Jan 23, 2020

USEA Events A-Z: Town Hill Farm Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Brian Wilcox/ConnecticutPhoto.com Photo.

Town Hill Farm in Lakeville, Connecticut (Area I) hosts one horse trials each year at the end of August offering Introductory through Preliminary horse trials as well as USEA Young Event Horse, Future Event Horse, and New Event Horse classes.

The Belcher family acquired the property where Town Hill Farm now stands from another local family, the Cleveland family, in 1898. At the time, the property was mostly farmland. It was Ward Belcher, the current owner of the farm, whose grandparents built a house and a barn on the property. The house and surrounding lands were donated to the next-door Hotchkiss School some years ago, but the barn has been standing on Belcher’s property since 1916. “What we still call ‘The Big Barn’ was one of the structures [constructed in 1916,]” said Susan Beddingfield, the barn’s current manager. “It’s one of the few original farm buildings that is still standing.”

“They built it for horses – it was always a horse barn,” Beddingfield continued. “His grandparents rode – they mostly did fox hunting and they had carriages and did driving. There were also cows on the property.”

Brian Wilcox/ConnecticutPhoto.com Photo.

In 1986, Belcher’s parents allowed two young women, Susie Reisch-Pelletier and Linda Bushnell, to move their boarding and training operation from a barn elsewhere on the property up to the part of the property that is now known as Town Hill Farm and built both an indoor and outdoor arena for their use and use by the Lakeville Pony Club. “Susie and Linda had the Lakeville Pony Club with them at another smaller place nearby that was also owned by the Belchers, and they said that if they could get them to move the Pony Club up here, we’ll build you an indoor and outdoor ring,” Beddingfield said.

Belcher took over the running of the farm after his mother’s passing in 1995, and in the early 2000s he had a vision to create an eventing facility. When the Lakeville Pony Club relocated to another nearby farm, Belcher began work renovating the barns, paddocks, and arenas. In 2006 work began to add a cross-country course on the fields of the farm. Tremaine Cooper was the original course designer with Eric Bull serving as course builder.

Town Hill started with a combined test in 2006 and the horse trials started in 2007. In 2014, a Preliminary track was added, and from 2017 through 2019 Town Hill Farm hosted the Area I Championships. In 2020 they plan to add an Introductory division.

Brian Wilcox/ConnecticutPhoto.com Photo.

“It is a beautiful piece of property with a really nice main barn as the focal point, and then the temporary stabling and the dressage rings are up at the top of the hill above the barn, while the cross-country warm-up is down the hill below it,” described Molly Bull, the event’s current organizer. “There is an enclosed arena with sand and rubber footing that we use for show jumping, and the show jumping warm-up ring also has the same nice quality footing.”

“The cross-country course is inviting for each level and has rolling hills with established turf,” Bull continued. “The water jump sits at the top of the hill and is usually mid-way through the course for most of the divisions. The Training and Preliminary courses go back into a further field while the lower levels stay more centrally located. There are several ditches and banks that our current course designer, Jeff Kibbie, changes up a bit each time to keep things interesting for the riders. The course has a very open feel to it which is great for galloping.”

Brian Wilcox/ConnecticutPhoto.com Photo.

“There have been a wide cast of people who have helped bring the event to life each year,” Beddingfield shared. “We have many key volunteers that return year after year to make the event a success.”

“Ray Denis, as organizer for many years, added professionalism and hospitality that was needed and helped bring the Area I Championships to Town Hill,” Beddingfield elaborated. “Heidi White was instrumental in improving the cross-country course and adding the Preliminary level. Steve Whitney started out as a volunteer years back and was so helpful and enthusiastic that we made him part of the event staff. We are so pleased that the very efficient and knowledgeable Molly Bull joined us as organizer of the event last year and look forward to her continued guidance.”

Brian Wilcox/ConnecticutPhoto.com Photo.

“I think the farm itself is part of what makes the event special, and also the people who help put it on,” Bull commented. “Ward and his barn manager Susan are welcoming and generous, and they make it a fun place for officials and competitors alike. They have a great group of volunteers who help get everything set up and many of them stay and help during the competition as well. We had extra food leftover from volunteers on the last day this year and Ward and Susan let me drive around the stabling area and hand it out to competitors who were preparing to leave. They also put on a nice spread on Saturday night for the competitors' party, which was well-attended and fun.”

“I want eventers to come and try our event if they haven't before,” Bull concluded. “We try to produce quality show jumping and cross-county courses but keep the event welcoming and hopefully low stress for the riders. For those that have already been there, please come back as we are continually trying to make things better. We have a slightly different format planned for 2020, running over two days instead of three, which will hopefully be popular with riders. We are always open to new ideas and suggestions so please let us know by filling out event evaluation forms or by contacting me if you have a suggestion.”

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

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