Karen O'Neal, of Snoqualmie, Washington, seen here jumping with Ballymurphy Bob, was one of the big winners in her divisions at last weekend's Inavale Farm Horse Trials. (Photo by Raleigh Emerson)

For a quarter of a century now at Inavale Farm south of Philomath, riders and horses have been competing in the three disciplines of eventing — dressage, cross-country and show jumping. 

“We are the only one in Oregon and since we have started, we’ve been the only one in Oregon,” said Caroline Meneghelli, who organizes the annual Inavale Farm Horse Trials with husband, Luigi, in reference to sanctioning by the U.S. Eventing Association. “There’s a bunch in Washington, a whole bunch in California but we are it for Oregon. So if you want to come to a sanctioned event that qualifies you for bigger stuff, this is one that you can come to.”

Moving up to “bigger stuff” at the highest level could include the U.S. Olympic team.

Horse trials, also referred to as eventing or combined training, occur on courses that have been designed in advance. Several days before the competition, the course designer goes on site and advises the Inavale team what needs to be done to build it out.

The designer, who must be licensed through the USEA, focuses on safety while coming up with course configurations.

“So yeah, it’s all very specific — how high, how wide, how deep can the ditch be, how all of those things so the riders know what to expect,” Meneghelli said. “They know they’ve practiced this and they can do it.”

Katherine Merkle of Corvallis rides Ravaye on Sunday. (Photo by Raleigh Emerson)

Keeping the safety factor in mind, there has been a movement over the years to standardize courses across the country.

“If you come to a novice level horse trials in Oregon, you can also go to a novice level horse trials in Florida and it will be similar,” Meneghelli said. “So you know what you’re getting into and that’s been working pretty well.”

Dressage focuses on the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility and balance. Show jumping requires the convergence of stride, rhythm and balance to negotiate through an arena course with a dozen or more fences. And in cross-country, the crowd favorite among the three, each rider and horse make their way through a long course with jumps and other obstacles at a high speed.

Competitors of various levels compete in horse trials from beginner novice through advanced — although Inavale doesn’t stage anything higher than intermediate.

“If you’re riding, your goal is to finish on your dressage score,” Meneghelli said while explaining how the competition plays out — dressage being the first event. “That’s because you start with a score and you just don’t want to get any penalty points added to that … so that’s how you win — get a good score in dressage and go clean all of the way the rest of the way.”

Wendy Huse comforts Confetti, competitors in the open preliminary and open training divisions. (Photo by Raleigh Emerson)

Although it was a pretty warm weekend, it was still better than the crazy hot temperatures seen at last year’s trials when it hit 113 degrees. One thing that’s been certain over the years is horse trial organizers never know what kind of weather they’ll need to operate in.

“It’s never snowed,” said Meneghelli, who has been living at Inavale Farm since age 7. “But we’ve had everything else — we’ve had hail, we’ve had high winds and we’ve had lots of years where it rained. And we’ve had the extreme heat, which is the hardest thing to deal with.”

Meneghelli says the three days of eventing would not happen without the help of volunteers.

“It takes 80 people to run it on the day and so those are all volunteers and you can’t do it without them, you just can’t,” she said, adding how appreciative she is of their efforts. “I feel like this year it has been hard to get people to step up and do it. We don’t normally have that problem. We always pull it off.”

When enough volunteer help is not available, the riders respond.

“If it comes down to it, you just kind of say to the riders, ‘hey, I need to find someone to go do this, we need a person’ and they do,” Meneghelli said. “But yeah, it takes a lot of volunteers to try to take care of them and we have a lot of the same people come back every year.”

Virginia Bryant on Polkadot Bikini goes through a water obstacle. (Photo by Raleigh Emerson)

In a world that has changed a lot over the past generation through advances in technology, it makes one wonder if eventing continues in popularity.

“I think the culture has changed a lot since we started like it has everywhere for whatever sport you’re in,” Meneghelli said. “But I feel like the people, that once they do it, they get hooked and they won’t do anything else.”

Heading into the weekend, the Inavale Farm Horse Trials had 220 entries.

“The kids are coming along, it’s fun, it’s an adrenaline rush,” Meneghelli said. “I feel like it is as strong as ever. Nationally and worldwide, the U.S. doesn’t have a very strong national team, so that’s kind of depressing.”

Meneghelli mentioned the likes of David O’Connor — who won medals at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics — and other notables that are retired from the sport.

“So it’s kind of hard to create the enthusiasm around getting qualified to become an Olympic rider when you don’t have a winning team that’s not out there doing great things. But certainly on the levels that we do it, it’s so fun.”

The Inavale Horse Trials date back to 1997. Meneghelli described the annual evening competition as exhausting but satisfying.

“Especially when you have a good year, you know, when the weather’s good and people have fun and all of those things that you want,” she said. “It’s very satisfying to have pulled it off, but some years that gets outweighed by the mud or the sweat or whatever it is.”

Lilly Linder on Vergano goes over an obstacle during show jumping. (Photo by Raleigh Emerson)

Following is a rundown of winners from last weekend’s horse trials with the division, name of rider and horse, and their score:

• Open Intermediate: Karen O’Neal and Clooney 14, 29.2.

• Open Preliminary: Karen O’Neal and Ebenholtz, 25.5.

• Amateur Training: Hope Cochran and Freesela, 29.4.

• Junior Training: Hanni Sreenan and Zena, 26.7.

• Open Training: Anna Collier and Blue Time, 30.60.

• Amateur Novice Div. 1: Madison Flanders and Nobu, 27.5.

• Amateur Novice Div. 2: Karen King and Deadwood Sage, 33.9.

• Junior Novice Div. 1: Lizzie Hoff and HSH Limited Edition, 27.3.

• Junior Novice Div. 2: Caterina Ritson and This Lad is Gold, 23.1.

• Open Novice: Jennifer Wooten-Macouzet and Kensington LV, 30.3.

• Amateur Beginner Novice Div. 1: Mabelle Harrnacker and HS Cool River Monalisa, 38.7.

• Amateur Beginner Novice Div. 2: Jenna McFadden and Take a Shot, 30.8.

• Junior Beginner Novice: Kamila Rycharska and Davy Crockett, 28.2.

• Open Beginner Novice: Karen O’Neal and Clarkes Monbeg Ambition, 24.1.

• Starter Div. 1: Heather Hornung and HS Stella Artois, 22.0.

• Starter Div. 2: Mya Flannery and Willow, 32.7.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.