The Millbrook Horse Trials are held once a year on the first weekend in August in Millbrook, New York (Area I) and offer Beginner Novice through Advanced level horse trials for their approximately 450 starters.
In the early 1980s, Louise Meryman ran her training and coaching business out of a rented facility in Millbrook, New York with the support of a family of seven, all of whom rode with Meryman. In 1983, a tragic barn fire destroyed the barn and killed the 18 horses inside. In the wake of the fire, a group of clients approached Meryman about buying land and building a new facility.
“We quickly decided on a nearby family-run dairy farm that was on the market,” Meryman recalled. “Olivia Van Melle Kamp, a student who had lost her horse in the fire, left her job at Cartier in New York City and took on the financial management piece of running the new business, known as the Millbrook Equestrian Center. We immediately built a 36-stall barn with an attached indoor and simultaneously put in an outdoor arena and paddocks.”
In 1984, Bruce Davidson Sr. designed the upper level cross-country course on the Millbrook property and the inaugural Millbrook Horse Trials (MHT) were held the following year, organized by Van Melle Kamp and Meryman. “Although all cross-country now takes place only on the part of the property that is across the road from the barns, in the early years the upper levels crossed the main road for the second half of their courses,” Meryman described.
In 2000, all the property on the north side of Bangall-Amenia Road, including the barn and all but one of the arenas, was sold to Connie and David Clapp, who rode at the Millbrook Equestrian Center beginning in the mid-1980s. They renamed this portion of the property Coole Park Farm.
The portion of the property on the south side of the road was donated to the Millbrook School, whose campus and zoo are adjacent to the parcel. The land is held in an equestrian easement by Coole Park Farm, giving them the priority of use over that southern section of the property. Each year, Coole Park Farm allows Millbrook Horse Trials to use both the northern and southern pieces of property for the event.
After the Clapps purchased the property north of Bangall-Amenia Road, Nancy Hathaway, a boarder at Millbrook Equestrian Center, approached Meryman about reincarnating the Millbrook Horse Trials, which had missed a few years during the time that the Millbrook Equestrian Center was leased out. “Nancy and I brought it back to life in 2001, and it has been run every year since,” said Meryman.
“The ‘new’ Millbrook Horse Trials began as a lower level competition held in mid-July followed by a Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced horse trials that ran at the end of August,” Meryman continued. “After a few years, we ran the two events back to back in order to shorten the length of time the property had to be kept in competition shape. In 2007 the event was consolidated into one four-day competition held the first week of August and has run that way ever since.”
“At present, Coole Park Farm allows MHT to use their arenas on the north side of the road for show jumping and three of the four dressage arenas,” Meryman explained. “All the cross-country, stabling, parking, Trade Fair, food concessions, stable office, and storage facilities are on the south side of Bangall-Amenia Road.”
One of the unique characteristics of the Millbrook Horse Trials is the beautiful, rolling, agricultural landscape of the property where the event is held, which has remained virtually unchanged since the Millbrook Equestrian Center was founded 35 years ago. “The land itself allows for cross-country courses that require a degree of fitness that is missing from the flatter ground of many events today,” Meryman said. “In addition, Tremaine Cooper has been a valued member of the MHT team since the late 1990s. His familiarity with the land, combined with his experience as an FEI course designer and upper level competitor, creates a recipe for consistently top-notch cross-country courses.”
“MHT was a big part of my life for all the years that I ran the Millbrook Equestrian Center where I taught, coached, and trained my upper level event horses.,” Meryman recalled. “I left the Millbrook Equestrian Center and eventually bought land with my husband and built my own facility. In those years, the Millbrook Equestrian Center was leased to several different professionals, some of whom continued to run the Millbrook Horse Trials.”
Meryman explained that, as the event has grown over the years, it has become an increasingly large part of her life and the life of her family, all of whom are involved with helping put on the event. “Organizing a competition of this size is a year-round proposition and as it has grown in scope, I have, out of necessity, decreased the size of my own business and my life [and the lives of my kids and husband!] has been redesigned to fit around the responsibilities that come with organizing the Millbrook Horse Trials.”
“My willing family has enthusiastically embraced the hard work and long hours involved, and each has carved out jobs that they have come to take personal pride in doing to the very best of their abilities. My husband, Dean, is control for all four days of competition, a stressful and exhausting job that he does impeccably. Our older daughter, Hope, an Intermediate competitor herself until multiple back surgeries prevented her from riding, mows, weedeats, and stains cross-country jumps until horses begin pulling in, at which time she becomes the cheerful face that greets every rig and car that drives in on the first two days. Our younger daughter, Ky, assists in the stable office until cross-country begins, when she is Dean’s assistant at control and spends 10 hours a day tracking each horse on course so that when a problem occurs, she can immediately inform Dean where all horses and riders are located.”
The true secret to the success and longevity of the Millbrook Horse Trials, Meryman revealed, is the loyalty and commitment of the community and a core group of people who support both the sport and the community. “Deb Flanigan, Nancy Estes, Dean Nicyper, Anne Gillis, Tracie Ruzicka, Olivia Van Melle Kamp, and Nancy Hathaway have all left their mark on the competition,” she elaborated. “Add to that the hundreds of volunteers, mostly local horse people of all kinds, and it creates friendly, enthusiastic professionalism that riders, grooms, and spectators have come to expect from the Millbrook Horse Trials.”
“Putting on such a large and complicated competition is a mammoth team effort that becomes rewarding and even fun because we enjoy, respect, and appreciate each other and the energy, enthusiasm, and expertise every person brings to the job,” concluded Meryman. “It is the reward of a successful team effort that we all look forward to each year!”
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