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During the cross-country part of a recent mini-event near Fitchburg, horses and riders jumped over a fence built around a hickory tree – the one for which the host’s Hickory Knoll Farm was named.<br />

During the cross-country part of a recent mini-event near Fitchburg, horses and riders jumped over a fence built around a hickory tree – the one for which the host’s Hickory Knoll Farm was named.
Photo By Jan Shepel

Mini-event revived to learn about eventing

Sept. 6, 2013 | 0 comments



Riders who love to take their horses cross-country over fences don’t get many chances to train over those kinds of obstacles.

But a group of "eventing" enthusiasts had that chance recently at John and Betsy Freiberger’s Hickory Knoll Farm near Fitchburg.

The new event, being called the Capital Mini-Event, is actually a revival of a similar one that began in 1986 when the Southwest Chapter of the Wisconsin Dressage and Combined Training Association started it in Baraboo at Susie Weiss’s Domino Stables.

Nicki Butler said that many horses and riders got their start at those mini-events, which give riders a chance to experience dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping in a one-day event. It also gives them a chance to learn in a low-key, fun, safe way.

Many of the early participants from the Baraboo event went on to become instructors, trainers, judges and competitors at much higher levels. It was a distinct highlight of the summer for many riders, she says.

With the change of venue to Hickory Knoll Farm, the Southwest Chapter of the WDCTA revived the event, August 24-25, with Saturday allowing riders to get coaching and practice their dressage tests and learn about safety on the cross-country course.

On Sunday riders competed in two divisions: one with a maximum fence height of 18 inches and one with fences no higher than 2 feet-3 inches. Each division was also split into junior and senior divisions.

John Freiberger said his kids used to compete in eventing and today his farm is set up mostly with obstacles for driving competitions. "We used about one-eighth of the driving course for this," he told Wisconsin State Farmer during the Sunday competition.

The farm, which is owned and operated in partnership with their neighbors, the Raymonds, also includes a large, flat expanse between sets of well-appointed buildings. That’s the polo grounds where the Madison Polo Club often plays and holds competitions.

The polo field is where organizers set up the dressage and warm-up area for the mini-event since area polo players were out of town for a competition elsewhere.

Freiberger said he and Butler had talked about reviving the mini-event for some time and this year they just did it.

The educational aspect of the event is something that Freiberger holds dear, since both he and his wife have a long history with 4-H and the Fitchburg Fireflies 4-H club. When they bought their farm, he said, they wanted to make it as kid-safe as possible and they have continued to look at safety as a key element of all the equine events they host.

As he designed the course for the mini-event, Freiberger said safety was uppermost in his mind, but he also wanted to make the jumps fun for the horses and riders.

Many were set up through parts of driving obstacles and he always tried to make the next jump visible as riders went over the last one.

"I try to make the course easy to follow too. I don’t think at an event like this anyone should be eliminated for going off course. The 4-H idea of ‘let’s make sure people succeed’ is how I looked at this."

One of the cross-country obstacles was through a fence around a hickory tree and the knoll for which the farm got its name.

"But again the safety background prevails. It’s got to be safe enough for a 12-year-old girl. That’s always been our 4-H attitude."

Dozens of driving events and clinics are held at the farm each year and it is also a boarding stable. In all those aspects the partners consider safety to be a key element.

Their farm has also hosted teams of first responders, including the Fitchburg Fire Department, so they could learn more about large animal rescue.

Some of the cross-country jumps were set up in a large oak grove at the front of the farm. The oaks are something that Freiberger takes very seriously – some of them are 200-300 years old.

When he finds seedlings he moves them to better locations and provides enclosures to keep them safe. As they grow the fences that protect them are made larger as well, until eventually they are big enough to keep horses away from them.



Freiberger comes from a family of carriage-makers. His dad and others in his family were part of Freiberger Carriage Works in New London, a business that later became a Chrysler dealership as carriages became obsolete.

The company made bobsleds and lumber wagons for the timber industry in northern Wisconsin as well as things like manure spreaders for farmers and the lighter, more beautiful carriages.

Freiberger carries on the family tradition by manufacturing carriages, restoring antique carriages and selling horse-drawn vehicles that are made in Europe. These vehicles are for pleasure, distance and combined driving.

The heaviest-duty carts are made for the sport of combined driving. In these events teams are driven in an arena eight times larger than those used for ridden dressage.

Then there is the timed marathon phase, which pits drivers and teams against a variety of obstacles across the countryside. Horses are checked to make sure they are still sound and healthy and there are mandatory rest periods, he said.

The third phase involves driving horses through "cones" a portion of the event that tests the precision of the driver and obedience of the horses. Penalty points are assessed for touching or knocking over cones.

The Freibergers compete with German riding ponies and share horses and harnesses with the Raymonds, he said.

Now serving as president of the American Driving Society, Freiberger is also on the board of the U.S. Equestrian Federation. Also near and dear to his heart is serving on the board of the U.S. Driving for the Disabled.

Both of the Freibergers are avid drivers and have been active participants in the well-known annual driving event in Columbus.

Their family operates a non-profit organization that is working to raise money to install disabled access to the old building that serves as the scenic backdrop for the driving event held in Columbus each June.


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