Families visiting the 65-acre Bridgehampton showgrounds that features The Hampton Classic Horse Show can experience food, games, shopping, celebrity sightings - more than just watching riders in a show ring jump their horses over hurdles - but there's that, too. NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano reports. Credit: Randee Daddona

“Can I pet your horse?”

The Hampton Classic Horse Show is more than just watching riders in a show ring jump their horses over hurdles. Families visiting the 65-acre Bridgehampton showgrounds can also approach the animals’ caretakers and ask if they could touch their horse’s neck, says Shanette Barth Cohen, executive director of the Hampton Classic.

“Horses are beautiful. Even if you don’t know the sport well, seeing them up close is stunning,” she says. In the smaller show rings, spectators can get so close to the action that “you can actually hear the horses breathing … and see them sweating.”

The horse show on Snake Hollow Road draws 1,400 horses entered in more than 200 competitions in six rings including the Grand Prix Ring. But it also has activities for children in its exhibition area Kids Tent, and on several days, the whole family can get in for free or avoid the admission fee by bringing three nonperishable food items to be donated to a local food pantry.

Hampton Classic Horse Show

WHEN | WHERE Gates open at 8:30 a.m. daily on Snake Hollow Rd., Bridgehampton

COST Free on Monday; free on Tuesday and Wednesday with donation of three items of nonperishable food per car; otherwise $20 per carload; Sunday requires additional tickets to sit in the grandstands of the Grand Prix Ring

INFO 631-537-3177, hamptonsclassic.com

Here’s the lowdown on how families can enjoy an inexpensive day at the Hampton Classic, which runs through Sunday:

FREE DAYS AT THE HAMPTON CLASSIC

The usual $20 per car cash-only entry fee is waived on Monday for everyone. On Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s waived for carloads who donate three or more nonperishable food items that will be given to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry.

Even on days when paying full price, “it’s so accessible. It’s $20 for a whole carload of people,” Cohen says. “It’s not expensive to get here and be here. Once they’re on the grounds, we don’t charge for anything.” Visitors can bring their own food and drink, or purchase refreshments for sale. Shopping in the Boutique Garden, of course, would cost extra.

ADOPTION DAY

On Monday, there isn’t much official competition, but visitors will see riders exercising their horses, Cohen says. And Monday is Adoption Day — visitors can enter Hunter Ring 2 between noon and 1 p.m. to meet at least a dozen horses up for adoption, she says. A horse ambulance will also be on display in the ring and techs can explain how the ambulance treats horses that may be injured during the eight-day Hampton Classic. Dogs, cats and other smaller animals will be available for adoption as well between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. near the Kids Tent.

FREE KIDS TENT ACTIVITIES

The Kids Tent offers arts activities with the Art Nanny, free pony rides, a petting zoo and soccer skills clinic. In addition, each weekday brings a new activity. On Tuesday, it’s Erik’s Adventures, and he’ll be bringing reptiles for kids to meet. On Wednesday, there’ll be lawn games. On Thursday, the Bellini Family Circus will have members performing. And on Friday, the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center will present.

WATCH EXPERTS, OR KIDS, COMPETE

The Grand Prix Ring has the most elite competitors performing every day but Monday. On Tuesday through Saturday, sitting in the grandstands to watch them is included in admission. (On Sunday, there’s a $55 per person additional fee for reserved bucket seating that must be purchased in advance through hamptonclassic.com.)

Families may also like to see how the training of elite riders begins. On Tuesday, the Annex Ring features riders from 5 to 14 years old competing and on Tuesday and Wednesday in Hunter Ring 3 children ages 14 and under are judged on the way they ride and get their horses to respond, says Marty Bauman, public relations director of the Classic. 

“There are so many little kids riding ponies. That is adorable and fun to watch. Inspiring as well,” Cohen says. “The partnership between the horse and the rider is pretty impressive to watch. How you’re able to communicate with the horse and get them to perform at the top level they can.”

GO ON KIDS DAY

Saturday is officially Kids Day at the Classic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to the activities at the Kids Tent, Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons will be on hand, Bellini Family Circus performers will return and musician Marc Herstein will entertain. That’s all included with the day's $20 per carload price of admission.