California Riding Magazine • February, 2010

Del Sol Classics
Mark Conley’s growing hunter/jumper circuit brings customers back for more.

Many endeavors are downsizing in this challenging economy, but Mark Conley’s Del Sol Classic horse shows are doing the opposite. First run in 2008 and 2009 as once-a-year, mid-week competitions, they become a series of three shows this year. The Del Sol Classic drew a respectable 105 competitors at its inaugural run in 2008, with an impressive jump to 155 in 2009. Great feedback indicates that participation will continue to grow as word spreads through the San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange County hunter/jumper communities.

All held at the Del Mar Horsepark, where Conley’s Concord Equestrian Center hunter/jumper training business is based, the three shows will be held May 22-23, Aug, 18-19 and Oct. 2-3. The first and third shows are weekend dates, while the August event repeats on the original show’s mid-week staging.

Conley credits trainer enthusiasm and participation with enabling the Del Sol Classic’s growth. As a frequently competing trainer, he guessed right back in 2008 that a well run, fun show with excellent prizes would be a hit. Last year, the Del Sol Classic paid out over $1,600 in prize money, thanks in part to $100 stake classes in every jumper division, including Schooling. This year, the purse grows with the addition of an add-back Jumper class in which $20 of the $47 entry fee gets back to the winners in the form of prize money. (The entry fee for the other classes is $27.) Del Sol’s four Walk/Trot classes have been big hits. The Rail, Pleasure, Equitation and Hunter Under Saddle in two divisions enable circuit stars of tomorrow to gain lots of mileage on the same show tab. “I did this because trainers need more time to bring along the very start-ups,” Conley explains of his commitment to the Walk/Trot ranks. “These are the ones who continue in the sport.”

Medal classes will once again be held in the Horsepark’s indoor arena, enabling those aimed at year-end finals to get comfortable in the setting where many of this division’s finals will be held. Conley also plans to use the Horsepark’s “back field” jumping course for several shows. Its banks and other derby obstacles provide valuable experience for contestants at all levels.

Conley is looking to mix it up with judges, too. “I have nothing against the judges we’ve all seen a lot,” he emphasizes. “But it’s nice to bring in judges from outside the area. It gives riders a different perspective.” An ice cream social is the big exhibitor party at all three shows, and other events will help participants get the most out of their non-riding time.

Conley has his work cut out in topping the popular prizes he’s provided in the past. Fine art notecards, fun prizes and cookie treats are among the goodies that draw crowds in the show office to check out what’s on offer. That’s not to mention a 25-pound bag of carrots for every training barn and gift baskets the trainers have come to look forward to.

Working students get a big break at the Del Sol Classic in the form of entry fee sponsorships from Conley. Last year, he provided those to three riders who met his criteria of not owning their own horse, having a referral from the professional trainer with whom they work, and a convincing letter explaining why they deserve this opportunity. He welcomes applicants, who should contact him by e-mail at markconley@earthlink.net.

Organized exhibitors get a break, too, in the form of $25 off their entry fee if they enroll 10 days before the show starts. That’s easiest to do via www.horseshowtime.com, and Conley also accepts entries by fax or snail mail.

For more information on the Del Sol Classics, visit www.delsolclassic.com or call Conley at 619-246-1148.