Day 1 – Thursday, 5/7
I arrived in New York on Wednesday afternoon and checked in to the house I’m staying at, which is conveniently only about a seven and a half Taylor Swift song drive away from Old Salem Farm. As a 26-year-old trying to make it to as many A-circuit events as possible with as few panic attacks as possible, I use every resource that I can to find nice places to stay. There are tons of great apps out there with hotel discounts (my favorite is ‘Hotel Tonight’), and sites like Airbnb, to help anyone travel comfortably and safely. I’m happy to say that I lucked out on this trip because the house I’m at has a large wooden deck with comfy Adirondack chairs to sit in while you overlook a lush green yard and pond. There’s also a hot tub, which I took advantage of upon arriving home from my first day at the show, before curling up cross-legged on my bed to type this to you guys.
The first day of any new show is often filled with excitement and anticipation, especially if you’re like me and you haven’t been to one in a month, since WEF. Thursday was also a gorgeous day (80+ degrees and sunny), and I have to say right away that the scenery around Old Salem Farm lived up to all of my expectations.
I pulled in to OSF around 8:30am, which was apparently a little early – at least for a Week 1 Thursday. There was an immense feeling of calm and quiet throughout the grounds, complemented by the sound of jumpers galloping across the grass and the occasional click of hooves on landing. When I first attended WEF this past year, I thought it might make me sad to be back on the show grounds that I had ridden on as a junior but not actually be able to show. I’m very grateful that much to my surprise, every morning that I showed up at WEF for 12 weeks I was filled with a great sense of calm and optimism – and that was the same feeling I had upon my first walk around OSF today. I just really love being at horse shows.
I started out watching the “warm-up” open jumper classes in the vast Grand Prix Field, complete with beautiful grass, exotic cars, and a stone wall bordering the street on the far side. I’m not exactly sure who is going to see a grand prix horse canter past a Maserati and finally decide to pull the trigger and get one, but maybe it will at the very least make the cars seem more affordable. The grass field at OSF is a very natural, gorgeous backdrop for our sport, complete with large trees and a pond with a fence around it. The modern amenities are there too—a large video board and two-story VIP structure. However, to me the best seats in the house for watching the action are sitting on the hill in the shade or at the “happy hour” bar seating area as you enter the show.
After watching the action on the field for awhile, I ventured over to the Sand Ring, where low and medium jumpers were taking place. For the mediums, the show grouped the juniors and amateurs together—something they obviously did not do at WEF due to the large size of each class. This made it a lot easier to see some of the amateur riders that I didn’t get a chance to previously. The Sand Ring was busy all day with eight total classes. The Sand Ring, like the Grand Prix field, borders the road outside the farm, so cars are able to see the rings as they drive by. But while the Grand Prix field has a great deal of distance between this border and most of the action, the Sand Ring is so close that you can almost see who is riding there as you drive in.
After a morning of watching events, the unique aspects of Old Salem started to become apparent. The similarities between Old Salem and WEF start and end at their level of competition and the familiar faces you’ll see in and out of the ring. WEF is a huge showground, while Old Salem is for most weeks out of the year an actual farm and the home base of trainer Frank Madden. At OSF, you can conceivably see the activity at all three major out door rings by standing in one place on top of a hill. There is also certainly less hustle and bustle, especially on a Thursday during Week 1. The main topic among the seasoned veterans of the event was how nice the weather was, as apparently the past two years it rained constantly. Mostly, I was just glad that coming from Florida it wasn’t so cold that I would have to go out and buy a jacket.
When lunch rolled around, I found myself choosing between the large fair-like booth offering burgers, hot dogs and other American fare, and the Mexican food tent off by itself near the stables. I saw some people with healthy-looking salads but couldn’t figure out where they came from, so I settled for a chicken quesadilla. I later found out that the fair-like booth (named Leo’s, I believe) actually sold the salads too—so if you are looking for the healthy stuff, don’t be deterred by their exterior.
I had lunch with a new friend that I had actually met via Instagram, Alex DeVries, the CEO and founder of 20×60, an online store that specializes in luxury dressage accessories. She also brought her adorable and energetic new puppy, Gunnar, who she adopted at Rolex in Kentucky a few weeks ago. Hearing Alex’s story of how she started her company and the specific process that goes in to her selecting boutique equestrian products in Europe for her customers was amazing and inspiring. We also discussed our mutual desire to develop programs for young equestrian entrepreneurs in the future.
