Summer Festival organizer holding high hopes for this summer's event

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EAST DORSET — Despite the ongoing social distancing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 virus, the organizer of one of the area's biggest summer events is holding out hope the event can still go forward.

Organizers for the Vermont Summer Festival announced the festival's prize money offerings for this year's event.

But the Vermont Summer Festival's Brett Waters said the festival's summer event is completely dependent on many things that are out of their control.

"We are making plans as if we're going to have the horse show for this summer knowing there will be specific protocols in place for social distancing and other restrictions," Waters said by phone from Florida.

Planning for the show

"We have been in contact with the governor of Vermont and state Sen. Brian Campion and we're working closely with them as well as United States Equestrian Federation," Waters said.

She said the USEF currently has a ban on horse shows through May 31.

"Hopefully that won't be extended beyond the 31st, then we're just dealing with state and federal restrictions," Waters said.

Through conversations with the governor's office and state officials, the show's owners are "hopeful" Waters said that the show might be able to be held with modifications to meet restrictions.

"They're telling us that we're asking the right questions in order to proceed," she said. "That state is working with us. They're trying. At this point, everybody seems to be hopeful and optimistic."

Waters said Campion has been helpful in putting the show's organizers in touch with the right state officials to get the best information.

Thomas Beebe, owner of the Beebe Farm where the Vermont Summer Festival is held, posted on Facebook recently a decision on whether to hold the event or not could wait as late as June 1.

"If things don't get back open by then, then he will have no choice but to cancel this summer," Beebe's post on Facebook read. "So let's hope everything can get opened up by then."

Waters couldn't comment on the June 1 date, but said it takes at least a month to get the site prepared for the festival with all of the preparations for the grounds, the performance rings.

"We need to have enough time to set stuff up and convert it from a field to a horse show," Waters said. "This is just the normal time frame. We're on schedule. We can pretty much go another month before we need to be there [in Vermont]."

Prizes announced

This year's prize list for the show, which is scheduled to run from June 30 to Aug. 9 at the Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, includes prize money in hunter, jumper and equitation divisions, including its popular "Equitation Tuesdays" program.

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In the hunter ring, the weekly $5,000 3-foot, 3-inch NEHJA Hunter Derby held each Thursday will lead up to a $15,000 purse in week six. World Champion Hunter Rider points will once again be on offer during the third week of competition.

For show jumping competitors, highlights include the $10,000 Open Welcome held each Thursday. A $30,000 Grand Prix, held the first five Saturdays of the six-week circuit, will culminate in the $50,000 Grand Prix on the final weekend.

Making Saturdays even more special, the Vermont Summer Festival is introducing a new $5,000 1.25-meter Open Jumper Classic to be held each Saturday.

As part of the 30th anniversary of the Marshall & Sterling League, the Vermont Summer Festival has been selected as one of only eight "Gold Circle Shows" throughout the country.

This designation gives Vermont Summer Festival competitors an opportunity to earn triple points in the Marshall & Sterling League during the first two weeks of the circuit, June 30 to July 5 and July 7 to 12.

"Thanks to committed sponsors, new supporters, and loyal competitors, the Vermont Summer Festival is optimistic about gearing up for another successful season," said John Ammerman, manager of the Vermont Summer Festival, in a news release. "The staff is working tirelessly to deliver an event that checks all the boxes for our athletes, and their health and safety is always our No. 1 concern. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on an ongoing basis and make any adjustments necessary."

Impact on economy

An economic impact study held a few years back pegged the show's impact on the Northshire at between $15 million and $18 million.

It brings between 3,000 and 4,000 horses, each accompanied by one to seven people, to East Dorset over the six-week festival to compete, Waters said.

Spectators' fees generate money for local charities.

"People look forward to showing in Vermont all year," Waters said. "For most of our exhibitors, it's their favorite place to be. How could you not be happy there, it's a beautiful place, a beautiful town. It's picturesque and perfect."

Waters said the horse show wants to be in the East Dorset, Dorset and Manchester area.

"We love the Manchester community," Waters said. "We're really hopeful to get to have our horse show, not only for us but for them too. We feel like that's our summer home. We really love it there and feel like we're part of it too."

For now, Waters said, they're waiting to see what happens next.

"We wait to hear back from the state of Vermont at this point to open," Waters said. "We're waiting for the green light."

She said if they get bad news, they'll shut it down for the year, but they remain hopeful at this point.

"If they tell us to shut it down, we're not going to continue," she said. "I don't feel like that's what they're going to tell us. Everything has been very upbeat coming from [the state]."


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