Springtime With Horses

By Wendy Plump

Cue the daffodils, already. Cue the color green and warm, evening strolls without fear of frostbite. And because this is Princeton, cue the squeak of saddle leather and the sound of hooves pounding the dirt of a freshly-turned outdoor ring.  It is springtime, and in Princeton that means all the well-earned rewards of seasonal renewal, and horses, too.

The country’s elite riders and horses have already begun their spring migration up the East Coast from winter training grounds in Florida and South Carolina. Although the show circuit is underway, it would not be complete without stops in the Princeton area for some of the country’s premier equestrian show jumping and three-day eventing.

National champions and international riders descend on four major farms in the Princeton region as they attempt to rack up qualifying points for the big year-end shows, particularly those in Washington, D.C, and Harrisburg. Among the top-notch venues in the area are Hunter Farms in Princeton and in Skillman; the United States Equestrian Team training facility at Hamilton Farm in Gladstone; the Horse Park of New Jersey, in Allentown; and the Bucks County Horse Park, in Revere, Pennsylvania.

Nearly 30 years ago, United States Equestrian Team veteran Andrew H. Philbrick arrived at Hunter Farms in Princeton to find a 1960s-era riding stable in financial ruin. Since then, Philbrick has built the farm into a world-class horse facility with show and training rings, riding fields, and 37 boarding stalls. The Farm today, located off The Great Road and at Hunter Farms North, its new, 110-acre facility in Skillman, offers two large show rings, two warm-up rings, three grass Grand Prix Derby fields and an all-weather Grand Prix ring, complete with pure silica sand for the surest equine footing.

Hunter Farm’s horses and riders have competed in Olympic, World Cup, and World Championship shows and jumping contests. Philbrick himself represented the United States Equestrian Team in the Olympic Team Trials and at international shows in Dublin, Rome, Madrid, Calgary and Barcelona. He won seven Grand Prix championships in one year, and was formerly ranked in the top 100 of the World Jumper Riders index.

“Hunter Farms is a very unique farm in that we have, for 30 years, run a riding program for the general public by someone who has ridden on national teams and competed internationally,” said Philbrick. “And yet we also have this elite rider training program that we do at the same time. We also have 400-500 of the sport’s top competitors coming to every Princeton Show Jumping competition—and they’re coming from all over the world.”

Philbrick pointed out that spectators are not squirreled away in enclosed stands, but are “standing ringside with” World Cup finalists and Olympic riders. “Where else can you find that? And we are right down the road,” said Philbrick.

Through its show entity, Princeton Show Jumping, Hunter Farms will host its first major contests of the season in April. The first show will be held April 16 through April 20; the second will be April 23 through April 27. Family Days will be held on the Sunday of each show (the 20th and the 27th), and will both feature the Grand Prix jumping event. Family days feature pony rides, face painting, horseless horse shows, and frisbee-dog contests.

Covered bleacher seating is available. Spectators are also welcome to bring their own chairs or blankets to set up on the grass hill next to the show ring. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.

Additional show jumping contests will be held June 25 through June 29; July 2 through July 6; July 9 through July 13; and August 20 through August 24. Hunter Farms also offers summer riding instruction for the beginner to the advanced rider.

For more information on the Hunter Farms series of show jumping contests, visit the website at www.princetonshowjumping.com, or www.hunterfarms.us.

The United States Equestrian Team’s training and home facility at Hamilton Farm in Gladstone is about as a close to horse heaven as it could possibly be. The deservedly famous stable has an ornate interior with carriage rooms, tile walls, terrazzo floors and brass fittings in a presentation that makes one feel horses that live there are very lucky animals, indeed. The central entrance leads to a tiled octagonal foyer with fired-brick walls and floors, a split-level stable and a second-floor trophy room and library.

First purchased as a private farm and showplace for Wall Street financier James Cox Brady in 1911, and named for his wife Elizabeth Jane Hamilton Brady, the Farm eventually spanned 5,000 acres and three counties. It held prize dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other fowl. But there was never any doubt that horses were the main event.

