The Hampton Classic horse show celebrated its 40th anniversary Sunday, continuing a rite of summer that draws champion equestrians, celebrities, vacationing VIPs, and the young pony-riding set to Bridgehampton for a week.
Afternoon drizzle didn't interrupt the first day of show jumping and equitation events. The Classic, once a small, informally judged social affair, is now a Hamptons ritual and an international competition. The show attracts 60,000 spectators during the week to watch more than 100 classes, including Olympic-level riders and disabled children. About 500 riders and 1,600 horses are expected.
"It's a totally different horse show," said Bobby Ginsberg, 51, a trainer at Campbell Stables in Bridgehampton who has come to the Classic since the late 1970s and has students competing this week. He recalled one year when a local winery was the key sponsor and horses jumped over large wine barrels.
The top sponsor this year is luxury watchmaker Longines and, for those less inclined to watch the competition, there are about 80 high-end boutique shops and local food vendors, including one selling $12 crepes.
"It's definitely a horse show that people have on their calendar," Ginsberg said.
The Classic ends next Sunday with the $250,000 Grand Prix jumping competition that attracts horses and riders from around the world.
The Classic began as a successor to the Southampton Horse Show. Marty Bauman, media officer for the event, said the competition has become "not only one of the most respected horse shows in this country, but in the world."
For trainers with farms on Long Island, the Hampton Classic is the "Super Bowl," said Jay Strong, co-owner of Laurel Crown Farms in East Quogue. "It's a big show to start, and it's right here in our backyard," he said.
The Classic also caps a season of training for children who stay in the Hamptons over the summer. Many trainers return to Florida in the winter, where they have horse farms.
"The kids work toward this all year-round," said Erin Stewart, 31, the lead trainer of Gray Horse Farm in Southampton. Her students are to compete in the lead line, pony hunter and adult jumpers competitions.
Many top riders who could not attend last year because of a conflict with the World Equestrian Games in France, have returned. They include McLain Ward of Brewster and Beezie Madden of upstate Cazenovia, members of the 2004 and 2008 Gold Medal U.S. Olympic teams. Madden was the first woman to make more than $1 million in show jumping. featured Long Island horses and riders, except for contests in the Grand Prix ring, including lead-line classes for children as young as 2.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) watched his granddaughter, KatieMae Sweeney, 7, ride in the lead-line classes.
, as did Jerry Seinfeld's daughter, Sascha, and Billy Joel's wife, Alexis.
Lucia Hwong Gordon, who lives in Manhattan and Southampton, has attended for nearly 20 years, and her twin daughters rode here as early as 2 years old. For her, the show highlights a growing community of horse lovers and is a quintessential "Hamptons activity."
"It's one of the highlights of the summer," she said.