Jul 30, 2020

USEA Events A-Z: Southern Arizona Horse Trials

By Elizabeth Patten - Southern Arizona Eventing Association
Ron Stewart Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Eventing Association.

The Southern Arizona Eventing Association (SAzEA) operates the Southern Arizona Horse Trials at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Arizona (Area X) offering Introductory through Preliminary/Modified levels.

The Southern Arizona Eventing Association (SAzEA) was formerly operated under the name Grass Ridge Equestrian Foundation (GREF), a recognized non-profit charitable organization. GREF was the sponsoring organization for horse trials and other eventing-related schooling and showing activities held at Grass Ridge Farm in Sonoita, Arizona for 46 years. Following the deaths of owners George and Nina Masek, Grass Ridge Farm closed its competition facility in 2014 and the organization’s name was changed to SAzEA in recognition of the retiring of the Grass Ridge Farm facility. Throughout 2014 and 2015, SAzEA worked closely with Grass Ridge Farm and the Masek family to assist with dismantling and moving infrastructure from the farm and cross-country courses. SAzEA sought to provide as much assistance as possible with the Masek’s goal of returning the grassland to a more native state, and in return was able to preserve an enormous amount of the jumps and jump building material for use at a new venue.

Operating under its new name, SAzEA’s entire volunteer board spent close to two years exploring venue opportunities and eventually developing a new competition and schooling venue for Southern Arizona. Our focus was on keeping eventing viable in Southern Arizona and supporting our local communities by bringing competitors, sponsors, and spectators to our beautiful deserts, mountains, and grasslands. In 2017 we entered into a multi-year sublease with the Southwestern Fair Commission, Inc. for 60 acres of land at the Pima County Fairgrounds (PCF) located in Tucson, Arizona. This property is now the home for our extraordinary cross-country course, the only such course in Southern Arizona. Our location is adjacent to the outstanding equestrian facilities available at the PCF, in close proximity to the amenities and attractions of the welcoming and beautiful city of Tucson, and, right off of Interstate 10. Our first horse trials were hosted in March 2019 and there has been no stopping us since.

Ron Stewart Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Eventing Association.

The Pima County Fairgrounds (PCF) maintains lovely, roomy permanent stables with meeting rooms, a Cantina and Bar, multiple wash racks, farrier stalls, grass fields, lunging arenas, ample full RV-hookups, dry camping, and haul-in facilities, and, just as important, clean permanent showers and bathrooms. PCF's facilities also include a large indoor arena and multiple outdoor arenas with truly excellent footing. PCF’s support staff is knowledgeable and friendly and keeps the barns and spectator areas organized and running smoothly.

The cross-country courses are absolutely top-notch with all new jumps and courses that are appropriate and fair at each level. With a stunning backdrop of the Madera and Rincon mountains, riders travel through both natural and man-made terrain including dense mesquite forests, open grassland, a cactus garden, and of course, a fabulous water complex. The tracks are good galloping courses for all levels, but there are plenty of great viewing locations to accommodate spectators. And as is true of most Adri Doyal's courses, the jumps, the pedestrian alleys, and the officials’ areas are all beautiful and functional and presented with incredible attention to detail. To further enhance the magical feel of the cross-country course, we will be starting a capital campaign for a second water complex that will be nestled within the “garden” that was donated by Jon and Cynthia Lazzaretti as part of Stina’s Gate (our first frangible pin open oxer!)

Faye Gandolfi Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Eventing Association.

SAzEA is fortunate to have many individuals and organizations who believe in our vision, and the capabilities of our Board to build out that vision. They have generously donated money, labor, equipment, material, “in-kind” donations, and professional and technical expertise. In partnership with the Southwest Fair Committee, our extraordinary course designer Adri Doyal, the Pima County Fairgrounds, national equestrian sponsors, local businesses, equestrian groups and training facilities, and an extensive network of volunteers, we’ve built a beautiful and competitive cross-country course through the Preliminary level from rough desert and mesquite bosque. We’ve hosted three horse trials, and look forward to resuming competitions in the fall of 2020, with the assistance of our exceptional show manager, Christina Gray.

Keeping eventing alive in Southern Arizona has truly been a community effort. We have an incredible Board – all of whom have given generously of their time, skills, and money, and under their leadership and tireless efforts, the facility has been developed and eventing is flourishing. So we recognize all of our donors, trainers, and members, who give what they can, who support our fundraisers, our raffles, sponsor our shows, our jumps, and our educational forums each and every year. We also thank our legacy donors and legacy jump sponsors, who have provided large donations for major infrastructure improvements to our course: The Dray-Shanahan Family, Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center, The Marilyn Sundt Isaacs Memorial Fund, Gregg and Marian LaLonde, Jon and Cynthia Lazzaretti, the Estate of Margaret S and Ralph K Younger, and the Patten Family Giving Fund, the extended Kraus Family: Denis and Dorothea Krause and Denise Kraus Spangler, and Logistics, LLC.

Faye Gandolfi Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Eventing Association.

And of course, there are our many outstanding volunteers – who love the sport and donate innumerable hours on our behalf, making our operations smoother and our course magnificent. Key among them: Brad and Debra Haber, who have done extraordinary work building, tree trimming, mowing, grading, hauling, and aerovating; Dr. Ellen Gryotis, who volunteers at every event/fundraiser and is always ready to rake rocks, spread mulch, plant shrubs - whatever it takes; Aimee Arnold, who devotes hundreds of hours keeping our website beautiful, informative, and useful; Sheila Strickler, a two-time USEA Governor’s Cup recipient, board member, and show official whose wisdom and expertise help guide the organization and who volunteers as a judge for schooling activities and clinics. Sheila also runs cross-country control at all of our events (an amazing job!) And, Taharra Morris-Reid, board member, and extraordinary show and educational activity organizer who keeps our fundraising events interesting and well-run.

In addition to the magic of our cross-country course, the proximity to all of the amenities Tucson has to offer makes our location ideal for competitors and their support teams. We are easy to get to – right off Interstate 10 – and the weather during our events is glorious. Most importantly, competitors have remarked about how friendly our show officials, volunteers, and Board members are and how willing to work with competitors they are for a successful, fun, and safe experience.

Karen Bjorn Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Eventing Association.

We so enjoy the enthusiasm, passion, humor, and energy our competitors and volunteers bring to our events. And, we love our show officials who are so giving of their time, expertise, and knowledge, and equally generous with their ideas on how to take our game to the next level. People like Dorothy Hamilton, Wendy Wergeles, Sheila Strickler, and William Robertson who generously offer their expertise and who have donated back both fees and time, and who keep working when the day is done to help us get ready for the next day. These folks give so much back to the sport. They really inspire us every event to keep meeting the highest standards.

Our venue is a hidden treasure, surrounded by mountains and stunning desert landscapes. We are fun, our course is inviting, safe, and competitive, and we offer learning opportunities for all levels. We love horses, we love eventing, we love people. We look forward to seeing you and your horses!

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

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