Hampton Classic Staff Take On Henri

In anticipation of Hurricane Henri, organizers of the Hampton Classic Horse Show, located in Bridgehampton, decided to take down all tents and horse stabling. MICHAEL HELLER

While most people were busy on Friday and Saturday of last week filling gas cans for generators, securing their lawn furniture, and heading to the grocery store for bread and milk, the organizers of the Hampton Classic had a much more daunting to-do list ahead of Tropical Storm Henri’s approach — taking down the large tent system that houses 1,600 horse stalls, spaces for more than 70 vendors in the Boutique Garden and Stable Row, and VIP and Chalet tents.

Just days after they had finished the gargantuan task of setting it all up, the same crews that had toiled in the heat lifting the blue and white striped canvases to the metal tent poles all over the 60-acre showgrounds were frantically taking it all down, stacking the temporary stalls and vendor booth walls and securing them to the ground, while lashing the tent materials to the ground as well.

Hampton Classic organizers said all tents and stables will be put back up when it’s safe to do so, a daunting task with the show expected to start this Sunday, August 29. MICHAEL HELLER

It was a case of déjà vu a decade later. In 2011, just days before the Classic was set to start, Hurricane Irene rolled into town and the Classic crew was forced to go into overdrive, breaking down all the tents just like they were doing late last week. On Sunday, the show’s executive director, Shanette Barth Cohen, watched out her window in relief as it became clear that Henri was having a much more minimal impact than expected, an outcome that was welcome — although it came with a touch of bittersweetness.

“The storm wasn’t so bad, which is great,” she said. “The tents would have been fine with the weather we ended up with, but we had no way of knowing that.”

While the preparations for Henri brought back memories of Irene, Barth Cohen said there were a few significant differences. She said that going through the experience of breaking down and setting up again in a short timeframe during Irene gave the team the confidence that they could do it again. Henri certainly threw a wrench in the set-up plans, but the timeline the storm presented was far more generous than what happened in 2011. Henri rolled into town a week before the start of the show, while Irene hit the area just a few days before. In 2011, show officials made the decision to take down the tents on the Thursday before the start of the show, just one day before horses are allowed to arrive. That required a massive effort by show officials to call exhibitors, some of whom were already en route with large horse trailers, and tell them to turn around. The closer timeline required officials to start the show a few days later and alter the schedule, which will not be the case this year.

“It was a big communications thing to get the word out,” Barth Cohen said of 2011. “At least this time we didn’t have to call all these barns and tell them not to show up.”

Henri still presented a few logistical challenges. Troy Powell, the head show secretary and office manager, was busy making phone calls to local hotels trying to find temporary housing for the tent crew, who typically stay in campers on the showgrounds during set up. Craig Bergmann and Liz Soroka, who head the massive effort to set up the showgrounds every year, chose to ride out the storm in the large camper they stay in each year on site.

All tents and stables were taken down last Friday, August 20. MICHAEL HELLER

The effort to secure the grounds started at 7:30 a.m. on Friday morning, with crews breaking down all the stabling tents, stacking up and securing the stable walls, and lowering all the electrical cords and wiring. The work was done by 5 p.m. Saturday, and the crews were back out on the grounds early Monday. While they won’t be cleaning up much debris or damage from the storm, they will still be playing catchup until Opening Day, set for Sunday, August 29.

“Normally, our crew isn’t sitting around this week,” Barth Cohen explained. “We have stuff on our plate until the last moment. Those things haven’t disappeared, and we have to rebuild before we do those things.”

Setting up all the signage and banners, and putting in place the metal poles and wood board railings that set off the schooling rings are a few other big tasks that are typically done in the final days leading up to the show.

Barth Cohen expressed her appreciation for the hard work of the tent and set-up crew, and commended them for the speed and efficiency they employ to set up the world class showgrounds each year.

Kate Soroka echoed those sentiments, saying she and her sister, Liz Soroka, and another show employee had gone out to help in the effort of taking down the tents and had a moment of understanding of just how hard the job is when they picked up a piece of canvas to put on the back of a flatbed truck and were surprised by just how heavy it was.

“We consider ourselves strong women, but it was very heavy,” she said.

“Day in and day out, these guys make it look much easier than it is,” Barth Cohen added.