Wizards with Chainsaws: Skyline Eventing Debuts Prelim Level One Year After Opening their Doors

1 - St. Jude Log. Photo by Lorraine Jackson

1 – St. Jude Log. Photo by Lorraine Jackson.

Skyline Eventing Park organizers and course designer James Atkinson are pleased as punch to be debuting a Preliminary division cross country course this weekend at their burgeoning facility–one which only opened its doors for the first time exactly one year ago. This course will be Utah’s second Preliminary division and cuts down the distance between two Prelim event facilities from eight hours apart to three hours apart. The organizers have put in the hours to make it happen, but nonetheless seem a little surprised to have pulled it off.

In 2014, the City of Mt. Pleasant, Utah approached local equine vet and eventer Summer Peterson about an idea. The city had built a major regional rodeo facility on 100 acres and still had 65 acres left. Might she and her fellow athletes be interested in building a cross country course out there?

In the two years since, the raw, rugged land speckled in sage brush and yellow sandstone boulders has been transformed into a premiere recognized event in Area IX. When they decided to add a Preliminary course for the next fall event, among their highest priorities was building a division that perfectly complimented the existing levels of Intro through Training.

“The thing that’s cool about our course is we have mini versions of everything, so the ditch wall on the Intro course is built the same way we built the ditch wall on Prelim,” said Carrie Matteson, co-organizer and show secretary. “The quality of building, the design and the strength are the same for every fence, and that’s something that was really important to us in this area.”

18ab - Pallisade to Bank. Photo by Lorraine Jackson.

18ab – Pallisade to Bank. Photo by Lorraine Jackson.

Skyline is co-organized by five women, including Dr. Peterson, who are avid eventers and were eager to fill a desperate need in the region. They almost immediately contracted course designer James Atkinson to build a course from scratch that could simultaneously test and advance riders and trainers in the area but also be an open invitation to lower level riders to catch the eventing bug.

“He’s a wizard with a chainsaw,” Carrie says of James. “You go from a raw log we pulled off the mountain last year and in 45 minutes he’s transformed it into a trakehner, entirely free-hand. Seeing the vision in his mind transformed into this beautiful jump is something that’s so cool to be a part of.”

Organizers share that it’s been a bit of a sociology study watching eventers, ranchers and the local rodeo community come together in a single venue and respect each other’s crafts and spaces. Sometimes the eventers stash overflowing horses in stalls in the cattle pens, and the cowboys sometimes wander out on their horses to take a gander at the cross country course.

The connection deepened this summer following the death of longtime local English instructor and fellow eventer Ellen Walker. Both the eventing and local community were reeling from the loss, and the ConToy arena which houses both the rodeo complex and Skyline Eventing became a gathering place for all who missed her. Skyline Eventing named the fall event after her, and among the new Preliminary fences is a “book jump” built in Ellen’s honor (she was an avid reader), and organizers hope it will be a space where both equestrians and non-equestrians in the community can have a place to come and remember their friend.

3 - Ellen Walker's Book Jump. Photo by Lorraine Jackson

3 – Ellen Walker’s Book Jump. Photo by Lorraine Jackson.

Throughout the week since the jump was placed, riders and locals have been seen lingering at the fence, and you’ll often catch sight of someone touching the pages of the book where Ellen’s poetry verses have been added, or staring at it from a distance.

The event has a strong spirit and a powerful momentum, and the organizers signed a deal earlier this year with Area IX to host the Area championships in 2017.

“Not even two years ago we had zero dollars, and today we’re going to run our first Prelim division with no debt, and that’s a testament to the eventing community, the sponsors, the city officials and the local community who embraced us and our sport here,” Carrie said. “The stars aligned for this, for sure.”

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