Like a herald at the gates of the 2017 eventing season, Rocking Horse Stables will be kicking off the first of four recognized horse trials in Altoona, Florida this coming weekend on Jan. 27-29.
Rocking Horse Stables, long a cornerstone of the southern eventing community, will be welcoming riders based in Florida as well as the proverbial snowbirds and their equine partners from many areas of the country. Hosting riders from Beginner Novice through Advanced divisions, RHS managers and staff pride themselves on presenting a positive yet challenging eventing venue.
One of the most heavily subscribed events in the country, RHS typically draws about 500 entries to each event. The Winter II competition, which hosts Advanced divisions, will push entries over the 500 mark.
Organizer Leyna Cannon says, “When the number edges towards 580, I get nervous! We simply run out of daylight!”
This trend has necessitated adding a fourth day of competition, thus the Advanced divisions start tomorrow on Thursday. The other mainstay divisions are at the Training level, which is divided into A, B, C and D sections, as well as multiple groups at the Preliminary level. The ship-in parking lot ends up looking like a sea of horse trailers with well over 200 rigs pulling in each day. This is in addition to both permanent stabling and temporary stabling on grounds.
Additionally, RHS will be hosting an Eventing Officials Continuing Education Clinic on Feb. 16-19. Forty-plus officials holding certification at the “r,” “R” and “S” levels will be attending.
Farm owners and managers Jeanne and Dave Merrill and Leyna and Brian Cannon have not had the down time that many riders and horses have had.
Work at the 150-acre farm hardly ceases throughout the year as there are always maintenance and improvements to be done. Offering a winter haven to 80-plus seasonal boarders, as well as year-round boarders, RHS has numerous practice and all-weather dressage and jumping rings, as well as cross-country schooling just about any time you and your pony are ready.
Boarders sign on for a dry stall, with as much bedding as you want — let me repeat that — as much bedding as you want! Plus 30 or more turnout paddocks, wash stalls, a round pen for lunging, hacking trails across the street and thru the Ocala National Forest, and camping hookups for those who bring along their own living accommodations. Everything necessary to produce effective campaigning of your horse.
Market Street Equestrian is permanently based at RHS while northerners such as Steph Kohr, Lisa Marie Ferguson, and others set up shop for the winter season.
At times the venue resembles a mining camp with all the machinery coming and going: backhoes, brush hogs, chain saws … you name it. The place could be an ad for John Deere. The Merrills and Cannons, along with grounds manager Spike Smith, make the venue spit polish clean and keep changing up things to improve and expand.
There are several anchors to the competitions and one is the work done by course designer Morgan Rowsell. In his eighth year of course design at Rocking Horse, Morgan attributes much to his predecessor John Williams as well as to the time he has spent with Derek di Grazia, Hugh Lochore, Ian Stark, Mark Phillips, Tremaine Cooper and John Nicholson amongst others.
Morgan explains that there is a really good global community of designers who are all very good about sharing information. He also walks as many different courses as possible to see what other ideas are out there. With Rocking Horse specifically in mind, Morgan has been able to design here what riders may see at other venues in the U.S. as well as international competitions.
What does Morgan like best about working at RHS?
“The size of the RHS venue is great,” he explains. “I can make the courses very different each time. I typically try to change about 20-30 percent of the jumps for each competition. RH also has a large number of jumps and complexes so I don t have to use every jump or complex each time we run. Again this gives me the advantage to make each event different.”
“The other advantage for me as a designer at RH is the number of rides at the events. I get to see a lot of horses ride over my designs. I get a chance to see young horses, experienced horses, short strided horse, long strided horse. This all helps me see with some accuracy how it rides with a variety of horse and riders.”
Morgan designs at several very well know events throughout the country, including the New Jersey H.T. in June and in July at the Horse Park of New Jersey; the Seneca Valley H.T. in June and September in Poolesville, Maryland; the Flora Lea Horse trials in Medford, New Jersey, in May and September; the ESDCTA Horses trials in October; Three Lakes in January and February; and all five events at Rocking Horse.
A major coup is having been selected to design the track for the relaunch of the Essex Horse Trials in Far Hills, New Jersey, a long awaited and highly anticipated return to the competition season. Congrats Morgan!