Apr 02, 2020

USEA Events A-Z: Winona Horse Trials

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

The Winona Horse Trials is held yearly in May at Stone Gate Farm in Hanoverton, Ohio (Area VIII), offering Starter through Preliminary levels and USEA Young, Future, and New Event Horse classes.

If you read the USEA Events A-Z featuring Stone Gate Farm Horse Trials, you have already learned a little about how we got started organizing events. Sitting down to write this shortly after I filled out all the information for the USEA prize list page, I couldn’t help thinking about how much things have changed over the years and how some things never change. We will be celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Winona Horse Trials in 2020 and I would like to share a bit of history of how it all started and where we hope to go in the future.

Dave and I moved to Winona as newlyweds in the spring of 1984 because Dave took a job with the Winona Veterinary Clinic. Other than the vet clinic, Winona consists of a post office, a firehouse, two churches, and a butcher shop. One beautiful spring day we had to get out of the apartment and took a walk around the farm across the street. It had a beautiful huge pasture, rolling hills, and woods. I said, "Oh Dave, you could build a beautiful cross-country course here," but how could we since we haven’t even met the owners, Bill and Jinny Huffman, yet? We stalked watch the farm for signs of their presence since they didn’t live there at the time. We finally met Bill and Jinny and convinced them to let us build some stalls and fix up the pasture so I could move my horses there. Fast forward, we eventually worked up the courage to ask them if we could build a few cross-country fences and then casually mentioned that it would be a great place to hold an event. Ten months later we ran the first Winona Horse Trials in the fall of 1985 and since then has run in May and for many in the area it is the first event of the season.

The program cover from the first ever Winona Horse Trials. Photo courtesy of Jackie Smith.

Looking back, those early years were so different from today: no cell phones, no computers, entry info handwritten on 3x5 cards, start times set out by postcard, program covers and course maps were hand-drawn, all scoring done with only calculators, huge scoreboards filled out by hand that either had to use masking tape or whiteout if changes had to be made, CB radios, official course walks, and the list goes on. A controller and safety coordinator were unheard of in the early days. Cross-country fences, show jump fences, dressage rings? I often joked that we had to beg, borrow, or steal (we won’t go there) materials to be able to get fences built. Many thanks to Jack and Jane Clapp who loaned us dressage rings and a couple of show jumps, Jerry Goldberg who loaded us show jumps, as well as the Western Reserve Pony Club who later let us use their dressage rings. We no longer need to borrow rings or jumps but we still do the building ourselves but the ‘we’ now includes our adult children and daughter-in-law Kyle, Kevin, and Laura.

The first event only offered Novice and Training and ran as a one day with dressage being in a neighbor’s hayfield and show jumping on the top of the hill in the middle of the cross-country course. Things started to go awry before the event even started. One of the dressage judges forgot to put it on her calendar, fortunately, she made it, but it was a bit tense. Then the TD, who at the time was assigned by the USCTA (now USEA) called the day before to say he wasn’t going to be able to make it because hurricane Gloria was bearing down on them. That left Col. Paul Wimert to cover the whole event! Fortunately, I had run events before and I was a licensed TD so we managed to muddle through. Meanwhile, the competitors were oblivious to what was going on and it ended up being a great day of eventing and the beginning of many more to come.

Sons Kyle and Kevin with Major General Jonathan R. Burton in 2004. Photo courtesy of Jackie Smith.

The next couple of years saw the dressage moved to the Canfield Fairgrounds where we were also stabling at the time. It wasn’t ideal especially since it was a good half hour away, but we kept telling ourselves that it was just temporary as we had just bought our own farm. We told the Huffmans that in five years we would have our farm up and going and we would move the event home. In the late 1980s we were able to move the dressage to Stone Gate and stabling was moved closer at the Lisbon Fairgrounds. In the early 1990s the first two stabling barns were built. We indeed started running events at Stone Gate five years later but we continued to run the spring event with cross-country running at Huffmans. To say they loved to primp up their farm and share with the competitors is an understatement. They mowed the course with lawnmowers making it look and feel like a golf course!! The riders loved it and so did we. Somehow the five years turned into 25 years!

During the ensuing years, many more fences were built as we added Preliminary and Beginner Novice courses at Huffmans and as well as developing our farm. Since we're now running events at both farms, many of the fences being built were portables that had to be moved back and forth between the farms. This was not only extremely time-consuming; it was tough on the jumps and both of us and, of course, none of us were getting any younger. So finally, after years of blood, sweat, and tears, and many fond memories, we decided to end the era of cross-country at the Huffman farm but not the end of the Winona Horse Trials, which now runs entirely at Stone Gate Farm.

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The 25th anniversary celebration of the Winona Horse Trials (from left to right): Dave Smith, Victoria Frey, Kyle Smith, Kevin Smith, Jackie Smith, Bill Huffman, and Ginny Huffman. Photo courtesy of Jackie Smith.

In the 10 years since we stopped running cross-country at the Huffmans a lot has changed at Stone Gate Farm. We have added a Starter division, Young Event Horse (YEH), Future Event Horse, and New Event Horse (NEH) classes. The facility has grown as well with the addition of some adjacent land which allowed us room to build a larger show jumping ring, a Derby Field which is used for the NEH and YEH classes, and moving the day parking and the secretary to the bottom of the hill near the stabling and show jumping areas. This has made a tremendous change it the atmosphere of the competitions. We are currently working on building a new 12 stall stabling barn as we often are oversubscribed for stalls.

All of this would not be possible without a few key people and a lot of volunteers. 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!

Photo courtesy of Jackie Smith.

When I started writing, I said that many things have changed but many things that remain the same. The passion that people have for their horses and the sport remain the same. Seeing people hanging out with their friends around the barns or trailers just enjoying the day. However, watching people go cross-country hearing the "good boys" and see smiling faces; that’s the BEST and that hasn’t changed in 35 years! Even those who had a problem, they have learned a thing or two about their horse, 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 to be a part of the development of horses and riders . . . that makes it worth it!

While Dave and I may be losing the "overdrive in our transmission" we’re still getting it done! With the help of the next generation the Winona Horse Trials and Stone Gate Farm should be around for years to come!

Post Script: Although we have been forced to postpone the celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Winona Horse Trials to July 3-5 (pending USEF approval) we simply look at it as giving us a little more time to finish the new barn with less stress. In these trying times: stay safe, stay strong, stay sane, and ride on!

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

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