Over the years, the Hampton Classic Horse Show has drawn some of the top level show jumping riders from around the world, including Olympic medalists and up-and-coming young talent. While the week-long show has become world renowned, it has also retained its special place in the hearts of local equestrians of all ages and ability levels, and it’s those people who Shanette Barth Cohen thinks of most when she speaking about the show’s impending return, after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“One of the things I appreciate about the people who show here is that they think of it as their home horse show,” the show’s executive director said in an interview last week, “especially trainers from barns in the area who show on Locals Day, when they talk to us with suggestions of things to do, they’ll use the word ‘we,’ saying ‘we’ should do this or that. It’s my favorite thing to hear, because I want them to think that this is their show, too.”
Barth Cohen said she expects this year’s Classic — which will be the 45th iteration of the event — will be marked by that reunion kind of feeling. For many exhibitors who ride and train on Long Island, the Classic represents the culmination of their show season, and is the most highly anticipated event on the show calendar, which made its cancellation last year particularly disappointing.
“For many riders, as far as being competitors, their whole purpose is to show at the Hampton Classic,” Barth Cohen said.
This year’s show will run from August 29 through September 5, with more than $800,000 in prize money up for grabs. The show draws the best hunter, jumper and equitation riders from around the country — and even the globe, with competitors as young as 2 competing in the leadline division, and adults well into their 60s still showing in other divisions. More than 1,500 horses and ponies come to the show, which also attracts celebrities and other VIPs in addition to horse industry professionals. The Classic has also created a tradition of hosting classes for riders with disabilities. Opening Day is when local riders get to shine, with a full slate of classes specifically geared toward riders who stable their horses at Long Island barns.
Throughout the week, the show will host five FEI classes, the top level of show jumping, and they will feature some of the best riders in the world, several of whom will be making their first appearance back in the show ring since competing in the Tokyo Olympics. Over the course of the week, competition will take place in 65 show rings on the 65-acre grounds, which also includes a boutique shopping garden, several food vendors, and a kids activity area. The show’s kids day, sponsored by News12 Long Island this year, has been moved to Thursday, after traditionally being held on Saturday.
Anticipation has been building for months, Barth Cohen said, adding that VIP tables have already sold out in a number of areas, much earlier than usual, and that there has been a lot of interest from returning corporate sponsors as well as new corporate sponsors.
One silver lining that came from canceling the show last year was the fact that it gave the newly revamped grass Grand Prix field an extra year to grow and mature. The 120,000-square-foot field underwent a $1 million reconstruction project that was completed in the spring of 2019, and after its debut that year, an extra season of unimpeded maturation means the field should be in even better shape this summer.
The Classic is one of the few venues in the world with such a large and pristine grass competition field, surrounding by a large grandstand that attracts a sizeable crowd for the show’s main event, the $300,000 Grand Prix. It’s one of the reasons why many of the world’s most talented riders make it a priority to attend the show.
That’s true for Daniel Bluman, who won the Grand Prix aboard his gelding, Ladriano, in 2017. Bluman has been competing at the Classic for more than a decade, and has experienced both the highs and lows that come with a professional show jumping career. In 2010, in his debut year at the Classic, Bluman fell asleep on the beach the day before the show started, resulting in a terrible sunburn, and he then performed poorly in the ring, he said. It was the same year the show was postponed midweek because of Hurricane Irene, which forced the organizers to quickly take down all the tents and the infrastructure of the show, find local barns to help shelter horses that were in from out of town, and then go through the entire process of setting up the show again once the hurricane passed to finish up the competition.
Just seven years later, though, Bluman was in the winner’s circle on Grand Prix Sunday. And he’d had a fantastic week, winning not only the main event, but also the Grand Prix qualifier, and the week’s first FEI class.
“To win all three in the same year was special,” he said.
Attending the show has also become a family tradition. Bluman’s wife, Ariel Bluman, hails from Dix Hills on Long Island, and her parents own a home in the Hamptons, making it a good time for their young children to connect with their grandparents.
“It’s one of those weeks on the calendar that no matter what’s going on, I attend,” he said.
It’s a sentiment shared by other top riders like Bluman, as well as by many amateur riders. While many horse shows and show series were able to continue running during the pandemic, competitors are thrilled to see the return of prestigious, one-of-a-kind event like the Classic.
“In America, we were lucky to be able to keep competing [through the pandemic], but some big events that gather a crowd were canceled, and it was upsetting,” Bluman said. “Especially because I know the effort Shanette and the whole team put into the venue each year. The new footing in the grass ring is phenomenal, and it was sad not being able to use it. But that’s in the past, and we’re all extremely excited to go back and have an amazing week of sport with a great atmosphere at such a great facility.”
It’s a feeling shared by the show organizers as well.
“It’s really been amazing to see how important this event is to the East End of Long Island, as well as to the equestrian community,” Barth Cohen said. “We’ve been hearing from so many people how excited they are to come back.
“We’re so appreciative of the Hampton Classic family who helped, and made donations to get us through the year,” she continued, pointing out that the show is a nonprofit organization with few other avenues for funding aside from running the show each year. “We were able to keep the grounds up to snuff and keep our basic infrastructure running because of the large number of personal sponsors and corporate sponsors who have been with us for a long time, and we really appreciate that. That’s why we’re back and doing well, and we’re going to have a great year.”