DORSET — The horses are back — and so are their two-legged companions.
The Vermont Summer Festival began Wednesday at Harold Beebe Farm on Route 7 in East Dorset, with jumping and equitation competitions running through Aug. 14.
The horse jumping competition, in its second year as a property of Saugerties, N.Y.-based HITS LLC, is rated a Premier/4 event by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the sport’s governing body. That makes it a national event, drawing some of the best riders and horses in the country. Each week of competition is capped by a grand prix event on Sunday with a $40,000 first prize.
In addition to a significant economic impact on the region, the Vermont Summer Festival also provides area nonprofit groups with opportunities to raise money on weekends; admission is otherwise free.
Proceeds from weekend admission fees are distributed between three area nonprofit organizations: Manchester Community Library, Northshire Day School and Boy Scout Troop 332, event spokesperson Rebecca Walton said.
That admission price is $10 for guests 13 and older, $5 for kids ages 5 to 12 and free for kids up to 5 years old.
The library appreciates the partnership, and welcomes equestrians and their guests to stop by and take part in programs while they’re visiting the Northshire, said Sally Hespe, the library’s advancement director.
“As a partner of the horse show for more than a decade, we appreciate the opportunity to raise funds to support children and families in our area,” Hespe said, “and also encourage our members and neighbors to check out this great family friendly activity and breathtaking sport.”
In 2021, the effort raised nearly $7,000, Hespe said.
Visitors will note some improvements to the facilities at Harold Beebe Farm, Walton said. There’s added parking, and facility-wide Wi-Fi is available. There are also new Adirondack chairs deployed across the property, so folks can rest their feet and enjoy the sunshine and mountain views. A coffee trailer is joining the array of food and beverage options.
Also new this year is a VIP tent set up in the middle of the action, between the hunter and grand prix rings, for purchase on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
For the human and equine athletes competing this summer, there’s one more important addition: New drainage has been installed in the show rings to make the footing more reliable.
“These horses compete rain or shine, so we want the rings to drain appropriately so the footing is as safe as possible,” Walton said.
“There are going to be riders competing from all over the country at this event,” she added.
The course design and way riders partner with their horses are aspects to watch, Walton said.
“A super experienced rider might have more faults than a less experienced rider, because they’re on a young horse,” she said. “And a younger athlete just stepping up to that level is learning from the horse.”
There are three main disciplines in show riding: Equitation, in which riders show their mastery of form; jumper, in which horses are taken through a challenging course of jumps; and hunter, which is inspired by fox hunting traditions and is judged subjectively on how horse and rider handle the obstacles.
Show jumping greatly depends on how the designer sets up the course, and how it tests the horse and rider’s ability to adjust stride length between jumps, as well as clearing the jumps cleanly.
The first round of runs isn’t timed — that’s saved for ensuing run-offs between horses who completed the first round cleanly. The hunter class is “not about speed at all,” Walton said. “It’s actually quite slow — it’s all about the beauty of the horse and how they jump the fences.”
Equitation, which judges contestants on horsemanship and riding skill, will be featured on Tuesdays, with hunter derbies and grand prix show jumping taking center stage on Sundays.
Walton said the show is also partnering with local groups for off-campus events at Hildene, Southern Vermont Arts Center, Bromley Mountain and JK Adams. And the horse show will be hosting a “Taste of Vermont” event on Aug. 6.
It’s estimated that two to three people accompany each animal competing in equestrian competitions, according to Walton. With 1,000 horses expected in the field each week, that’s easily 2,000 to 3,000 visitors to the Northshire weekly, staying in local hotels and homes, shopping in area stores and eating in local restaurants.
Hespe said the library is looking for volunteers to staff the show on weekends. Interested persons should call her at 802-549-4579.