Feb 07, 2019

USEA Events A-Z: Morven Park Horse Trials

By Laura Doyle - Morven Park Horse Trials , Margaret Good
USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The Morven Park Horse Trials in Leesburg, Virginia (Area II) are held twice yearly in March and October, offering Beginner Novice through Intermediate level in the spring and Beginner Novice through Advanced and CCI2*-S, CCI3*-S, and CCI4*-S divisions in the fall.

The Morven Park International Equestrian Institute (MPIEI) opened in 1968 under the instruction of cavalry master Major John (Joe) Lynch. Six months later, MP Director Brigadier Richard Hobson loaned Major Lynch to the U.S. Eventing Team, where he coached them to a second-place finish in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

Instructors at the Morven Park International Equestrian Institute in 1971 (from left to right): Norman Ingham on Panech, Prudence Morgan on The Loner, Major John Lynch on The Regent, Virginia Lee Kraft on War D'Oeuvre, and Lynn Klisavage on Angloa Bay. USEA Archives Photo.

At that time, MPIEI was one of the leading riding schools in the world, accepting only 40 students annually for an intensive nine-month course. It was approximately 1971 when Major Lynch started running horse trials as an effort to prepare U.S. riders for the Olympics. The first USCTA (now USEA) recognized horse trials at Morven Park were run in the spring of 1973, 1974, and 1975, and offered Junior Training, Senior Training, and Open Preliminary divisions. Entry fees were $15.00 for Training and $20.00 for Preliminary, and a stall could be rented for $10 per night! The event was run entirely by Moven Park staff and students who prided themselves on running the show exactly on time.

After the death of Major Lynch in 1978, the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club (LHPC) picked up organizational responsibilities from 1981 until 1992. By fall of 1992, the numbers of entries had become so large that the Pony Club split the event with Morven Park staff. LHPC ran the Novice through Intermediate divisions, and Morven Park ran a “CCI3* Prep”, offering long format Advanced and Preliminary divisions.

A horse and rider on course at the 1974 Morven Park Horse Trials. USEA Archives Photo.

In 1994, Morven Park ran the USEA Advanced Championships, with long format Advanced Championships and Advanced horse trial divisions and a long format Preliminary division. Longtime organizer, Margaret Good recalled that show jumping was held on the mansion lawn, and elegantly dressed judges were escorted to the dressage rings by a horse-drawn surrey from the onsite Winmill Carriage Collection. Since then, Morven Park has run continuous horse trials in multiple formats, continuing the long-standing legacy of eventing.

The facilities at Morven Park boast 142 permanent stalls, two 300'x500' and one 300'x250' arenas with Attwood Equestrian Surfaces EuroTex blend footing, and nearly 300 acres of rolling Virginia countryside dedicated to the cross-country courses for all levels across the national and international spectrum. Since our spring date is one of the earliest in Area II, the cross-country courses are designed to be a bit “softer” in technical questions, whereas the fall is a true test of the levels. Spectators are able to stand on top of the berm above the arenas and see all three phases at once from one place, or they can get closer to the action by dropping down ringside or reserving a tailgate spot on the cross-country course. Morven Park is situated right on the doorstep of Leesburg, offering easy access to a plethora of excellent dining options, pubs, and music.

New all-weather arenas at Morven Park. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

A quote taken from USCTA News back in July of 1974 still rings true today: “The Horse Trials are held on the beautiful grounds of Historic Morven Park, which was the last home of Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis. It would be hard to find a more perfect setting than this lovely rolling countryside, with its thick hedgerows, tall trees, and winding creek. The cross-country is varied, interesting, and a fine galloping course.” What’s better than that? We are always looking for ways to challenge horse and rider technically and having 1,000 available acres makes it possible to do that.

Bruce Davidson was always a big supporter and promoter of Morven Park. He designed the Advanced cross-country course, brought in course builder Tremaine Cooper, and oversaw the course's completion with LHPC at the helm to run it. After the Advanced course went in, Good recalled that she needed a strong cross-country rider to set the tone for the competition. Although she went over to watch, she was so nervous she turned her back on the legendary “Leaf Pit”. As the steady rhythm of the approaching horse never changed, she turned to watch Jane Sleeper “ride it like gridwork!"

Kim Severson tackling the "Leaf Pit" at the 2018 Morven Park Horse Trials. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Other key individuals who played an enormous part in those early days were Inger Walker, Grace Dawson, and Margaret Good. They flagged courses, marked penalty zones – whatever needed to be done. Margaret continues to work tirelessly as Organizer to this day, and her knowledge of the sport is second to none.

Our volunteer base is comprised of folks who are so dedicated and invested in the Park – many return year after year and provide the continuity and knowledge base that allows this competition to run seamlessly. It’s such an incredible team and it’s through that camaraderie that we are able to accomplish what we do.

There really is nothing quite like this beautiful, historic venue. There’s a mystique about Morven Park and Mrs. Marguerite Davis believed it was important to share that with people. As the sport has evolved over the past decades, Morven has played a major role in providing a venue that prepares competitors a first-class opportunity to train, compete, and excel. These grounds have long provided the framework for today’s Olympic veterans, and it continues to serve future athletes who aspire to follow in their footsteps. Sharon White once reminisced that as a kid she always dreamed of galloping across the Advance course at Morven and now she’s doing it – she’s now one of the ’big kids’!

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

    With the recent investment of state-of-the-art footing, professionally designed and engineered arenas, and experienced and expert design of the cross-country courses, Morven is well-prepared to deliver the best possible competitor experience. Our staff works year-round in preparation for the horse trials, which is why it’s become such an iconic place to compete. Although we get “back to normal” after all the adrenaline of the competition, the planning begins again almost immediately for the next event.

    Once the organizational duties are done, it’s the personal contact that is most rewarding - actually getting to see everyone and sharing their stories and celebrating their success. My first year at Morven as the horse trials Secretary, I’ll admit to being in awe of the seasoned veterans as they arrived for the competition. I don’t “geek out” as much anymore, but it’s still so cool to be in contact with world-class athletes. Morven owes much to these professionals as they continue to bring along the next generation of competitors and compete at the Park. It’s fun to watch the “kids” move out of the junior divisions and witness their development in the sport. Before you know it, they’ve become seasoned professionals themselves!

    USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

    Morven Park Horse Trials is an iconic venue for competitors at every level. We pride ourselves on working diligently on giving every competitor the best experience possible, which starts as soon as the event opens for entries until the time they leave for home. Wine and chocolate bribes aren’t necessary, but have occasionally been known to soften the Show Secretary after especially challenging entries! We hope that competitors take advantage of all Morven Park has to offer by touring the Mansion and Carriage Museum while they’re here competing.

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

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