The coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of the Hampton Classic horse show, a staple of late summer in Bridgehampton that draws an estimated 50,000 fans and pumps millions of dollars into the local economy. The event, typically held over eight days in late August and early September, culminating with the Grand Prix on Labor Day weekend, would have observed its 45th anniversary this year.
“It is difficult to express how disappointing this is for everyone,” said the event’s executive director, Shanette Barth-Cohen, in announcing the cancellation on Friday. “However, given the current situation and the uncertainty that lies ahead, our board reached the conclusion that there really is no other option.”
Although New York State has begun to relax the restrictions that were put in place in March as it sought to contain the spread of the pandemic, Ms. Barth-Cohen said there were too many barriers for the show to go on, including the likelihood that spectators would not be able to attend, eliminating gate receipts.
The nonprofit show relies heavily on a list of more than 100 sponsors, led by the watchmaker Longines. “We’re able to have a horse show because of our sponsorships, whether that’s corporate partners or personal support from individuals making straight donations or buying a VIP table,” Ms. Barth-Cohen said.
She added that even if sponsors and other individuals would have committed to continuing to support the show, there was no way of knowing if it would have to be canceled at the last minute if there is a spike in the virus late in summer.
“Those were the big things that led us to realize that there was no way we could responsibly continue to move forward,” she said.
The horse show uses the money it takes in each year to plan and pay the expenses for the following year. It is tightening its belt and will furlough most of its staff in the coming weeks, Ms. Barth-Cohen added.
Word of the cancellation was greeted with sadness.
Jennifer Bowery, of Oceans Edge Farm in Bridgehampton, trains many young riders. “For a lot of the kids, it’s a big letdown,” she said. “They all look forward to the Hampton Classic because it is such a big show.”
Her sister, Laura Bowery, the owner of Sea Aire stable in Water Mill and a member of the Classic’s advisory board, has both competed at the Classic and trained riders who competed there. She said she understood and supported the decision to cancel, but added that the event is irreplaceable.
“It’s an international competition right in my backyard,” she said. “To have this level of sport here in the Hamptons is phenomenal.”
Plus, she said, the Classic has become more than just a horse show and is now a major social event. “Everyone comes out in their Sunday best” when the Grand Prix is held,” she said. “It’s a very special day, and we all look forward to it.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman also said the event would be missed. “It’s sad because it is so much a part of summer in the Hamptons,” he said. “It’s important to so many people and such a big part of the local economy.”
The supervisor pointed out that the Classic has provided a boost to many local charities, not least of which is Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Ms. Barth-Cohen said the Classic has donated more than $2 million to the hospital over the years, including about $100,000 last year.
“We appreciate and understand the sacrifice the Hampton Classic has made to protect its riders, patrons, and visitors by canceling this year’s event,” said Barbara Jo Howard, the hospital’s director of communications and marketing in a statement. “The health and well-being of all is our mutual priority and we applaud their decision. These are challenging time for all, especially not-for-profits. We are grateful for the Classic’s longstanding friendship and support of our mission and look forward to next year’s event.”
The horse show awards more than $800,000 in prize money each year, including $300,000 for the culminating event, the Grand Prix show jumping competition that pays a $99,000 prize to the winner.
“Now our focus is to get to next year,” said Ms. Barth-Cohen, who added that reserves from last year had gone into helping pay for the cost of renovating the riding surface in the main show ring. “We had no cushion and then COVID came along,” she said.
With reporting by Cailin Riley