Get ready for the Month of the Horse in New Jersey

Start out New Jersey’s Month of the Horse June 1 with a visit to the Concord Stud Farm, 20 Harvey Road in Cream Ridge. David Meirs III and his family have created a well-known Standardbred breeding and foaling facility at the 249-acre farm.

You won’t be alone. State Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher and New Jersey Equestrian of the Year Jamie Leuenberger will be on hand as well for a 10 a.m. tour.

Get an insight into the farm’s ecological practices, which include using fly wasps to combat the fly population and sheep and goats for weed control.

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It will be quite a payday for riders at the Mars Essex Horse Trials

The revival of the Mars Essex Horse Trials in Far Hills June 24-25 is being done in style at Moorland Farm, home of the Far Hills Steeplechase Race Meeting each October.

A total of $25,000 in prize money will be split among the first three finishers in eight divisions, with the lion’s share of $5,000 going to the winner of the open preliminary section.

Essex, which was last held in 1998 after 30 years in the Somerset Hills, is attracting such competitors as Buck Davidson, the mother-daughter combo of Marilyn Payne and Holly Payne Caravella, and the likes of Ryan Wood and Jennie Brannigan, who are expected as well.

All the divisions except beginner novice will run over a two-day format, so the organizers are giving riders four tickets for guests and admission to a Saturday night cocktail party, since most will have to stay over.

Presenting sponsors are the Open Road Auto Group, Peapack-Gladstone Bank, RWJ Barnabas Health and Running S Equine Veterinary Services.

General admission is $10, good for both days. There also is an opportunity to buy other admission packages, including tailgating on the 230-acre property and a chance to enjoy the Hoopstick Club next to the show jumping arena, with a view of the water complex.

There will be a vendor village and food will be available from the Farmstand.

For more information and tickets, go to

Holly Payne Caravella at last year’s preview of the Mars Essex Horse Trials. (Photo by Lawrence J. Nagy)
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Para-dressage getting a boost from successful British coach

When the opportunity came up for the U.S. Equestrian Federation to hire Michel Assouline, the head coach of Britain’s highly successful para-equestrian dressage program, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation stepped up.

“It seemed like an incredible opportunity to have somebody of his stature,” said USET Foundation Executive Director Bonnie Jenkins. “It really could be a game-changer for our para-dressage program” which has yet to win a medal in the modern era of the discipline.

“We were able to secure the funding rather quickly, so we didn’t lose the opportunity,” she said, citing the contributions of Betsy Bramsen, the Barnfield Foundation, Becky Reno and Ed Peavy that made it possible to hire Michel.

Will Connell, the USEF’s director of sport who had previously been Britain’s World Class Performance Director, knew Michel and suggested bringing him to the U.S., but there was nothing in the budget for that.

“We’re very fortunate to have Will Connell,” said Jim Wolf, the foundation’s deputy executive director. “He’s been able to use his relationship with Michel to bring him over and help him build the program. I think Will has a good plan in place, but we needed the funding to do it. This is exactly how the foundation and federation should work together Will had a need, he came to us and we found the funding through the generosity of some very important donors.”

Michel, who worked for the British for 12 years, will be head of para-equestrian coach development and high performance consultant. He will work with chef d’equipe Kai Handt and Laureen Johnson, director of para-dressage, to prepare U.S. athletes for the World Equestrian Games next year in Tryon, N.C.

Michel also will be leading a trainer/coach development program, while working closely with the Para Centers of Excellence around the country, and delivering and running additional seminars and coaching sessions.

Will noted that Michel was a key figure in the able-bodied dressage world as French national champion. “He’s been based in America and trained here, so he understands the culture. He’s obviouly been a very successful para coach He’s also completed a very detailed master coach program in Britain, which gives him a lot of skills in coach development as well . It’s not just about bringing him here to coach athletes, it’s bringing him here to coach coaches.”

Commenting that he has been “privileged to work with an incredibly successful team of athletes” in Britain, Michel noted, “during my time as head coach, we earned team gold in every single international championship and numerous individual medals, including two triple gold medalists at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. I now feel the time is right for a career which seeks out new challenges. My new role will also allow me to pursue other interests both within para- and able-bodied dressage.”

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It’s polo season again in Hunterdon County

It’s perfect weather for tailgating at a polo match. The opportunity comes up June 10, when the Hunterdon Foundation presents the Hunterdon Polo Classic to benefit local charities, including the Hunterdon Art Museum and Riding with HEART.