The USET was founded in 1950, but did not join with Hamilton Farms until 1961. Today, Hamilton Farm features 54 box stalls; an outdoor competition arena; a large grass area for multiple competitions, and a grove for vendors; and two warm-up rings for horse shows. The facilities can accommodate any of the so-called High Performance horse disciplines, including dressage, driving, show jumping, and vaulting, among others.

The facility holds public show events through the year. This season opens with the New Jersey Region Pony Club Dressage Show on Sunday, April 6; the New Jersey Region Pony Club Rally on April 26 and 27; the GEA Pleasure Driving Event May 2 to 4 at the Pine Meadow Venue; and the 2014 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions and WEG Selection Trials from June 12 to 15.

The United States Equestrian Team website is located at www.uset.org.

The New Jersey Horse Park in Allentown is a rare, collaborative property of state government and private not-for-profit groups, which have come together to build a world-class facility for the horse. The site, on Route 524 about seven miles off the New Jersey Turnpike, has two large show rings, a schooling ring, a Grand Prix ring, a large grassy tailgate area, an indoor arena and stable areas.

While the Park supports a year-round series of clinics, shows and activities, its premier public experience is the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event. This exciting, well-attended event will be held this year from May 8 to 11.

Day One of Jersey Fresh will feature a dressage contest, which highlights the beauty and grace of the competing horses as they proceed individually through a complicated program of precise, full-ring maneuvers, in which rider and horse appear to move in complete concert. Each movement in the series is scored separately, and overall precision and harmony is taken into consideration before final scoring.

Day Two is a fast, cross-country endurance contest performed over a four-mile field course. It includes 24 to 36 fixed and solid obstacles—fences, ditches, bank jumps, and water complexes. Spectators flock along the sides of the course, and watch the action from the sidelines.

Day Three is a show jumping contest in an enclosed ring over 12 to 15 colored fences of varying height and spread.

Jersey Fresh is a Federation Equestre Internationale-sanctioned event. The FEI is the sole international authority in registered dressage, show jumping, three-day eventing, driving, endurance riding and vaulting.

You can visit the New Jersey Horse Park website at horseparkofnewjersey.com.

The Bucks County Horse Park in Revere, Pennsylvania is a non-profit center that operates as part of Bucks County’s park system. The Horse Park provides a theater for some 50 competitions each year between March and November, which attract over 5,000 competitors and spectators. These competitions make full use of the park’s facilities, including driving, hunter paces and chases, and miles of trail rides and judged classes. Both English and Western riders stage shows at the show rings.

The opening competitions this year begin with a Sunday, March 23 “Mix N Match” show, with a dressage competition, a stadium jumping course, and four cross-country courses.

A Combined Test and Schooling Dressage Show takes place Sunday, April 6, and will include both dressage and stadium jumping. Other shows include a Friday, April 18 Eventing show; the Sunday, April 27 Spring Hunt Pace; and a Saturday, May 3 Dressage show. Shows, including hunter paces, dressage, judged trail rides, and stadium jumping shows continue throughout the spring and summer.

For more information on the Bucks County Horse Park, visit the website at www.buckscountyhorsepark.org.

Although the event itself is slightly off-area, no survey of the spring horse experience would be complete without a nod to the granddaddy of springtime shows, the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, which will be held in Devon, Pennsylvania from May 22 to June 1.

It started as a one-day show in 1896, and has grown into one of the largest and most prestigious horse events in the country. With classes in equitation, hunting, jumping, driving, coaching and pony classes, the 11-day event features some of the highest-performing horses and riders on the show circuit. The highlight of the show is the Thursday, May 29 Grand Prix evening jump-off.

A country fair, with booths of food, clothing and country gift items for sale, rounds out of the offering. For more information, visit the Devon Horse Show website at www.devonhorseshow.net.

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