Jun 06, 2019

USEA Events A-Z: Pine Top Farm Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
RedBayStock.com Photo.

The Pine Top Farm Horse Trials are held four times yearly: twice in February, once in March, and once in November. The Pine Top Intermediate Horse Trials in February, Spring Horse Trials in March, and Thanksgiving Horse Trials in November all offer Beginner Novice through Advanced/Intermediate while the Advanced Horse Trials in February offers Novice through Advanced levels.

The land where Pine Top Farm now sits was granted to Thomas Watson on July 3, 1770 by Sir James Wright, the British Colonial Governor of Georgia. Watson and his family settled the land and there they grew crops and raised livestock. Eight generations later, Watson’s direct descendants, Glenn Wilson, and his wife, Janet Wilson, still preside over 300 acres of the original land, now called Pine Top Farm. “We still have cattle and grow some hay, so we do a little agriculture, but our biggest business now is running the events,” Glenn said.

The idea to run horse trials at Pine Top was thanks to Cyndie Smith, who was teaching riding lessons to Glenn and Janet’s son Robert Alan in the early 1990s. “She was instrumental in us even thinking about putting on a horse trials,” Janet shared. “We didn’t even know what they were at the time.”

When Glenn pitched the idea to his father, James E. Wilson Jr., his response was overwhelmingly positive. “He was quite a horseman himself – he was Master of Foxhounds – and we had grown up with horses. He was interested in new ventures for the farm and we brought up the idea of running events,” said Glenn. “His response was very enthusiastic, but he said, ‘Let’s be sure to hire good professional people. Let’s do this right.’”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Glenn started by contacting the Area III Chair at the time, Arrington Cox, asking for recommendations, and she pointed them to Ritch Temple. “Ritch was our original course designer,” said Glenn. “He was likewise very enthusiastic about the land and the footing. It’s a perfect sandy loam, that’s the best way to describe it. One of the key factors in our success is the land and the footing. It’s just about as perfect natural footing as you can find.”

Also recommended to them was Brian O’Connor, who Janet said was an influential contributor to their success. “He steered us to the right officials and got us off on the right foot. We’ve been lucky to have some great officials that know our program and work well with our program. We’ve also had good farriers and good vets – Kim Keeton has been our vet for I don’t know how long. We’ve got a good group of people, volunteers, and officials that help make everything successful.”

To show their appreciation for the officials and volunteers that make Pine Top possible, Robert Alan's wife, Virginia Wilson, hosts dinners for each group on Friday and Saturday night at the event. "We always have a big dinner for the volunteers and officials on Friday and Saturday nights and she always hosts that," Janet added.

Pine Top offered its first horse trials in 1992 and it was only a few years later that Pine Top played host to the selection trials for the 1995 Pan American Games held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The following year, the British and German eventing teams selected Pine Top as their pre-Olympic training site for the 1996 Olympics. “[The British Olympic team managers] even wrote a letter to us saying this was probably some of the best footing they had seen anywhere in the world,” Glenn elaborated.

RedBayStock.com Photo.

Pine Top Farm’s facilities include 150 permanent stalls, three stone dust dressage arenas, and over 200 acres of cross-country fields with fences ranging in difficulty from Beginner Novice all the way through Advanced. “It’s very picturesque,” observed Glenn. “We’ve got historic old wood barns and nice big shade trees. It’s just got a real warm feeling to it. We don’t do spit and polish – we’re not a fancy new million-dollar facility – but we try to cover the basics. After 28 year’s we’re still breaking records.”

“Our winter season is by far the busiest because of the snowbirds down in Aiken, South Carolina, which is about an hour away,” said Glenn. “We’ll typically run 250-300 for the two shows in February and the one in March.”

The course designing and building team at Pine Top includes Derek di Grazia for the upper levels, Rob Mobley for the lower levels, and Jeff Kibbie for the March and November events. “The terrain is definitely rolling and open and galloping – it’s just very much ideal for cross-country,” Glenn said. “It has a variety of terrain features including woods and ponds, but most of the land is open so there’s good visibility. [The courses are] always stout. We have a nice aerator and we do quite a bit of aerating of the tracks. It’s definitely beneficial, but other than that there’s no real prep to the ground or the grass. It takes the punishment really well and it heals itself.”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Janet praised the hard work and dedication of the people who volunteer at Pine Top every year. “We have the best group of volunteers that have been here year after year,” she said. “The competitors love coming because they get to know the volunteers on a first name basis. It makes them feel very comfortable and familiar when they come here.” Melissa Rundt, the volunteer coordinator for Pine Top, has been a driving force behind the great group of volunteers at the events. “She does all my volunteers for me which has taken a huge load off my shoulders,” Janet added. “She has done a fabulous job.”

Glenn and Janet’s two granddaughters, who are 5 and 7 years old, even help out. Janet is “The Snack Lady” on cross-country day, keeping all the volunteers well-fed and watered. “They help me do that. They’re going to be the next organizers hopefully!”

Generations eight, nine, and 10 of the Wilson family. Photo courtesy of Glenn Wilson.

“The quaintness, the warmth, the hometown feel, and the footing,” are things Glenn all cited as factors that make Pine Top’s events stand out. “My favorite place to hang out during cross-country is around the finish. I’m glad to feel like that’s a good place to be rather than a good place to avoid.”

“We’re very appreciative of the doors that have opened in our lives by being event organizers,” Glenn concluded. “In almost 30 years we’ve had Olympic experiences, we’ve been guests at Badminton, we’ve met a lot of really nice people, and it really has enriched our lives and has given a whole new impetus for continuing to keep the farm for generations to come.”

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

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