On a Saturday morning two weeks ago, my alarm went off at 3:30am, but I had already been awake for 30 minutes. If you had asked me how long I had actually been awake waiting for the morning of September 20th, I probably would’ve estimated it had been at least seven days straight, waiting and waiting for the moment I would finally get to grab my boarding pass (which I had excitedly printed 24 hours prior to-the-second of the time my plane would take off on this particular morning) and roll my suitcase out the front door of my apartment in FL. I was so excited to finally leave for the New Albany Classic in New Albany, OH after months of talking about it and googling the gorgeous venue on a daily basis.
To give you an idea of how much planning goes into the New Albany Classic, which is only for one day out of the year, I worked with the team behind the event all the way back in April to include it in my blog coverage. However, getting everything in order for all aspects of the event itself lasts all year long and requires tremendous organization by many talented individuals. One of the best parts of being included in this event is the people behind it. I used the hashtags #bestday #bestpeople on a photo I posted the day after the event, and I really meant it – the people behind this show are just, The Best. Everyone involved has a passion for the show and what it means to the community, and it’s demonstrated by the work they put in to making such a monumental day go off without a hitch. I was so humbled to be a part of everything as their official blogger, and about 30 minutes in to classic day I began trying to figure out how I can return to this event every single year because it was that much fun and so rewarding.
On Saturday the 20th, I landed at the Columbus airport at 10:30am. I picked up my little red rental car (I chose the red car over the blue one in the spirit of blending in with all the Ohio State fans heading to the game), and I was off to New Albany. New Albany is a gorgeous small town with tons of little shops and restaurants and vibrant streets, the kind of place that just begs you to take a walk on a crisp autumn day wrapped up in a scarf and sipping a warm beverage, colored leaves crunching underneath your boots. The town also has sections with quaint brick buildings and white fence-lined properties that would naturally instill a sense of calm and nostalgia in any horse lover, the same kind of feeling as when you arrive at the barn on a cool, clear blue fall morning and find yourself taking a breath so deep that your shoulders melt and your whole body relaxes.
On Saturday, I was doing an Instagram takeover for the New Albany Classic, so my first stop was the venue to catch a little bit of the set-up for the event.
I checked in at the volunteer tent and got to meet everyone that I had been e-mailing with for months prior to this day, which was awesome. To give you an idea of how big the event is, these were all the trash cans that were to be set up by volunteers the day before. From here, we began to walk around so that I could get a feel for where everything would be the next day.
The VIP tent was ready to go, and one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It felt like walking into a Wizard of Oz set, and they even had a really cool separate kids area as well.
There were these delicious-looking apples EVERYWHERE–in crates, bags, you name it, because they were all grown on the beautiful Wexner property where the event takes place.
The flowers were also produced on the property. It truly was a “home-grown” event. I love that the atmosphere inside the VIP tent was casual and fun, and yet the attention to detail ensured you would have every little luxury and delicacy that you could want. It felt like a giant picnic celebration with all of your friends on a gorgeous September day.
The calm before the storm–a perfectly manicured field that is only used once a year, for this event.
Each jump had very intricate arrangements, most with beautiful sets of real flowers (also grown on the Wexner property).
The schooling area was a short distance from the ring but away from the hustle and bustle of the family day, giving the riders and their teams a pleasant area to get ready.
The time flew by exploring the venue for the first time and, before I knew it, I had to get to my Meet-and-Greet at Equus Now!, a local tack shop outside of Columbus.
It was a bit surreal to me that people might actually come out to meet me, but Equus Now! was also offering cool totebags and VIP ticket giveaways to the Classic the next day. When I got there, they had a huge photo backdrop out and lots of food and drinks out—it was basically a party for equestrians. Bucky, the official New Albany Classic mascot, was also there to pose in photos. It was so much fun getting to meet everyone that came (Hi to everyone reading this now!)—the only down side was that I didn’t have enough time to shop. Equus Now! truly has an amazing store and staff. They even have a HUGE consignment warehouse in the back of the store. I have been dreaming about going back ever since I left. I had such a great first day in Ohio that at the end of it I found myself saying, “I don’t even want the Classic to begin because I already never want it to end.”
The next day, I arrived at about 8:30am to start the whirlwind day of activity, with the gates opening at 10am and the jumping starting at 2:30pm.
Last year’s winner, Shane Sweetnam, being interviewed before the morning schooling on the field.
