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A Cross-Country Course
Built on Public Land
Moonrock Equestrian Area, a cross country course built on public lands

USCTA, Moonrock Equestrian Area, Worland, WyomingBy John Thurman
Photos by John and Terri Thurman
and reprinted from www.eventingusa.com

This is a story about how a husband and wife team spent 18 months creatively acquiring and combining the elements necessary for cross-country course building followed by four weeks of applying those elements to produce an incredible cross-country course on public land near Worland, Wyoming.

Only a handful of elements are needed to create a cross-country course from scratch:
- Inspiration
- Location
- Materials
- Money
- Course Designer
- Labor
- Land Permits

My lovely wife, Terri, was a spectator at the 1996 Olympics. Upon her return home, she said, "We can build a cross-country course here." It was like one of those old Mickey Rooney films from the '30's - "Aw gee, we'll fix up the old barn, put on a show, and it'll be great!" I, as the faithful husband, was stuck.

Wyoming has two main types of land: deeded and public. The deeded land is what someone thought would make a good homestead or irrigated farm 80 to 100 years ago. The public land is what's left over - i.e. desert wasteland. We don't own any land personally, and the deeded land in our area is under row-crop cultivation. It made sense to try to build our course on public land. We selected a beautiful soft clay drainage basin, with absolutely perfect footing, surrounded by beautifully sculpted red hills and gullies. We named the site "Moonrock", because it's like riding on the moon. That was where our course belonged.

Donated materials and labors were instrumental in the completion of MoonrockThere was absolutely no way we could buy the wood needed to build a complete cross-country course, especially for four levels of jumps. We did some fund raising, but that doesn't go far when you have to buy materials. So, we decided to ask businesses for their surplus goods. A local saw mill, Cowboy Timber Treating, donated several semi-loads of old, weathered miss-cut lumber and logs. To buy these new would have cost over $20,000. Likewise, a construction firm donated rebar; a ranch supply store donated wire and spikes; an equipment repair shop donated hydraulic oil (for treating wood jumps); a rancher let us use his tractor; and a dentist provided a backhoe. The key to acquiring materials is to ask nicely, and only ask for that which can reasonably be given.

Yes, it always comes down to the money, and we certainly did not have enough to build Moonrock. Being the devoted husband that I am, I tried diligently to use this point as leverage to sway my bride from her goal, but to no avail. I did successfully convince her that, since Moonrock was to be a public course, it should not be funded entirely by us. She agreed, and we commenced putting the squeeze on all our riding buddies and relatives. Terri and I hosted schooling horse shows nearly every month and within 18 months we had raised about $5,000.00.

Sometimes we have ridden cross-country courses and had the sensation that the course evolved into its current condition, as opposed to being designed. We definitely preferred the courses with the designed feel, so we found a designer for Moonrock. How did we do that? The way we do most business in Wyoming - if you personally know someone in the business, that's the person you ask. We asked Robin Hahn, of Lumby, British Columbia, as we had ridden under him at several clinics and we had seen several of his courses. Robin's course design for Moonrock uses the naturally occurring features of the terrain to our advantage. His course design became the basis of our permit application with the BLM. (More on the BLM later.)

Moonrock Equestrian Area, northwest of Worland, WyomingEven if you have scores of dedicated volunteers, hire a professional course builder! Here's why: I'll be the first to admit that I was skeptical about hiring a professional course builder. I was sure that, if we looked hard enough, we could find several dozen unemployed local men who would give us a few hours with a chain saw in exchange for a case of beer. Terri reminded me of those courses that evolved versus those that were consciously designed and built, and I had to give in. Our professional course builder, Steve Buckman of Vancouver, British Columbia, was an incredible bargain. Steve, his assistant Claire, and my wife Terri worked about 10 hours a day, during a July heat wave, in the desert, for three weeks. Steve made the whole process click. Because we used a professional, the jumps at Moonrock are:

bulletIncredibly solid and, in our arid climate, should last several decades.
bulletMostly portable, so we can modify our course as we desire.
bulletMulti-height, and, with minor adjustments, can be used in multiple divisions.
bulletRide well.
bulletBuilt to the most current generally accepted standards for safety.

The professional jump builder, because he has the experience, the stamina, and the tools, will make the project work.

Volunteers have their place, too. Because Moonrock is a public course, we were able to use volunteer day labor from the Wyoming Boys School, a juvenile correctional facility near Worland. Our young volunteers gathered rocks for our rock walls, and dug trenches for the palisade jump. We also had "Tom Sawyer" volunteers, who actually paid $40 a head to come work on July 4th in our "jump building clinic". Back-Country-Horseman, Gene Little, brought a backhoe one day, and neighbor, Brian Titus, threw his masonry skills into our rock wall. The key to the successful utilization of volunteers is matching tasks with skills - don't ask too much, and don't ask too little.