Gates open at noon at Fieldview Farm in Pittstown. Tickets are $35 (children under 12 are free) and can be bought on line or until June 9 at the following businesses: Bishop’s Supermarket, Whitehouse Station; Bourbon Street Liquors, Califon, Clinton, Lebanon and Flemington; Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, Bernardsville and Coach Stop Saddlery, Bedminster.

Rain date is June 11. For more information, go to

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A new show with broad appeal will be held at the Dream Park

The Mid-Atlantic Charity Horse Show is making its debut July 14-16 at the Gloucester County Dream Park in Logan Township. It is one of only three shows in New Jersey with classes designated for saddlebreds, and the last opportunity to qualify for the August World’s Championship Show at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.

The show, under the auspices of the United Professional Horsemen’s Association Chapter 15, will benefit Saddlebred Rescue and Forever Morgan.

“There are just not enough local shows,” said show manager Kathy Stewart of Cream Ridge, noting there are many more such competitions for saddlebreds in New England than in this area.

The show isn’t limited to saddlebreds. The wide-ranging prizelist includes opportunity classes, classes for those with a mental or physical handicap, English and western pleasure classes, driving, academy classes and other competitions.

The show is double-pointed through American Saddlebred Horse Association-New Jersey for high score awards.  The Show Local Challenge initiative offers a high-point award for those competing in four of five shows, including MAC, the Jersey Classic, the Keystone Classic, the Mid-Atlantic Charity Horse Show and the Children’s Benefit Show.

MAC is about more than competition. Kathy said the idea was to make the show “a family fun experience,” with plans for a big exhibitor “Beach Party Bash” complete with water slides.

For more information, go to . Contact Kathy Stewart at (609) 529-1363 or

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Hunt clinic set for Stillwater

Eager to ride to the hounds, but worried about how to do it with some expertise? Here’s the solution. Field hunter clinics are being held by local hunt volunteers June 9 and 14 at Chammings Showgrounds in Stillwater.

What will you learn? How to handle obstacles and varied terrain, along with hunt basics and etiquette. Meet other equestrians and enjoy dinner, the proceeds of which will benefit the pony club.

The fee is $35/clinic, $5 for spectators. Call 908-343-9631 or email

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Devon has some new twists

It’s nearly time for that treasured tradition, the Devon Horse Show. You’ll be planning to do the same things you always do, from attending the featured $225,000 Sapphire Grand Prix on the evening of June 1 to enjoying the fudge and lemon sticks and taking in the country fair.

But there are some innovations this year, the most exciting of which will be the debut of arena eventing on Sunday night May 28. Both the Gold Ring and the Dixon Oval will be used for a combined course of cross-country and show jumps, laid out by former U.S. eventing coach Mark Phillips of Burghley 4-star fame.

Expect to see eventers Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton participating, along with several show jumpers. This is the perfect way to wake up what is generally a sleepy evening at the show.

Another new attraction is the Dog Show at the Horse Show May 25 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free after 5 p.m. Why not enter your dog for a $5 fee and try the K-9 Stake, the Lead Line Costume Parade or the Speed/Weave class?

Don’t miss Australian showman Guy McLean from May 30 through June 3. You’ll love his work without bridle and saddle, commanding his own little herd of obedient horses.

For tickets, go to or phone (610) 688-2554. Unless you want to stand mushed against the rail, advance purchase seating is a must for the Sapphire Grand Prix.

Kevin Babington and Mark Q, winners of the 2016 Sapphire Grand Prix at Devon. (Photo copyright by Nancy Jaffer)


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More opportunities to hit the trail

Hunter and trail pace season is under way in New Jersey, with lots of opportunities for riders of all levels to get out and ride now that the weather finally is cooperating.

The Essex Foxhounds are holding a pace June 4 at Cedar Lane Farm on Homestead Road. Call Jim Gordon at (908) 337-2546 for details.

Another hunt, Spring Valley, has a pace set for the same day (shouldn’t these dates be coordinated so people can do both?) at the Spring Valley showgrounds on Sand Spring Lane in New Vernon. For information, call Val DiCristina at (908) 362-9249.



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Dressage and drive in Gladstone

It was a two-fer Saturday at Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, home of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation. While ridden dressage was going on in the arena behind the historic stable during the Dutta Corp. U.S. national championships, driven dressage was the order of the day on another part of the property.

The Gladstone Equestrian Association was presenting its annual combined test and horse driving trials in picture-perfect surroundings. Driving has been an annual feature for decades at the facility, which hosted the World Pairs Championship in 1993.