Beezie Madden and Breitling LS are greeted by the horse’s owner and the event’s founder, Abigail Wexner.
I really enjoyed the quiet start to the morning, watching all of the riders and their horses warming up on the field for the very first time and listening to them gallop across the grass – one of my favorite sounds in the entire world.
I still couldn’t get over how gorgeous the flower arrangements by each jump were. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I asked these ladies for a photo because they were out by the ring early to wipe the morning dew off of every single bleacher seat… and they were laughing and having a really fun time doing it. The New Albany Classic has more than 300 volunteers contributing 2,000 hours to the event annualy.
At 10am, the gates opened and the fun started–they had lots of “characters” dressed up in costumes interacting with guests throughout the property.
There’s so much to do that you have to consult the map to see what you want to check out first.
Probably the most exciting and popular attraction was the new “Dinosaurs” exhibit, complete with this animatronic T-rex skeleton that greeted you as you came through the gate–but more on that later.
There were all sorts of awesome rides.
There was a stage for performing different shows throughout the day, including a castle outpost where Rapunzel was posing for pictures in between shouting for help.
One of the performances on the theatre stage was this adorable boy doing an amazing Elvis impersonation, singing the entire “Blue Suede Shoes” song.
He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
The theatre stage also featured a fantastic ballet performance from Ballet Met Columbus.
And then I spotted Chewbacca and Darth Vader. Literally the most feared Sith lord in the entire galaxy was right there and the police officers standing in the background weren’t doing anything about it.
They had a really cool petting zoo with all sorts of different animals, including adorable baby chicks.
This was the friendliest chicken I have ever encountered. You could pet it and it would just sit there calmly.
They had basically all the best rides from any fair you could ever remember.
This was the inside of the dinosaur tent. It featured the real dinosaur models used in the Jurassic Park movies. They were enormous and so awesome.
Photobomb level: velociraptor.
The morning kicked off with an amazing concert. New Albany has a reputation for bringing in the top teen stars before they hit it big–they’ve had the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande in the past, and this year’s performers were AMAZING. I went home on Sunday evening after the event and downloaded a ton of new songs.
First was country sensation RaeLynn, a country artist with the current hit song “God Made Girls.” Even for those who don’t usually jam out to country on the way to the barn, RaeLynn’s energy was phenomenal and I really enjoyed watching her perform.
After her set, RaeLynn came and took pictures with TONS of her fans that were waiting off to the side. She must have been there for a solid half hour, and she handled everyone’s phones taking selfies like a pro.
Next up was Before You Exit, the next great boy band. They not only performed all their top hits, but did some awesome covers of Ed Sheeran and Jason Derulo that I thought might have even sounded better than the originals. I was literally jumping around because I was having so much fun.
It is safe to say that there were quite a few people excited to see Before You Exit (aka B.Y.E.) at New Albany.
The concert continued with several other great acts, but I had to get around to see the rest of the Family Day activities, so I enjoyed them from afar.
Equus Now!, the tack store I visited the day before, had a great mobile set up featuring what every horse-lover needs: BREYERS.
There were all sorts of fun activities like this one where you could learn how to use a lasso.
They even had a car show with some of the newest luxury models on display.
This is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. It’s Chewbacca, from earlier, greeting a police horse. This is how you know police horses are truly bombproof, when a 6 foot tall Wookie comes up and they don’t even bat an eyelash.
They had two sculpture artists on hand doing live demos of wood carving, using chainsaws and everything. Their work was quite impressive.
This is a view of the beautiful day from the top of the zipline, and the crazy part is this is only about HALF of the event.
They even had miniature versions of the rides for the little ones.
They had a huge number of the very best local food trucks and shaded seating set up for lunch nearby as well.
The mounted police horses were definitely one of the most popular stops around the Family Day. They received a ton of attention.
They had lots of sports activities for kids to do, including this synthetic ice skating rink, a soccer field and a roller hockey field.
They even had a PUMPKIN PATCH, with characters from Charlie Brown in it that played with all of the kids who came by. You can see Snoopy here sitting on top of his dog house, as usual.
Riders came out and signed autographs before the show.
The VIP Tent was packed–they had so much good food for both kids and adults, and even a great view of the show jumping.