The chosen site for Moonrock, like most land in our part of Wyoming, is Federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior-mostly referred to as "BLM". We began working with local BLM employees in February of 1997, evaluating the Moonrock site, and exploring various use-permit options. They were very supportive, as Moonrock fit the current "multiple use" philosophy for Federal Lands. In April of '97, we were ready for a visit by our course designer, Robin Hahn. Robin and several BLM specialists-a geologist, an archeologist, a biologist, and a recreation specialist-toured the site and prepared a general course layout, which became the basis of our lease application with the BLM.

Why did we need a permit or lease? After all, anyone can ride, hike, camp, hunt, etc. on BLM land, with very few exceptions. It turns out that constructing obstacles and hosting organized competitions are the exceptions, and we needed official blessing. After much careful consultation with our BLM friends, we pursued an "RPP Lease" under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. The federal government allows RPP leases to local governments for things like schools, landfills, recreation projects, and so on, to be built on federal land. The RPP lease is also free, when issued to a local government entity.

Ah, volunteers.  Look at all the smiling faces (and sore backs).So, through the spring and summer of 1997 we twisted the arms of local politicians, trying to find the most suitable government entity to apply for the lease. By the fall of '97, with help from our County Commissioners, Terri and I convinced our local Fair Board to apply for the RPP Lease.

If any of you aspiring course managers and show organizers are still with me, I will say it again-the RPP lease is free when the applicant is a local government entity. Talk with your recreation districts, fair boards, parks department, etc.

1998 was when the tensions mounted. After archaeologists, geologists, biologists, botanists, and rangeland specialists had reviewed the project and the site, we were prepared to submit a formal application for the RPP Lease in January of 1998. During February, March, and half of April, the lease application was reviewed, researched, investigated, and pondered by the real estate specialists at the BLM.

Finally, on April 27, the notice for public comment was published in the Federal Register. We were 60 days away from getting our permit to proceed. Those 60 days are called a "Public Comment Period". We contacted all our riding friends, the Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Council, and everyone else we knew, to submit positive comments about Moonrock. Fortunately, all the comments received by the BLM were favorable to the project. Finally, on June 26, 18 months after we started planning Moonrock, the BLM issued the lease. I picked it up at 7:45 AM, and called Terri. She was riding shotgun in her father's semi truck, loaded down with railroad ties and telephone poles. "We've got the lease. You're legal to unload". By 9:00, the first 30,000 pounds of jump building material was on the ground.

The next three weeks were filled with ten-hour workdays in the hot July sun. Steve, Claire, and Terri built and installed nearly 50 obstacles, many of which you can see on the photographs on these pages. With the exceptions of banks and earth works, our jump construction is mostly portable jumps, weighing around a ton each. Using a forklift on a tractor, we can modify our course regularly, changing the questions and schooling options. Steve increased the flexibility of the course by building jumps that can be easily modified to suit two or more divisions. Building in this way makes precious dollars go much farther.

Just like Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come". Moonrock will host it's first horse trials in 1999, and we plan to host our first preliminary three-day event in 2001. Come visit Wyoming, and enjoy our course!

USCTA members, John and Terri Thurman live and compete in Worland, Wyoming. Terri competes in preliminary horse trials and is employed by Worland High School where she holds the Art Department Chair. John competes at the novice level and is a stockbroker with Elite Investments, LLC in Worland. If you would like more information about creating a cross-country course on public lands you may contact John and Terri Thurman at any of the following: e-mail johnt@trib.com phone (day) 307-347-6713 fax 307-347-6715.

1999 Moonrock Equestrian Area Schedule

bulletApril 17: Pair Pace, 9-10 a.m. at the course
bulletMay 21-23: Schooling Horse Trials. May 21 and 22 at Washakie County Fairgrounds; May 23 on the cross-country course northwest of Worland.
bulletAugust 14: Hunter/Jumper Horse Show, at the fairgrounds
bulletAugust 15: Pair Pace, at the course
bulletSeptember 24-26: USCTA Recognized Horse Trials. Sept. 24-25 at the fairgrounds; Sept. 26 on the cross country course
bulletOctober 9: Jackpot Jumpers, fairgrounds (weather permitting)

All events, shows, etc., sponsored by Moonrock Equestrian Area, Inc., a Wyoming non-profit corporation.

For entry forms or information, contact Terri or John Thurman,
307-347-6713 (day) or 307-347-2577 (evening)

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