The last week of August is the annual Hampton Classic Horse Show, a stellar week-long equestrian event held in Bridgehampton. It is one of the great entertainment values out here -- every day except the final Sunday (Grand Prix), attendance for a whole carload costs only $20. (By contrast, parking at Cooper's Beach costs twice that. Which is why we offer shuttle service to the beach! --but I digress...) I haven't been able to attend the Classic for probably ten years now, but this year I was determined to go at least once, to see my favorite equestrian.
Zach, his mom, and often his father and grandmother have been guests at A Butler's Manor every Classic week since we opened in 2002, and I look forward to their visit every year. When we first met, Zach was a few days shy of 12 years old, a serious little guy with a shy smile and a big appreciation for my breakfasts. (I always plan a menu that includes Southwest Souffle, Banana French Toast and blueberry muffins during his visit.) He'll turn 18 next week, and every year, I've wanted to go see him compete. Yesterday I finally got a chance to do so.
The Classic has grown in scope since the last time I attended. Yesterday, I counted 2 (3?) show rings besides the Grand Prix ring, plus a couple of training rings and practice areas. It is a joy just to watch the riders warming up their mounts. The show rings are gorgeous...reminiscent of a beautifully-landscaped backyard that just happens to have fences to jump. The boutique arcade has nearly as many shopping stalls as Bridgehampton has shops. And there is a good-sized food arcade, tents with exhibits, pony rides for the kids, and lots more --kind of like a small scale country fair with an emphasis on horses. What is really impressive are the horse stalls, which are under huge tents on either side of the grounds. Some of the stalls have little rooms adjacent to the horse enclosures where the owners, trainers, riders can hang out in between competitions. Some of these stalls look like outdoor living rooms and have real furniture, and even rugs on the ground...and some of the tack trunks are so gorgeous, I'd like one for our living room!
I didn't know where or even when Zach would be competing -- two or three competitions per show ring are listed starting at 8 AM, the length of the event determined by the size of the class. I found the High Junior Jumper Class in the Grand Prix ring, and amazingly, it was just about to start when I found a seat in the bleachers.
Watching a jumping event is awesome -- the synchronicity of horse and rider as they approach and take the jumps is incredible to behold. The polish of these young riders belies their age. They sit astride their horses with such grace, and of course, in full dress, they are beyond elegant. And oh, the horses. Sleek and groomed, manes braided or beribboned, every piece of brass or silver polished to a high shine...The first few riders took down a fence or two during their round. I think the field of some 24 riders was nearly a third of the way through before a rider was "clear" -- no fences, no faults. From that point, the tension really builds, as to place, the riders must complete the circuit in the shortest amount of time without toppling a fence.
Zach was announced approximately 2/3 through the field. By this time, I had alerted everyone sitting around me, so we were all collectively holding our breath as he urged his glossy chestnut horse over the fences. The triple jump was closest to me -- three fences close together. Seven people I'd never before met were all counting aloud one...two...three! as he cleared each of the bars. Across the ring, over a double, then two last fences and...he was clear! And he was in fourth place on the leader board! (The blurry picture of him jumping the gate, above, was taken with hands as nervous --and proud!-- as I know his mother Deborah was as well!)
The second to last contender had a fantastic circuit that catapulted her into the lead, so Zach finished fifth...but the first six places are ribboned, and get to participate in a victory canter around the ring. That's him riding up to collect his ribbon. I feel like a proud parent!!
Only drawback for Zack: The better he does, the earlier his trainer wants him at the show! -- so he misses out on our hot breakfast entree! (Consolation prize: a daily care package with muffins, fresh fruit, breakfast bars and bottles of water.) But the swimming pool sure feels great in the late afternoons after a hot day on the back of a horse...
Quote of the Day: A horse can lend its rider the speed and strength he or she lacks, but the rider who is wise remembers it is no more than a loan. ---Pam Brown