Check a new web address for horsey happenings and more in the Somerset Hills

By Nancy Jaffer
March 8, 2017

The scenic Somerset Hills, once one of the horsiest areas in New Jersey, is making a big comeback in terms of equestrian activities.

The Mars Essex Horse Trials returns to the Somerset Hills this June after an absence of 18 years. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

They had gradually tapered off over the years, until the Gladstone Gathering in 2015 generated new energy. That party at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s Gladstone headquarters brought together more than 200 of the equestrian-involved and members of the community in the area around Peapack-Gladstone, which also includes Bedminster, Far Hills and Tewksbury in neighboring Hunterdon County.

The Gathering led directly to the renewal of the Mars Essex Horse Trials, which will be held in June for the first time since 1998. It also generated rejuvenation of the Gladstone Equestrian Association, whose high point was the 1993 World Pair Driving Championships.

And now there’s something else as the effort continues to pick up speed. Making its debut is www.somersethillsevents.org, which is offering a listing of major happenings in the region that will appeal not only to horse people, but also to others interested in sporting activities.

Clicking on the link brings readers to the GEA website platform, where the calendar is presented, along with links to the websites of the organizations listed. In addition, it includes relevant news stories, such as a piece about the highly successful Monmouth at the Team horse show, held in August at the USET Foundation.

Monmouth at the Team had a successful 2016 debut at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s Gladstone headquarters. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

“Our goal and intent is to promote the area, not exclusively equestrian activities. Any activity that draws spectators to the area could fall under that umbrella. We’re taking control of our own destiny,” said Guy Torsilieri, one of the key players behind the Essex Horse Trials.

As it continues to develop, the website will offer a guide that could lead to cross-pollination among different groups, which should pay off in attracting a broader audience and support for the activities.

For instance, in addition to such equestrian standouts as the Far Hills Race Meeting and Essex at Moorland Farms in Far Hills, as well as May’s U.S. Equestrian Federation National Dressage Championships at the U.S. Equestrian Team facility, it also lists the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Tournament in July at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.

Talking about the development process of the effort sparked by the Gathering, Jim Brady commented, “2015 was crawl, 2016 was walk, this is the year to run.”

Jim, one of the Gathering’s organizers, is the great-grandson of James Cox Brady, who built the historic USET Foundation stables a century ago, and is the grandson of the next James Cox Brady, who brought the USET to the property in 1960.

As Jim observed, other non-equestrian activities can be included going forward.

Guy pointed out, for instance, that “the U.S. Golf Association (located in Far Hills) is right in our backyard. It’s spent a tremendous amount of money on refurbishing and enlarging its campus.”

Meanwhile, equestrian activities continue to expand in the area.

“We’re looking at all the options for show jumping at Moorland Farms,” said Guy, who also is chairman of the Far Hills Race Meeting there.

Guy Torsilieri and Ralph Jones, chairman of the Mars Essex Horse Trials. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

A bid has been submitted for Moorland to host one of the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping qualifying classes, beginning in the 2018-2019 season.Show jumping has never been held at the site, but as Guy put it, “Even though we’re a longshot, I think we’ve got a lot of very, very positive things going in our direction.”

One is location.

“Part of our presentation is the fact that we’re 42 miles from Manhattan,” said Guy, noting Moorland is also very flexible in terms of its date.

If Moorland isn’t awarded get the qualifier, “that isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. We’re still in the game, we’re still going to pursue activities at Moorland Farms and we’re going to continue to pursue events with Longines and other major players in the jumping world,” Guy commented.

He suggested the possibility for Moorland of something modeled after the three-year-old Central Park Horse Show in New York City.

“We’ve just got to figure out the right formula,” said Guy, noting it is possible to build a base and drainage on the Moorland property for an all-weather arena, with an option of holding classes on the grass as well. The Palm Beach Masters, a World Cup qualifier held last month in Wellington, Fla., utilized both an all-weather ring and a show jumping field at its facility.

Grass was the jumping surface for the Palm Beach Masters. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

The bid “was just to begin the process, to let everybody know we are going to be building more equestrian activity in this area, whether it’s at the team, Pine Meadow (on the USET Foundation property) , at Natirar (a Somerset County park in Peapack, where the Essex Fox Hounds held low-key amateur races) or Moorland,” Guy pointed out.

“We’re all working together as a group to bring equestrian activity back here. We’re not excluding anybody. This is a broad net we’re throwing over the area. It gets more exciting as you go along.”

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