Most amazingly, this whole day is a huge charity event that raises money for the Center for Family Safety and Healing, which provides resources for people impacted by all aspects of family violence and domestic violence. They raised another $1.7 million this year and have raised more than $25 million since the start of the Classic in 1998. As you came in the VIP tent, people were encouraged to write their hopes as leaves on the tree that is the logo for the center (pictured above). It’s amazing to me that all this fun, hard work and competition can be done for such a meaningful cause. As an added bonus, it’s a fantastic way to draw newcomers in to the sport who have never experienced show jumping before.
This is the kids area in the VIP tent. They had all sorts of activities for children, including giant Connect 4, painting and arts and crafts, and even more inflatables.
The VIP food was all delicious, locally grown on-site and extremely healthy. They even had shots of beet, ginger and carrot juice.
The stands filling up in anticipation of the event.
Ali Wolff, who is from down the road in New Albany, was back competing in the event again and had lots of hometown supporters.
Schuyler Riley, Margie Engle, and Candice King all coming up for the rider introductions before the show. I was told by Schuyler and Candice later that I had captured a classic Margie Engle joke being told.
Lots of people brought their chairs out from the VIP tent and sat on the beautiful lawn in front of the ring.
The riders were all introduced one by one during the opening ceremonies before the action started.
There was a very picturesque bridge from the schooling ring to the show ring that the riders and their horses all went over on the way in.
If you didn’t already know, New Albany boasts one of the most star-studded groups of riders from across the world, offering not only an incredible day of family fun, but extremely competitive show jumping.
Schuyler Riley, Q-7 and her groom Jesus Pimentel are ready to kick off the action.
Alison Robitaille and Cassinja
Leslie Howard and Utah
The jump designs were some of the most intricate I have ever seen–this Justice jump has sand and a palm tree to illustrate a beach scene, and there was another Abercrombie “golf” themed one with clubs and a bucket of golf balls.
Kim Prince and RMF Bella Baloubet
Lauren Tisbo and Entre Nous drew a crowd when Lauren came back up to watch a few rounds after her own turn in the ring. Once she mentioned Entre Nous was ok to pet, everyone got in on the action.
Candice King and Kismet 50
Kristen Vanderveen and Bull’s Run Eternal, over the Abercrombie & Fitch golf jump.
Andre Mershad, talking over the course with his trainer Candice King. Andre is also from down the road in New Albany, and this was his first time competing in The Classic that he had grown up watching. He was also the youngest rider to ever compete in it, at 16.
Andre had a fantastic round, with only one unlucky rail down. He looked awesome.
Candice and her dog, Thumper, during Andre’s round.
Conor Swail and Simba de la Roque
Daniel Bluman and Conconcreto Believe
Last year’s winner, Shane Sweetnam, makes his way to the in-gate.
Shane Sweetnam and Easy Contact Humlan
Beezie Madden and Breitling LS, making the New Albany Classic look like an equitation championship.
The police horses looked utterly adorable while watching the action. During Beezie’s round here, I’d like to imagine they were thinking, “WOW! Look at what those horses can do! Maybe I can do that too!”
Beezie was a huge crowd favorite. Here she smiles as those in the stands cheered her on after a clear first round.
Margie Engle and Indigo
I grew up with a poster of Margie Engle hung on my bedroom wall, so it was amazing to photograph her myself in person, 16 years later. Is this real life?
I took like 300 photos of Margie…
Conor Swail took the lead early in the jump off with a fantastic round.
Conor’s final challenger was the local favorite, Beezie Madden.
Beezie set a blistering pace, but was unable to catch Conor and had to settle for 2nd. This was another one of my favorite photos from the event because of the butterfly floating over Beezie in the upper left hand corner.
Course designer Richard Jeffries and the New Albany mascot, Bucky, during the award presentation.
Simba de la Roque: did I win? What a cute horse.
The winner of the inaugural Groom’s Award was Tania Bordas.
Hanging out after the show.
To say that it was a special day would truly be an understatement. Even now, I keep scrolling and scrolling through this blog post, hoping that I’ve even come close to doing this event justice. The New Albany Classic is SO special and SO fun that it’s almost impossible to articulate in words or photos. My experience was unforgettable. This is an event that should be on every equestrian’s bucket list, no question. The entire day, I witnessed so much joy on the faces of little kids, parents, spectators, riders, and the staff and volunteers who were running the event. If you are able to attend the New Albany Classic in 2016, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so – you will have a blast whether you’re a horse person or not.
Thank you to everyone at the New Albany Classic for inviting me and having me as your official blogger! This was an experience I’ll remember forever.