The 50-year-old Ram Tap eventing venue in Fresno is now known as the Fresno County Horse Park and it's not just the name that's changed. A late-January combined test (dressage and stadium jumping) was slated as a warm-up event for the new organizer's first biggie: a horse trial Feb. 16-17, with a second slated for April 26-28.
Amateur eventer John Marshall took over the venue late last year and quickly hired Megan McGee as the Park's executive director. With a beautiful website up, they are galloping along with big plans.
The expansion agenda includes schooling and rated shows for dressage and hunter/jumpers, plus eventing competition at the first international level, Intermediate. The International Equestrian Federation recently announced stricter qualifications for international events, so having another venue capable of hosting such qualifiers would be a big help to West Coast competitors. Riding clinics and activities for local Pony Club, 4H and other groups are also on the new management's drawing board.
When Bill Burton, Ram Tap's much-appreciated organizer for 25 years, announced it was time to retire last fall, the equestrian community was greatly saddened by the venue's apparently-pending closure. Wistful reminisces of competing alongside the San Joaquin River over the years circulated on and offline and there was talk of trying to save the venue.
John Marshall did what everybody hoped somebody would do. He purchased the jumps, arenas, obstacles and stabling, took over the long-term leases on the 140-acre property and committed to carrying on and upgrading the property's proud traditions.
Megan seems the perfect person to put at the Fresno County Horse Park's helm. A licensed USEF and FEI official, she is well known and connected nationally and has a long history in California. Megan worked at Ram Tap 20 years ago and was also Cal State Fresno's equestrian team coach from 1996 to 2003. She brings high-level management and officiating experience to the role and lots
"We look forward to making this a multi-use facility that will function for many different disciplines," says Megan. Thanks to riverbed sand, the venue's footing has traditionally been great through the winter, making it an important preparation point for the spring's major competitions. Plans include working on the arena footings to make them more suitable for year-round use. This fits in with broader infrastructure upgrades that will also help the Park be eligible to host FEI-sanctioned competition.
Stricter qualifying criteria currently being phased in create a need for more venues that can host FEI Level 1 and 2-star competitions. "We are talking with course designers and the USEF eventing committee to see how we can direct our focus to help make sure West Coast riders can meet these qualifications required to represent our country internationally."
Meantime, there is plenty of other work to do. "We are adding new cross country fences at all of the levels we already offer, upgrading the footing in the dressage arenas and making a lot of overall improvements," Megan explains.
New revenue streams should help offset the costs of some of these upgrades. The Park is soliciting local, regional and national sponsorships, offering annual and pay-as-you go memberships and will produce event programs with advertising opportunities. Various membership packages offer frequent competitors reduced fees for schooling, clinics, stabling and bedding, a newsletter and invites to various Park social events.
The Horse Park team is grateful to the many Ram Tap volunteers who continue their efforts and they welcome newcomers. From scribing in the dressage ring to judging fences out on cross-country, there's ample opportunity to get involved and become part of the venue's next 50 years.
Part of the reason Bill Burton decided to retire from running Ram Tap involved issues with leasing the land from local utilities and flood control agencies. It looked likely that an expensive stabling relocation would be necessary, and the new organizer accepts that possibility.
For more information on the Fresno County Horse Park, visit www.fresnohorsepark.com or