Suzann Johnson of Whitehouse Station competing in the single training horse division at the Gladstone Horse Driving Trials. (Photo by Lawrence J. Nagy
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O’Connor resigns his post as U.S. eventing technical advisor

David O’Connor (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

David O’Connor, who won an individual Olympic eventing gold medal and served as the first president of the United States Equestrian Federation, has resigned his position as U.S. Eventing Technical Advisor to focus on duties with the FEI (international equestrian federation).

David chairs the FEI Eventing Risk Management Steering Group and may do even more with the FEI in the future. He also will continue to offer his services as a trainer.

“It was a very difficult decision for me to step away from this group of riders, owners, support personnel and sponsors,” he said.

“But the structural changes made with the newly created technical advisor position don’t allow me to do what I felt has always been my mainstay. That is, helping to drive the necessary changes for eventing that are in the best interests of the athlete, horse, and owner,” David noted.

“I have lived by these constructs through my time as a competitor, through to my current role as Technical Advisor and they will continue to guide me going forward.”

Under the new arrangement, he was to work with USEF eventing managing director Joanie Morris “in the development and implementation of eventing plans, pathway, program and systems that will help grow programs for developing and elite athlete.”

His role was “adjusted to focus more on management of the programs and the athletes’ personal programs and goals, rather than hands-on coaching.”

As David explained the parameters of his new contract to me last December, “The personal coaches (of individual riders) are a very strong side of the program that’s going to be pushed, and the assessment of markers of what you expect within three months, six months, a year, for progression of horses and riders.

“These will be agreed upon with the rider and myself and documented, so there is a very clear path that we, and they, can judge whether the system that they have is actually working,” he added.

David, who coached the Canadian team to a silver medal in the 2010 World Equestrian Games, became technical advisor and chef d’equipe for the U.S. team after the 2012 Olympics. The U.S. eventing team was seventh at the 2012 Games, so hopes were high and a great deal was expected when David took over.

But there was disappointment when the 2014 World Equestrian Games squad also did not finish under difficult conditions in France. Things seemed back on track after the U.S. won double gold at the 2-star-rated 2015 Pan American Games to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.  At the Rio Olympics, however, the team was eliminated again, though Phillip Dutton did win an individual bronze medal in Brazil.

While a new contract for a coach or technical advisor usually runs for four years, David’s second contract signed in 2016 was for two years. Show jumping coach Robert Ridland had a four-year renewal after his teams earned bronze at the 2014 WEG and silver at the Rio Olympics. Dressage technical advisor Robert Dover, whose team won bronze in Rio, got a two-year contract, but he had stated he was unsure about continuing in the role for another four years, as he had personal interests he wanted to pursue.

Although Americans have been going over to Europe regularly to train and compete, it has been nine years since a U.S. competitor won Rolex Kentucky, the country’s only 4-star event, where foreign riders filled the first three slots this year.

I asked David what’s going wrong with American eventing. He feels both the older and younger riders are riding better, and have the skill sets to be competitive, but they need to be bolder and more aggressive.

“Over many years, David has been a leader for US Equestrian as a whole and for eventing in particular,” remarked Murray Kessler, president of USEF.

“We reluctantly accept David’s resignation and support his desire to focus on chairing the Fédération Equestre International (FEI) Risk Management committee to help design programs that mitigate risk for the sport and promote horse welfare. It is reassuring to know that David will remain a leader in our sport, continue to provide input to our programs and that our mutual interests will remain intertwined. We thank him for everything he has done.”

Now USEF has to hustle to find a replacement for David, with the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C., little more than a year away.

The question is, what will that person’s role be?

“I think they’ll have to take a look at that, whether it’s a general manager like baseball or football, or someone who helps deal with the horse sport side,” David said. “Everyone’s going to have to decide what direction they want to go down and have it go from there.

“I was fully committed and put all my energy and my thought process into it but it was the time to go on to the next for the program,” he said.

As for himself, he said, “I’m looking forward, I’m not looking backwards. I’m optimistic about what the future’s going to bring.

“I’ve been involved in high performance since I was 18 years old, and now I’m 55. I enjoy teaching emerging athletes and I have always done that and I’ll look into continuing that side of the equation, but not the official one, because that’s Leslie’s (Law) job.”

David added he and his wife, Karen, might even open a barn again, but noted the two of them haven’t had a chance to talk about it.

“It’s not like I’m leaving the sport,” he pointed out.

“We’ll see what opportunities are available.”


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