I closed out the day watching the USEF Talent Search equitation class in the Grand Prix field. It was very exciting to see all the juniors tackle a wide water jump in addition to a demanding flat class. The flat class ended up being in kind of an awkward section of the huge grass field, and all of the riders had to fight to get through a narrow space between a jump and a large tree every time they came around the far turn. Not easy to do when you’re also trying to keep your horse in a counter canter as you then head slightly uphill. As I posted on Instagram, I was very excited to see Colette Cacciatore get a 2nd place in the event, after meeting her during WEF and keeping in touch.
At the end of a long day, I found that one of my absolute favorite views was as I drove out of the show grounds in the evening – the driveway takes you over a hill toward the front gate and there is an amazing vantage point from up above looking down at all of the rings and the remaining horses and rides showing.
Day 2 – Friday, 5/8
I tried to tell myself to get a little more sleep and not show up so early this morning, but something about the early sunrise up north and the excitement of another show day still had me ring-side around 9am. Today was the first day of the bigger events, including the $35k Welcome Stake, the WIHS Jumper Phase, and of course the Canine Puissance. Probably the most exciting part of my morning was meeting the soon-to-be-famous Coco the Horse Show Pig. Coco belongs to junior rider Ellie Ferrigno and is probably the most adorable little pig personality ever. Coco was a huge hit at the show—when we were watching the big eq on the hill later, Ellie let Coco wander around and people’s faces instantly lit up when they were suddenly approached by an adorable little pig. Every once in a while Ellie would go to pick up Coco and bring her back to where she was sitting, which would elicit a small, adorable piglet squeal. If you are on show grounds and you haven’t seen Coco yet, keep an eye out because she’ll totally make your day.
The excitement around the show grounds was definitely rising going in to the first major jumping event of the weekend, which was the $35,000 Welcome Stake, starting at 1pm. For the first time since arriving, I noticed music started playing at the Grand Prix ring. The first song they played was by Hootie and the Blowfish, which will make you feel old when you realize that Hootie was most successful about three years before the oldest junior riders were born. What followed on the loudspeakers was a verifiable 90’s playlist of songs featuring Counting Crows, U2, Smashmouth, Sheryl Crow and even the “Oh Yeah” song—which was kind of weird (the video is even weirder – I almost couldn’t bring myself to link to it.) I last heard that song at a wedding when the best man was taking the garter off the bride. Luckily it was playing during the course walk—I don’t think it would have really complemented the majesty of a McLain Ward run.
The Welcome Stake itself was filled with drama, mostly because of the final oxer. Of the first ten or so riders, around four had clean rounds until this jump. The narrow Purina and the tight triple combination also presented problems during the Welcome Stake (and throughout the day).
At 2pm I shifted over to the “Hunter Ring” to watch the WIHS Jumper Phase equitation class. The hunter ring is very pretty but can be difficult to spectate. There is no seating or bleacher area, and the ring itself is surrounded by a large hedge that is almost impossible to see over at eye level, especially for someone like me who is only 5’3. Most of the viewing takes place on the steep hill adjacent to the ring and sitting on the railing above the hill, neither of which are terribly comfortable or great vantage points to be able to view the whole course. The hill is so steep that one rider walking up it turned to a friend and begged: “Can this hill like, not be here?” Tbh.
In other news from the sidelines of the big eq, it seems like prom is a primary factor behind several junior riders’ schedules at Old Salem. More than a few riders were putting their all into OSF Week 1 so they could take Week 2 off to enjoy their proms. Is there any way maybe prom could happen during the month between WEF and Old Salem/Kentucky so they could not conflict? There was also a lot of discussion about fitting in finals and AP exams, and of course – Devon is coming up quickly. Yay but also kind of ugh school.
My day finished with one of the most unique and fun traditions at Old Salem: the Canine Puissance. Also known as the dog jumping competition. This consisted of one jump set up in the grass with dogs competing in classes divided by the size of the dog. A dog’s jump is different than a horse’s jump—few dogs approach the rails with any speed, and instead pop up right from the base of the jump as if they have been dropped on a trampoline. The dogs each got a few opportunities to get over the jump without a rail down. Every time a dog cleared the jump, the crowd watching would clap which would then cause the dogs that were spectating the event to also yelp in approval. All in all, a nice way to end another great day.
The best part? Today was only Friday. So excited for the competition to really get going tomorrow and Sunday. Can’t wait to get to the show grounds inevitably way too early tomorrow. See you there. For coverage of Day 3, click here!