Lucy Beeton and Phoebe Topping are two of the more experienced junior riders at Swan Creek Farm. They’re both Hampton Classic veterans, particularly Topping, who has been participating in the show, riding for the barn owned by her parents, Mandy and Jagger Topping, since she was just 3 years old. Beeton has several years of experience under her belt in the hunter divisions, and is moving up a level this year.
The two riders are both year-round locals, with Beeton preparing to enter her junior year at Pierson High School, while Topping is going into her senior year. They spoke about their approach to the Classic, their horses, and what their goals are for the big end-of-season show.
Topping will be riding several horses in both the hunter and jumper divisions. Earlier this month, she said she wasn’t entirely sure of her entire lineup yet, but was certainly going to be a fixture on opening day, also known as Locals’ Day, which has classes tailored to riders who either live on Long Island or have their horses stabled at Long Island barns.
Topping will show a young horse named John Courage in the local hunter non-professional division on opening day, and will compete later in the week in the junior jumper division on a horse named Epic. She will also show during the week in the junior hunter division, although she is not yet sure which horses she will ride in those classes.
Topping has been horse showing her entire life, but she said competing in the Classic is always special.
“It’s home, so that’s really cool,” she said. “It’s the only big show that’s right down the road, and it’s really special because it’s still on the grass. And they just do such a beautiful job with it every year.”
Topping said that while there is no denying that the Classic is a special show, she tries to keep her approach the same as she does at other shows.
“There’s a lot more to get ready for than the other, low-key local shows,” she said. “But I just prepare for it like any other really big show. I don’t want to get too crazy about it because I don’t want to stress the horses out. But it’s definitely a big deal for everybody.”
Topping admitted that she succumbed to some nerves last year when she was showing Epic in the junior jumper division for the first time. The jumper classes differ greatly from the hunter classes: in jumper classes, the emphasis is on speed, the jumps are higher, and the course is set so that the turns from jump to jump are tighter and trickier; in the hunter, the emphasis is on keeping a forward but consistent pace, and the distance between jumps is longer and easier to navigate — emphasis is on consistency and style, and the horse’s form over the jumps, rather than on speed.
Despite the nerves, Topping and Epic had a clear round without any faults, doing well in a class that included a talented group of horses and riders.
Topping counts that among some of her top Hampton Classic memories, along with her years showing a large pony named Rumpleminze. A few years ago, they finished second in a highly competitive large pony hunter class.
“I got him when he was really young, and I was really young,” she said. “So we were both inexperienced.”
Topping said she is excited to show in the jumpers again, which she said she enjoys simply because it’s a lot of fun. And she said that while some people question whether it’s difficult to have your parents as your trainers, it’s never been much a problem for her, because it’s all she’s ever known.
“They will help me when I’m jumping, but a lot of the times I go off by myself and hack around and do my own thing,” she said. “But they’re so laid back, and they’re laid back with the customers, too.”
That laid-back approach has worked well for Beeton too, who has emerged over the years as one in a group of several talented local riders at the barn. Beeton will show in the 3-foot-3-inch junior hunter division for the first time this year with her horse, Uno, who she has owned for the past three years and rode in the 3-foot children’s hunter division during that time. Beeton and Uno will ride in the popular Marders Local Hunter Derby on opening day, and in the junior hunter division later in the week.
Beeton did not start riding as early as Topping, but developed an interest in horses at a young age. Her persistent efforts to convince her parents to let her take lessons finally paid off when she was 8 years old, and after riding at some other barns, she made her way to Swan Creek, starting her showing career in the short stirrup pony division.
For Beeton, being in a good place mentally is key heading into the Classic.
“If you think of it as such a big, scary thing, it doesn’t go well,” she said.
Beeton has had plenty of success at both local shows and bigger shows abroad, but she has had her ups and downs, like any serious rider. In her second year showing at the Classic in the children’s hunter division, she remembers having lofty goals of placing really well, and then had a fall in one class that dashed those hopes.
“I totally messed up” she said, laughing as she told the story. “But after that, after I totally ruined it, I just had fun and did well the next day. So after that, I try to just keep it fun and keep the horses safe and happy and take care of them.”
The following year was her first year showing Uno in the children’s hunter division, and it was his first time showing at the Classic. Beeton said she was more focused on Uno, because the show, which can be very overstimulating for most horses, was unfamiliar to him.
“It almost helped because I was more worried about him than myself,” she said. They finished in the top three in several classes, and then last year, with that experience together under their belts, Beeton and Uno were reserve champion in the local junior hunters and won the children’s classic in the children’s hunter division later in the week.
Her approach this year won’t change much, even though she has moved up to a new division.
“It’s just, make it happen,” she said. “I don’t want to do well, per se, I just want to make sure he’s safe and he’s successful and gets a positive experience.”
The pair will ride in the Anne Aspinall ring, adjacent to the Grand Prix ring, for the first time, for which Beeton said she is excited.
Beeton says Uno is like a “giant Labrador retriever,” who loves treats and affection. She hopes to keep him even after she graduates high school and goes to college, and would likely lease him out to someone else at the barn so he can stay in his familiar environment. Although she still has two years of high school left, Beeton said her long-term dream would be to own her own horse farm.