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Changes made to Hampton Classic schedule

McLain Ward, riding Sapphire, won the Hampton Classic

McLain Ward, riding Sapphire, won the Hampton Classic FTI Grand Prix. (Sept. 5, 2010) Credit: Shawn McMillen

Tropical Storm Irene, which turned life upside down for millions this past  August -- more than half a million Long Islanders lost power -- also caused changes at the Hampton Classic, the big fall horse show where tents were taken down and three days of planned events were rescheduled.

Now, the horse show’s directors have taken a second look at what happened, and decided it’s time to make some of those schedule changes permanent.

One of the biggest changes will be moving the $50,000 United States Hunter Jumper Association’s international hunter derby to opening day in the Grand Prix ring, just after the traditional $20,000 Nicolock Time Challenge, usually scheduled in the afternoon after opening ceremonies.

“It’s become very popular. People were glued to the rail last year,” Hampton Classic executive director Shanette Barth Cohen said of the hunter derby. “The audience is becoming more sophisticated.”

But last year, the derby took place far from the center ring, making it difficult for many people to even follow what was happening.

Hunters in competition go over a course designed to mimic the conditions that would be seen during a field hunt, and their jumps are over rails, across boards painted to look like stone fences, and over ditches.

And they are judged not only on their time and the number of rails they knock down, but also on the horse’s attitude and appearance as the pair go over the course.

Still, making changes in a horse show that lasts a week, draws about 50,000 people and brings about 1,600 horses to the Classic grounds in Bridgehampton isn’t easy.

The riders will get a chance to walk around the jumps on the course on Aug. 25, before the show opening on Aug. 26, which means horses have to be stabled on Aug. 24.

And that has pushed the lead line events -- young riders get to sit in the saddle and are walked around the ring -- to the last day of the Classic, Sept. 2.

Photo: McLain Ward, riding Sapphire, won the Hampton Classic FTI Grand Prix. in September 2010.

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