It was almost 20 years ago that the Baxter family purchased 500 acres in the sleepy Central California Coast town of Paso Robles. Where others saw fallow farmland, they saw the potential for international equestrian competition.
The team has grown, and the venue has transformed in those nearly 20 years, but the mission remains the same: providing a West Coast stage for the pursuit of equestrian dreams at all levels, and to doing so with a distinctly California accent of warm, welcome-to-the-family hospitality.
When they’re not outdoing the myriad tasks that make Twin Rivers a favorite West Coast eventing destination, owners Connie and Jeff Baxter can often be found behind the central gathering spot’s outdoor bar, serving friends new and old with a smile. Their daughter, Andrea Baxter, contributes in many ways while pursuing her five-star eventing career.
Twin Rivers held their first event of 2020 on Feb. 28-March 1.
Three hundred-plus pairs from throughout the region filled five dressage courts on Friday. Over the weekend, they tackled Hugh Lochore and Marc Grandia’s upper- and lower-level cross-country courses and the challenging Jose Nava-designed show jumping routes. With show secretary Christina Gray of Gray Area Events at the logistical helm, the schedule ran smoothly, and all horses and riders made it back to their barns or beds safely every day.
Twin Rivers will host a CCI4*-L for the first time April 10-12.
Frankie Thieriot Stutes and the Chatwin Group’s Chatwin were double-clear over Nava’s show jumping track Sunday to take the advanced win. Stutes was thrilled after cross-country to simply have her five-star partner back in form after health issues last year. His rideability and form made for an effort Stutes described as one of Chatwin’s best ever.
“I usually have to halt him several times in the warm-up, and today I didn’t need to,” she said. It’s a testament to how he’s feeling and a culmination of strength, fitness and technique work advised by team members including USEF Eventing Performance Director Erik Duvander and Thieriot’s close friend and peer, Tamra Smith. “Because we have such a good team behind us, we’re the ones who just get to do the fun stuff!” Stutes noted.
She praised many facility upgrades that help amplify the atmosphere. Stutes and Chatwin are prepping for the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* and beyond. “It’s really great to see what the Baxters have done to make it feel like a big round in a big place,” she said of the Sunday scene. The day’s forecasted rain finally loosed a few drops for the final division’s jumping. Along with the heightened atmosphere, “That was really good preparation for the horses.”
Smith and Ruth Bley’s En Vogue had two rails to maintain their second-place standing. Downing one rail and staying in their overnight position were Helen Bouscaren and Ebay. The original field of 13 was led by Smith and Mai Baum, whose 18.4 dressage test would have been tough to surmount. However, they’d withdrawn after dressage by prior plan per their Kentucky preparation.
Duvander now spends a quarter of his time on the West Coast, coaching and monitoring team riders and those who may be contenders for it in the future. “It’s good to see how well they came out of last year, and they are both stronger,” he said of Stutes and Chatwin and Smith and Mai Baum. He also works with West Coast members of USEF’s Eventing 25 list, for their coach Leslie Law. These include Madison Temkin, Megan Sykes and Kaylawna Smith-Cook, all of whom held their own at Advanced: it was the first completion at the level for Sykes and Smith-Cook.
“It’s not just coaching,” Duvander said of his USEF role when discussing the caliber of competition in the West. “Every time I come to Twin Rivers, I’m noticing the amount of work. They are constantly upping the game here. In the past it was often said that you need to go East to make it, but it’s really important that riders be able to make it out here. Then, they can go back East and win. That should be the mindset.”
Photo: Sherry Stewart