CLE ELUM - The Washington State Horse Park is off to a busy season start, and the calendar doesn't show signs of things slowing down anytime soon.
"It's getting better known," Park Director Leslie Thurston said. "We're getting more inquiries. Our calendar is certainly more full than it was last year at this time."
The Washington State Horse Park opened in April for the season, and as of June 11 had 45 events booked and more coming in, Thurston said. The park is open through October, though most organized events wind down at the end of September.
"It's a jewel," Thurston said. "When horse people pull in here and realize finally what the horse park is there's a lot of jaw-dropping that goes on. They have no idea how big it is, how well laid out it is, and how safe it is for horses. We've really thought carefully about traffic flow to keep horses away from cars and people."
The 112-acre park can accommodate the needs of a variety of equine disciplines including western competitions, hunter and jumper shows, breed shows, dressage competitions, competitive trail riding and other events. Youth camps, seminars and clinics also are held at the park.
The park is also known for its top footing or arena sand, which Thurston said takes days to prepare before an event.
"If nothing else, we try to make sure our footing is in top shape," she said. "It's a lot of work to produce good footing. It's not just something where you throw material down."
The Equestrians Institute Horse Trials was the first show of the season over May 23-25.
"It was our first recognized horse trial event using both of our cross country courses that we built," Thurston said. "We had 260 horses over three days using all of our arenas Friday. "Saturday it was both of our cross country courses ... and Sunday it was stadium jumping."
Thurston estimated that every horse is accompanied by roughly three people, so the event drew about 1,000 people.
The Swiftwater Invitational Hunter Jumper Show took place June 10-15 and the Alpine Preview Hunter Jumper Show started this week and runs through Sunday. Thurston expects the shows will bring 300 horses to the park. Horse owners from Canada, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana will attend the event, which will bring in tourism money to the Upper County.
"It's something the folks over here (in the Upper County) need to recognize," Thurston said. "They're staying for two weeks straight looking for places to eat, sleep, shop, be entertained and take their kids."
One new event put on by the park this year is the Cle Elum Roundup, a rodeo event that aims to bring tourism and business to downtown Cle Elum.
"It's a really big thing and we'd appreciate support from the community," Thurston said. "We're hoping for an attendance of about 800 a day ... and we'll have a kids rodeo, Spanish dancing horses and hopefully some other things for kids and families."
The event also is going to have a beer garden, food and other vendors on site. Rodeo activities will start at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2 and Sunday, Aug. 3. Saturday evening there will be a dance in downtown Cle Elum.
The horse park added new jumps obtained from the Northwest Equestrian Center in Rainier when it closed earlier this year, which gives the park a better cross country capability.
The park also added more stadium jumps, got a major donor to buy cattle pen panels, and added two judging stands.
With the growth of the park, there was a need for more employees. The horse park has four employees working there including newly hired operations manager Paul Rogers.
The Washington State Horse Park is a nonprofit organization that operates through donations and sponsorship from individuals and businesses.
"We're small and we don't have lots of flexibility, so when we need help, we really need help, and a lot of the businesses are quick to respond," Thurston said. "We work hard to generate donations and philanthropic support, and we have to because it's expensive to run a place like this."
Horse park staff are in the process of planning fundraising strategies for a covered arena.
"That will be another game changer for the arena," Thurston said, as she estimated that with the snow load in the area, it would cost at least $1.5 million to build. "It's the snow load that does that and the wider you want to go. We have to be able to host a lot of activities that require space."
The horse park also hopes to add more bleachers and spectator seating in the next year. For upcoming events like the Cle Elum Roundup, the horse park will bring in hay bales, flat beds and other creative solutions for seating.