Glenn and Janet Wilson have developed Pine Top Farm in Thomson, Ga. into what is now a favorite destination for eventers of all levels, providing a family friendly atmosphere for lower level riders and a critical preparatory opportunity for Advanced level competitors. In 2017, Pine Top will celebrate its 25th year of hosting horse trials and is looking forward to unveiling recent several upgrades to their facility.
To ensure the future of the venue and its ability to provide a quality competition, the Wilson’s are focused on what they call ‘sustainable event organizing.’
“This is the practice of building facilities and hosting events in an economically sustainable way. Our philosophy for upgrades is ‘pay as you go’ which helps to keep overhead down,” Glenn explained. “Our emphasis is on providing well-designed courses by top designers utilizing our great natural footing, while providing safe, convenient stabling and other facilities.”
While the stabling facilities and arenas are “functional if not fancy,” the Wilson’s are proud that the cross country courses have always been their calling card. Built on decades-old pasture on former cotton fields, Glenn says that the gently rolling, sandy loam terrain is naturally suited for cross country and that no heroic efforts were required to create it.
Pine Top’s season begins with the much loved Thanksgiving Horse Trials followed by three events in February and March offering Beginner Novice up through CIC3* levels. For the rest of the year, the cross country course is used as cattle pasture and hay production.
“Agriculture and eventing have blended well at Pine Top. The farm has been in continuous agricultural production since our original family ancestors settled the land in 1770. We are committed to this land just as our ancestors were and we will continue to improve it thoughtfully,” Glenn said.
Yearly upgrades of all kinds are done judiciously. The farm has its own earth moving equipment that is used to create new earthworks and graded areas, and the original topsoil with grass roots is always set aside for final covering to assure healthy grass regrowth. New cross country jumps are often built with natural, farm-grown timber and treated logs which gives Pine Top courses their signature, traditional look and feel. Using ‘home-grown’ materials also allows the designers and builders to cut the wood for a new obstacle exactly as desired.
Pine Top’s cross country course designer Derek di Grazia also designs at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* and will design at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Derek has been on board at Pine Top for the last three years. Jeff Kibbie also joined the team as the lower level course designer.
“Derek has been a pleasure to work with and he has guided us to even better courses without breaking the bank,” Glenn said. “Rob Mobley came in with Derek as our new builder and his work has been excellent, even with me constantly reminding him to be ‘fast, furious and frugal!’ Jeff is also a skilled designer and builder and has built us some nice new jumps, as well as being a good equipment operator and setting his own courses.”
Derek’s expertise and position as designer at the world’s most prestigious events is an important component to the service Pine Top provides as an early season run for Advanced competitors targeting Rolex or another spring CCI. Pine Top’s proximity to Aiken also makes it a popular run for the eventers spending the winter months in Area III.
“The property is a great property to design on. It lends itself to nice galloping courses and the going there is typically quite good,” Derek said. “Being early in the season I always just try to give the (upper-level) riders something where they can have a nice galloping run, build confidence, get the horses going and have a positive experience.”
“We want to recognize and thank our volunteers and the many Aiken ‘snowbirds’ that have supported us over the years. Even though Pine Top is an hour away from Aiken, it is very much an Aiken event,” Glenn said.
“Ritch Temple was our mentor and visionary who convinced us to run our first Advanced in late February 1995 before Aiken’s big rise as a snowbird destination. Then Tiffani Loudon-Meetze suggested we run an Intermediate event two weeks before in mid-February. This was revolutionary for Aiken and Area III to run Intermediate and Advanced outside of Florida in February, and it has proven to be very popular.”
The opening dates for Pine Top’s early 2017 events are already here. Thanks to the Wilsons’ sustainable organizing practices, competitors can look forward to improved stall floors in 88 permanent stalls as well as other repairs. Large trees were also cleared to provide an additional level warm-up area for dressage. On cross country, significant earthwork has been accomplished at the original Big Water complex and at the old Bankety Bank complex.
Glenn and Janet are looking forward to another year of sustainable organizing in 2017: “We may not have shiny new facilities or big prize money, but we are excited about the huge improvements to stabling as well as the new improvements to warm-up and cross country. We appreciate all of our competitors and we will continue to provide them with safe competitions on the best footing!”
Check out some of Pine Tops recent upgrades in the gallery below and learn more about Pine Top Horse Trials here.