123, 123, 123 JUMP! Big Dreams for a Little Area V Cross County Course

This one might be a keeper. Photo courtesy of Megan Smits.

And jump we did. Into the deep end? In over our heads? The circle of boarders and volunteers affectionately known as Women, Wine & Whinnies have taken a jump — more like a leap of faith — into a major project designed to provide support for Horses for Healing, the therapeutic riding center which brought us all together. Our program serves on average 120 children each week with special needs, regardless of ability to pay. As a result, we’re always looking for ways that we can raise more scholarship funds for our amazing kids. In addition to a few small charity horse shows we do, and a big annual fundraiser, this year we decided a revamp of our existing cross country course would not only allow us to host some charity horse trials, but could also fill a need in Area V!

Armed with little more than an extreme passion for horses and the desire to serve children in need (OK, and a little advice from the experts) the group intends to pull off a complete overhaul of the overlooked and underutilized back 40 of the Horses for Healing property — transforming it into a full scale cross country course. Although the end goal will be sanctioned horse trials, the immediate goal of the renovation will be charity shows, schooling days, express events and horse trials, and whatever other fun and exciting things we can dream up.

This jump could mean a lot to our program in the form of scholarships for children, pony care and expanded services. Just like any non-profit, you name it we need it. After tossing around a few ideas to freshen up fundraising, it was decided that we could make better use of what we have readily available – arenas with good footing, plenty of parking space and the small cross country course that’s never really used with the exception of the occasional rider hauling in for a day of off property schooling. With not many eventing venues in our little corner of Area V it seems that we’d not only fill a need for our program, but also give a boost to a truly awesome sport.

And so, we began.

Creosote logs of doom. Photo courtesy of Megan Smits.

Step 1 – Shanghai a Professional

The scheme officially got underway over Labor Day with a visit from USEA certified course designer Andy Bowles. Andy was kind enough to lend our project an air of respectability and flew in to evaluate what we have (rotten logs) and what we need (super cool jumps). We were anxious about this first step. Andy’s opinion would decide whether we were just harboring delusions of grandeur (thanks to the second W in our name) or had actually hit upon a viable idea. Is the property suitable? Could we use what we have, or will we need to start from scratch? Could we provide enough interesting questions to draw more experienced riders while keeping it fun for the *ahem* less adventurous amongst us?

The inaugural “course walk” with Andy brought to light the first misstep in our adventure – not keeping up with the mowing. After spraying ourselves down with enough tick repellant to deem us an environmental hazard, we set off to analyze the lay of the land and evaluate the jumps. Most of which would qualify for antique plates if they were cars. Our first stop was the little swamp we like to refer to as “the pond in the back.” Our visions of riders plunging through the only water complex within 200 miles were dashed with a with a firm nod and single syllable – “no.” Our hopeful little mudhole was off the list. For now.

Old pond photo. Photo courtesy of Megan Smits.

The morning was spent going from jump to jump, analyzing each for safety and future potential. We also had to decide how to make the best use of the existing land features — the hills, flat spots, the neighbor’s cows, the road through the woods and any banks, drops and ditches that could be utilized. We would need to carefully consider and incorporate each natural asset to make sure our venue was interesting and rideable. With most existing jumps sitting at Beginner Novice and Novice, we would also need to make sure we had enough variety to cover as many levels as possible. So, what can we keep?

OK, so maybe not the cattle, but thanks to good sturdy construction, surprisingly a lot. With a bit of sanding, paint and rehab, most of our jumps can be cleaned up and transformed into their best selves. What a great start! A few coops were a bit too far gone and others just didn’t quite fit into our vision of interesting and fun. It didn’t take Andy long to get an idea of what we have to work with, decide on a preliminary layout and complete a GPS mapping of the course-to-be. And the verdict? This will work. We should be able to host Intro through Training level as soon as Spring 2020.

Coop in need of a facelift. Photo courtesy of Megan Smits.

Step 2: Celebrate and Panic a Little

Our next meeting of Women, Wine & Whinnies came with a collective sigh of relief as well as a good hard smack with the reality stick. The to-do list exploded from, “hey, let’s look into this idea” to, well everything else. Coordinating volunteer groups to breathe life into our old jumps and clear away the rejects. Decide on show dates (Now? We do that now?!) Show management software is a thing, right? Decide on what new jumps to order to fill in the gaps and create a well-balanced course. A dressage arena! We need one of those! Flags! You can’t have insanity in between without flags on the left and the right! Start clocks! Pinnies! We need that stuff! What format will we run? Long? Short? Express? Hokey Pokey? We need a plan people! Eventers are known as a generally cool and laid-back group but “just wing it” isn’t something they want to hear while sitting in the start box (although some of you probably have!)

The Women, Wine & Whinnies crew! Photo courtesy of Megan Smits.

Step 3: Keep Calm and Carry On

With all eyes focused on spring and paintbrushes and hammers in hand, we’re off and running. Jump construction is underway and show dates are being planned. It’s going to be a long haul filled with trial and error and lessons learned. And probably a few splinters, blisters and ruined manicures. A small price to pay to keep our kiddos in the saddle.

So. Into the deep end? Definitely. Over our head? Nah. We got this.

Go Eventing!

Horses for Healing is a therapeutic riding center located in Bentonville and serving special needs children throughout Northwest Arkansas. You can learn more at www.horsesforhealingnwa.org.