has its problems. It’s really gravel-y soil – it drains really well – but sometimes that means there are pretty good fist-sized rocks. It has its pluses and minuses.”
When it came to course designing, Hutchison brought in Tremaine Cooper to help her put in the first cross-country tracks at Larkin Hill. “He and Chris work really well together,” she said. “It always amazes me, Tremaine has been doing this event for eight years, and we’ve been doing it twice a year now for six years, and he always finds a new way to do things. It floors me that he can look at the same piece of ground and use it a little differently.”
Hutchison also explained that her early connections with organizer Lisa Cox and trainer Marcia Kulak helped introduce her to the right people, ultimately making it possible for her to achieve what she has with Larkin Hill. “I met Jimmy Wofford, I met General Burton, I met other people that were the big guns of the sport. I just was lucky to meet the people and everyone is in it to make the sport better so you questions, you talk about events. [I met] Roger Haller down at Essex [Horse Trials] and he helped me a lot with my judge’s license. Those kinds of connections kept my standards quite high.”
Those high standards have driven Hutchison to select quality officials and support staff for her events. “Sharyn Antico is tremendous. Erin Keehan is my secretary, she’s been a friend and an amazing secretary and scorer for me. She has been a great help on that end of the spectrum: the administrative, the secretarial, the electronic entries, all the computer stuff. She has been fantastic. Rick Caldwell is fantastic Technical Delegate. He’s so good with people and he smooths out any problems.”
Apart from the officials and support staff behind the event, Hutchison emphasized that the event would not be possible without her amazing group of volunteers, which starts the people who board their horses at Larkin Hill. “My boarders are fantastic . . . If they’re in the area, if they’re not out of town, everyone pulls up and really helps,” she said. “I also work with Old Chatham Pony Club – I do lessons for them – so they get on board. For my June event they take care of all the volunteer food and I give them a cross-country clinic in the fall and they make money on that. I’m also in the heart of Old Chatham Hunt Club and I have a couple boarders that belong to the Hunt Club. They have what they call a mix-and-match on the old Old Chatham Horse Trials property every year and I supply them with my stadium jumps and a dressage ring, so I get volunteers from them.”
“I can’t say enough about my volunteers,” Hutchison continued. “I do my best to take good care of them, I give them a gift of some kind, whether it’s a t-shirt or a hat, and I feed them until they’re bursting, and they keep coming back! I can’t thank them enough because my day runs so well because they’re experienced. They’ve seen it, they’ve done it, they have good officials helping them, they know that there’s always someone there to help.”
Hutchison revealed that the event is a substantial portion of the farm’s budget every year, with proceeds helping to pay for maintenance and facility upgrades. “It all goes right back into the farm – my arenas, my cross-country courses. It’s all about the infrastructure.” One of the ways she saves money is by taking meticulous care of the equipment, including the cross-country and show jumping fences. “The jumps get put away inside as much as possible, we keep things painted, we keep them dry, we don’t leave them out. I don’t open my course for schooling hardly ever. I started gathering equipment in 1996 to do combined tests and I still have my jump standards because they get used for the competition and they get put away in the garage. So, I don’t have the infrastructure expenses some of these other events do. We even save our white tape! But I like that I’m able to make some money to make the place better.”
When it comes down to it, Hutchison wants competitors to know that their best interest is at the heart of the Larkin Hill Horse Trials. “We are here to give competitors a productive, safe, and appropriate experience. We try to take their feedback to heart and we want to hear what they think. It’s grown to be one of the nicer lower level events in Area I and people keep coming so we must be doing a good job!”
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