On a cool, sunny morning, kids as young as 2 fully dressed in riding attire sat atop horses led by their trainers. They trotted around in a grass ring in Bridgehampton. Some of them wore colorful ribbons.
The young riders were part of a competition known as the “leadline class” on Sunday that kicked off the 44th Hampton Classic Horse Show, continuing another summer ritual marked by world-class competitions, celebrity sightings and a longstanding tradition of “to see and to be seen.”
The eight-day event is expected to attract 60,000 spectators and 1,600 horses this year, culminating in next Sunday’s highlight event in which participants will compete in the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix, organizers said.
“Let’s face it. [It’s] the location. We are in the Hamptons. So riding here is something special,” said event spokesman Marty Bauman, pointing to the chalets, the grandstand and the VIP tents that surround the ring as he stood on the sideline. “Next Sunday, it will be totally packed. It’s like riding into a stadium. You don’t get that in very many places.”
The event, which started as a small social gathering, has evolved into a premiere equestrian competition, attracting Olympic-level, professional and amateur riders from around the world.
Alana Feldman, 36, of New York City, has been riding horses since she was 3, the same age as her daughter, Summer, who was in the leadline class Sunday morning. Feldman and her two daughters had been training daily for the event.
“The Hampton Classic is the top show out here. It’s an A-rated show. The most beautiful horses. The best riders. The best shops,” Feldman said, while holding the rope tied to the horse on which her 6-year-old daughter Sienna sat. “And it all happens at the end of the summer. It’s like the culmination of the season.”
In between competitions, visitors — and sometimes celebrities — can be seen strolling around 80 boutique shops on the 65-acre showgrounds on Snake Hollow Road.
One of the them was fashion designer Donna Karan, who came to support her 16-year-old granddaughter, Stefania De Felice, of Sag Harbor.
“It happened too fast,” Karan said, recalling how last summer felt. “I don’t like this time of the year because it’s the end of the summer. I kind of wish it’s a little bit longer.”
De Felice, who has been riding horses since she was 5, said the sport relaxes her.
“I love horses. It’s like a sport that you have to be very focused on 'cause it’s not just yourself that you are worrying about,” the teenager said. “My mind can’t be racing about other things.”
“It’s her Zen,” added Karan, who stood next to her granddaughter.
The event has become a fun social outing for friends Eileen Curran, 80, of West Islip, Susan Forbes, 91, of Brightwaters, and Betty McGovern, 65, of North Babylon.
Forbes has made themed hats for the past three years. First year, flower. Second, birds and feather. This year, it's chicken. Each woman on Sunday wore a 1-foot-tall hat resembling a rooster sitting on straws, with its brim decorated with gold-colored eggs.
The women said they liked horses and the variety of the merchandise at the high-end shops. But their favorite part of the show is seeing families bonding over a shared passion and the dedication and sportsmanship they exhibited during the competitions.
“It’s gratifying to see everybody doing what they have a passion for,” McGovern said.