Copper Meadows Helping Eventers Look Before They Leap

Inspired by the formation of an Area I Schooling Horse Trials Championship, EN is featuring more awesome local eventing organizations that are recognizing and celebrating low-level eventers in our new series Schooling Horse Trials Spotlight. Know of a great local organization or schooling horse trials that deserves some love? Tip us at [email protected].

Competitors at the Copper Meadows Sun Series event on 1/17/16. Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Competitors at the Copper Meadows Sun Series event on Jan. 17, 16. Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Copper Meadows has been a staple of California eventing since it was founded in 2000 by Robin and Carolyn Hoffos. In addition to hosting two USEA recognized horse trials annually, the Ramona facility also prides itself on the unrecognized one-day events they added to the calendar in 2006.

Taren Atkinson, the Hoffos’ daughter and current manager of operations at Copper Meadows, explains that the idea behind the unrecognized events is to give riders who might not be able to compete at recognized horse trials the same chance to enjoy Copper Meadows and experience the facility. The one-day unrecognized events also offer an ideal great opportunity to school young or green horses and/or riders in a low-key atmosphere.

Not only are unrecognized events healthy and helpful for competitors, they also benefit the facility itself in multiple ways, Taren added. “It is important to keep the facility working year-round, Not just to make money, but also to keep the footing up, keep the jumps healthy, and thus to make the facility relevant,” she said.

“We are essentially always keeping the footing good, as we host 14 events a year, so the property is always in good shape. Riders appreciate the fact that they can visit our facility any time for schooling and the footing is even and worked,” Taren said. “To our end, keeping the footing good for these one-day shows cuts down significantly on the time it takes to prep for the recognized events.”

A decorated fence at Copper Meadows. Photo by Taren Atkinson.

A decorated fence at Copper Meadows. Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Copper Meadows also caters to competitors who are newer to eventing or riding green horses by hosting a clinic the day before the one-day events, allowing riders to school over the same cross-country obstacles that they would encounter at the show the next day. Taren dubbed these “Look B4 You Leap Clinics,” with many guest instructors from Area VI teaching through the years before she took over in 2008.

“The Look B4 You Leap clinic is the best way to get your feet wet before the one day! The cross-country course is flagged and decorated, the water jumps are full, and the footing is dragged each Saturday for the clinic,” Taren said.

“Each group spends rwo hours schooling the course — the same jumps they will jump Sunday — gaining confidence and working out any kinks before the show the following day. The clinic is really a great teaching tool for younger and inexperienced horses and riders; it’s all about feeling comfortable for the next day.”

Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Photo by Taren Atkinson.

One-day riders can compete in divisions ranging from Elementary to Preliminary and can mix-and-match phases to customize their show experience. Competitors can compete in the three-phase traditionally, add an additional practice round of any phase onto their three-phase entry, or can enter any single phase on its own.

Coaching is also allowed during all three phases of the one-day events, which Taren believes goes back to the reason Copper Meadows runs these unrecognized events. “The laid-back format of the shows and allowing coaching fosters the learning aspect that we are committed to,” she said.

Over time, the one-day unrecognized events at Copper Meadows have evolved to become the Sun Series. The series has been fortunate to experience steady participation growth in both the events and the Look B4 You Leap clinics, adding yet another show date this year for a total of 11 unrecognized events on the 2016 calendar. Clinic participation has grown such that additional instructors, Kate Gillespie and Stacia Arnold, have been added to fulfill the demand.

Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Photo by Taren Atkinson.

“We have an outstanding volunteer system in place for these shows, without which it would be impossible to host them,” Taren said. One such outstanding volunteer is Don Trotter, who, with his wife, Pamela Duffy, owns Sunsprite Warmbloods and Sunsprite Jumpworks in Temecula, California.

Don is a veritable volunteer tour-de-force at events across Area VI and originally got involved at Copper Meadows by volunteering at their USEA recognized events as a ring steward. When Taren and volunteer coordinator Margie Davis asked Don to volunteer at the Sun Series as well, he jumped at the chance.

“It’s been a truly rewarding experience,” Don. said “Watching youngsters improve with Taren’s training expertise over the years has been a real treat.”

Ring steward Don Trotter with Olivia Loiacono and Heather LaHaye. Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Ring steward Don Trotter with Olivia Loiacono and Heather LaHaye. Photo by Taren Atkinson.

For Don, volunteering is more than just a way to cheer on Sunsprite’s sponsored riders. “Seeing our team riders on our horses is great, but it’s the amateurs who aren’t terribly confident or are having out-of-body experiences typical of the sport of eventing that keep me motivated,” he said.

“It seems that a familiar, friendly person who offers calm encouragement is soothing to these riders. These amateurs are the ones keeping the lights on at the USEA, and I think their experiences at events can be enhanced with kindness.

“As a ring steward, I have a lot of rider contact, and I care about each of the venues where I volunteer. It just makes sense that the people paying entry fees should have fun at shows regardless of the outcome of their weekend. We make future eventers by getting inexperienced riders to come back because they had a good time.”

As a rider and competitor herself, Taren also easily sees the value in unrecognized events. “I find it hard to justify spending a horse trials entry fee on a young horse that hasn’t gotten out much, so to have the opportunity to get in a new dressage arena, see new cross-country jumps and jump a stadium course for a fraction of the cost is very appealing,” she said.

“The shows are extremely valuable for all riders, not just young or inexperienced riders, as they offer a chance to feel all the same pressures of a horse trials without the stress. Messed up your stadium round? Just ride another one!”

Photo by Taren Atkinson.

Photo by Taren Atkinson.

In 2013 Taren began to track placings and points and offer year-end awards for the Sun Series events. “Year-end awards are both a motivator for participation and also a way for Copper Meadows to give back to our loyal competitors,” she said.

“Many of our regular riders at the Sun Series events may not get the chance to attend a recognized event, but we feel like offering them the same amount of recognition as those big events gives them a wonderful experience. Year-end awards are also another way for our sponsors to get their products out to riders and serve as a marketing tool for them throughout the year.”

Plus, offering year-end awards can sweeten the pot for potential show-goers. “Showing is expensive at whatever level and frequency you do it,” Taren added. “Events that go the extra step to show their appreciation for your support make a difference when you are deciding where to spend your time and money.”