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Some serious horsing around in Santa Fe

SANTA FE, N.M. — Carved from the nearly trackless high-desert scrubland south of the Santa Fe Regional Airport, HIPICO Santa Fe is a 137-acre green equestrian oasis, where the goal is to make the art and sport of horse jumping appeal to the masses.

Along those lines, a monthlong series of events – the Santa Fe Summer Series – is a near-daily introduction to equestrianism at its highest levels. It starts in July and will run into August.

Fields at HIPICO Santa Fe are being watered amid the season’s hot, dry weather in preparation for the Santa Fe Summer Series equestrian competition. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“We really would like to encourage everybody to come out, and watch and enjoy these magnificent animals jumping,” said competitor Sarah Invicta Williams Echols, who is head trainer for Santa Fe’s Invicta Farms. “It’s really spectacular.”

It’s an experience unmatched by other pursuits, she said.

“The spirit and the heart of the horse,” Echols said of her zest for the quest. “I think it’s amazing that you can take 1,200-pound animals and ask them to go jump in a specific direction and a specific type of jump, and they do it for us.”

Riders basically compete in competitions ranging from hunter to jumper to baby, depending on the skill level of the beast and burden.

In the hunter competition, points are awarded based on the quality and manner in which the horse clears the various obstacles along the course.

In the jumper competition, it’s all about flat-out speed, with the top prize going to the fastest through the course with the least amount of penalty time.

The inexperienced compete in the baby division, as they seek to progress in their skill level.

Although generally considered an upper-class calling, that isn’t necessarily the case, Echols said.

Vivian Keller does some preparation for HIPICO Santa Fe on Tuesday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“This industry brings so many different people,” she said. “You get people from all different walks of life. You get people all over the world, all over the U.S. and other countries, and we all have the same thing in common. You can have multimillionaires riding with other people not as fortunate, and we all have one thing in common, and that is the horse.”

The HIPICO Santa Fe park was purchased in 2015 by two couples with deep roots in horse flesh: Guy McElvain and Sharon McElvain, and Brian K. Gonzales and Phyllis Mooney Gonzales.

The McElvains, who live in Santa Fe, have a ranch in Lemitar near Socorro, where they breed champion Holsteiners. Brian Gonzales is a lifelong horseman and 18th-generation New Mexican, and Phyllis Gonzales has been president for eight years of the nonprofit Grand Priz de Santa Fe dedicated to supporting, advancing and showcasing the equestrian community of New Mexico.

The deal was six years in the making after prior owner Charles Kokesh lost the property to Los Alamos National Bank following securities fraud charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The couples’ stated goal was to turn what was then the Santa Fe Horse Park into the home of a first-class show jumping facility and draw riders internationally.

The Grand Prix field and the VIP Lounge at HIPICO Santa Fe. (SOURCE: Tony Bonnano)

This year’s event is expected to attract as many as 7,500 visitors.

The opening ceremonies during the week of July 18-22 will feature opera singers, the Pojoaque Youth Hoop Dancers, a demonstration by the New Mexico Center for Therapeutic Riding, Wiener dog races and other entertainment.

Rider Henrietta Hall, who travels a circuit of horse events around the Southwest, said the Santa Fe Series ranks at the top of the list.

“They have a little edge, because they have a lot more to offer for people who don’t compete,” she said. “Little events like the MINI Cooper races, where you get to drive MINI Cooper racers, then jump up on your horse, and little weenie dogs races. It’s just hysterical. They run every which way. There’s great food. It’s just fun.”

Matias Gonzales, left, and Ramon Alvarez, right, work this week to prepare a new warm-up arena at HIPICO Santa Fe, the equestrian park south of town that will host the Santa Fe Summer Series starting next month. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

HIPICO is making a concerted effort this summer to invite the public out to take in some free family entertainment.

In addition to the every-Sunday Grand Prix event, which carries a $30,000 prize the first three weeks and jumps to $40,000 for the final one Aug. 12, a highlight of the series will be the July 28 Sister City Challenge Cup against riders connected to San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico.

The bottom line, however, is that Wednesdays through Sundays, for four weeks, there will be non-stop, high-caliber horsemanship that will bedazzle anyone who can appreciate the synergy required between horse and rider.

“I think it’s amazing,” Echols said of the whole event. “A good horse show is good for the entire horse community. And it gives Santa Fe an elite equestrian event.

“There are already so many tourists in Santa Fe, and we’re able to incorporate not only tourism, but also having these phenomenal horses come to our state and stay with us for one to four weeks at a time is great for the economy. The more people realize that things like this happen in Santa Fe, the better it is for business and the better it is for all of us.”

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