Sports & Recreation

Bolado Park hosts 48th Gymkhana Association State Finals

Family-oriented equine event returns to San Benito County after a two year break.
Dylan Clarkson and his horse, Harlow, head toward the finish line. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Dylan Clarkson and his horse, Harlow, head toward the finish line. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Marley Clarkson competes on her horse, Bailey, in the Keyhole Race. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Marley Clarkson competes on her horse, Bailey, in the Keyhole Race. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Lea Legnon completes her run in the Keyhole Race on NuChocolateDiamonds. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Lea Legnon completes her run in the Keyhole Race on NuChocolateDiamonds. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Lea Legnon and NuChocolateDiamonds. Photo by Jenna Fields.
Lea Legnon and NuChocolateDiamonds. Photo by Jenna Fields.

The rodeo arena and track at Bolado Park came to life this week as adults and children alike competed in various events on horseback in the California Gymkhana Association’s State Finals. Held from July 15-22, this year’s event would have marked the association’s 50th State Champion Finals if it weren’t for the two-year gap necessitated by COVID restrictions. Bolado Park has been the venue for the last 32 State Finals events, a tradition the park hopes to continue.  

Gymkhana is a horse-and-rider-based sport that includes 13 different timed events requiring both skill and speed. Individuals compete in different divisions and age groups based on the combined skill level of both horse or pony and rider, allowing for growth and progress from one division to the next. 

Like many other associations returning to activity after a two-year hiatus, CGA is seeing a decline in entries compared to previous years. For the last five years, the State Champion Finals has attracted approximately 185 entries. However, this year the event only brought in 127 entries. Lea Legnon, a member of the Gymkhana Association’s Board of Governors, master judge and co-chair for the 2022 State Finals show, sees it as a reflection of both COVID and the toll of increased fuel prices on traveling contestants. 

“Fuel cost has greatly impacted us,” Legnon said, “In the agriculture world and in the equine world, you have to haul your livestock, so fuel has greatly contributed to what we are seeing in our numbers.” 

Legnon, a Hollister resident, has been a member of the Gymkhana Association since 1975, attending her first State Championship Finals in 1978. Her involvement in the association’s District 1, now based in San Juan Bautista and encompassing San Jose, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and Hollister, led her to become the president of the district. 

“Regardless of the age, CGA has something to offer every level of rider,” said Legnon, “It creates responsibility, dedication, hard work, and sportsmanship. What you learn doing this, you can take and use in any discipline.” 

On top of creating an opportunity for children and adults to learn horsemanship skills, the Gymkhana Association is a family-oriented space for growth and personal development in a competitive setting. 

“It’s really like a family atmosphere to be involved in this organization,” Legnon said, “It’s important for these kids to have goals and learn sportsmanship. They support each other. No matter what the divisions are, they root for each other and it creates bonds that obviously last a lifetime. For us to have remained in this area and in this community for so long, we have been very blessed and fortunate to have done so.” 

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Jenna Fields