California Riding Magazine • June, 2014

Del Sol Classic Horse Shows
Third day and a Derby are latest additions to growing hunter/jumper series.

Mark Conley's Del Sol Classic at the Del Mar Horsepark started out modestly, as a mid-week affair in 2007. It's been a three-show series for some time now and this summer, the series' August dates jump up to a three-day format on Aug. 15-17, with the addition of Pro Day on Friday.

It's not easy launching a new show series in Southern California's crowded market and especially when the launch is concurrent with the recession that started in 2008 and impacted most aspects of the equestrian world. The Del Sol Classic's ability to rgow and thrive amidst all that is a testament to its overall quality.

A hunter/jumper trainer himself, Mark operates the Concord Equestrian Center, also at the Horsepark. He understands that "not everybody is going to win every day, but every client wants to have fun." That's been his guiding mission with the shows, along with an emphasis on friendly service, efficient organization, thoughtful courses at every level and an eye on pleasing aesthetics. The opportunity to win prize money in many divisions is another reason the competitions have grown as a great place to bring young riders and young horses along with clientele that competes at the higher levels. In fact, there's $1000 on offer in the Del Sol's newest addition, a Hunter Derby that's set for Saturday afternoon of the August show in the Horsepark's indoor arena.

"We're going to make a party out of it," says Mark, who's already plotting out a course that will include natural obstacles like a split rail fence (the latest from Burlingham Jumps), coops and walls covered in ivy and turf. As the latest of Mark's efforts to bring variety, fun and positive training challenges to his shows, it will likely be another hit.

At the opposite end of the experience spectrum, Mark has always invested heavily in the Walk/Trot division. He recognizes this as the entry point for tomorrow's stars and puts a high priority on making the classes safe and fun for exhibitors and their families. For example, the most challenging of four Walk/Trot classes includes cantering, but in a super safe format that calls for each contestant to take a solo lap while their contemporaries stand in the center line-up. Already great prizes in the Walk/Trot division are taken up a notch this year with championships offered on both Saturday and Sunday.

September 27-28 are the Del Sol Classic's next dates. The shows regularly attract cost and quality conscious trainers from Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties, along with continued strong support of the San Diego hunter/jumper community. The September show will be of special interest to San Diego Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association members because it occurs two weeks before the organization's championship show. If the Hunter Derby is as big a hit as expected in August, Mark may stage it again in September. Both shows are GSDHJA and SCHA approved. (The third Del Sol Classic runs in March.)

Del Sol Classic regulars appreciate many perks. Trainers are greeted in the show office with a bag of goodies after they check in. Donuts and fruit juice are distributed generously in the morning and wine and cheese gatherings grace pleasant afternoons. On Sundays, noontime cupcakes are a Del Sol tradition. Even horses like these shows. In addition to good stabling and footing, carrot bags are another freebie at check-in.

Mark is grateful to the trainers and sponsors who have supported his ever-growing series thus far. It's not cheap to stage high quality shows at an affordable price, but he is determined to keep doing it.
"My goal is to really put on a nice non-rated show where people can come, win some money, have a great time and get their goals met at a reasonable cost." He welcomes feedback from trainers and exhibitors and has relied on it to keep tweaking the Del Sol Classic these last eight years. As the series continues its growth, there are numerous opportunities for sponsors and supporters to affiliate themselves with the Del Sol Classic.

For more information, visit www.delsolclassic.org or call Mark Conley at 619-246-1148.