Oct 03, 2019

USEA Events A-Z: Stone Gate Farm Horse Trials

By Jackie Smith - Stone Gate Farm
Brant Gamma Photo courtesy of Jackie Smith.

The Stone Gate Farm Horse Trials is held once yearly in mid-September in Hanoverton, Ohio (Area VIII) offering Starter through Preliminary levels and USEA Future Event Horse Yearling, 2-year-old, 3-year-old, and 4-year-old classes.

Wow, where do I begin? I started eventing in 1975 and got hooked on the sport. I was teaching at Lake Erie College at the time and saw the need for another event in the area as some local events were no longer running. In the early 1980s, I organized an event that held the dressage and show jumping at the college's farm and the cross-country more than an hour away at the Firestone Farm in Bath, Ohio. Eventually, a local group of eventers lead by Lefreda Williams took over the event and ran everything at the Firestone Farm.

By the fall of 1983 I was married and moved to Winona, Ohio the following spring. One day, Dave and I took a walk around a neighboring farm with a beautiful huge pasture, rolling hills, and woods. I said, 'Oh Dave, you could build a beautiful cross-country course here,' and in the fall of 1985 we ran the first Winona Horse Trials. But you'll have to wait to hear the 'rest of the story' because S comes before W and we're talking about Stone Gate Farm Horse Trials, not Winona.

We first laid eyes on our farm on a snowy New Year’s Day in 1986 with the full intention of moving the event to our own farm. With all the tillable acreage in corn and much of the farm in disrepair, it took five years to get the farm ready for the first event on our own farm. Thirty years later we’re still at it. With the addition of more acreage and facility improvements, the farm barely looks like it did in the early days.

Kyle Smith Photo.

We went from a 'Mom & Pop' event to a family-run event with the addition of Kyle and Kevin in 1987 and 1990 respectively. Now that the kids are all grown up and with the addition of our lovely daughter-in-law Laura, it is our hope that they will start stepping more into management roles rather than just doing grunt work, although there will always be grunt work to be done because we do most of the work ourselves. Over the years we, and I use that term 'we' loosely as it is mostly Dave, have built two dressage arenas, three stabling barns, a sand show jumping ring which is now used for warm-up for the new acre-and-a-quarter limestone show jumping ring. And of course, we have built the cross-country fences (Starter to Preliminary) and show jumps. Have I mentioned that my husband doesn’t ride? But he does like to play with big boy toys and build things.

Since we’re not exactly located in an eventing mecca, finding volunteers has always been a bit of a challenge. There is one person however who has been here from the very first event. Carroll Crowl started as a jump judge at our first event and then moved onto the secretary position and eventually became my head scorer and course decorator! Carroll was my right hand for many years and in those early years it was quite interesting as our kids were fairly close in age dealing with crying hungry babies who became active competitors made for some additional stress. Unfortunately for me, Carroll moved to Kentucky a few years ago, but generally she makes it up once a year and helps with scoring. I must also give huge props to Penne Colao and Molly Tubbs, who I met through Pony Club when I was teaching their kids. Both Penne and Molly also started as jump judges. Penne has been the event secretary for more than 10 years and Molly has been the ever-important person behind the radio on cross-country in her position as ‘controller.’ All in all, we have a great group of volunteers who not only help the event to run smoothly but decorate the courses to make them look great!

Stone Gate Farm's course decorators! Josh Furlong Photo.

The cross-country courses change from event to event and the fall SGF event gets to run over the beautiful rolling alfalfa fields. The courses have a little bit of everything at all levels that offer a fair challenge that rewards correct riding and help to develop boldness and confidence in both horse and rider. Yes, people come to ride and compete, but they also have a great time hanging out with friends both new and old. With the addition of more land, after years the day parking being at the top of the hill, all the competitors are now in a centralized area which makes for more interaction among competitors.

People often ask me why we run events. My husband jokingly says we use other people’s money to make improvements on the farm. For me, the answer varies depending on when you ask me. If it’s within two weeks of the event and entries are low and volunteers are even lower and I’m running on empty, I often ask myself the same question. Why do I do this?? I often say it’s the impetus for getting the farm all trimmed up and looking good at one time and for that reason alone it’s a good thing. But is it? Then everything manages to come together, and I watch cross-country. I hear the ‘good boys’ and see smiling faces. Even those who had a problem, they have learned a thing or two about their horse and themselves and came off the course better for it. Yes, we are a small family-run event and we so enjoy sharing our farm with our eventing families who appreciate our efforts and being a part of the development of horses and riders. That makes it worth it!

Brant Gamma Photo courtesy of Jackie Smith.

The flags and numbers have been put away for the last time this season, a bit of a bittersweet moment, but I’m looking forward to spending more time with my horses and more relaxed quality time with my family! Until next year!

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

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