Horse show lures serious riders

Dressed in riding pants, boots, jacket and helmet, Kaitlin Ward studied her competition Sunday in th

Dressed in riding pants, boots, jacket and helmet, Kaitlin Ward studied her competition Sunday in the jumping ring at the 51st annual St. Clement’s Saratoga Horse Show.

Ward, 22, of Poughkeepsie, had just completed a clean run of the course and qualified for the second round of competition. Her trainer, Leah Epstein of the farm Ithilien Inc., quietly gave her pointers as she watched the other riders run the course.

Ward competed Sunday in the adult jumper division, a competition with a purse of $2,500. She was new to the class, and so was her horse, an 8-year-old gelding named Whisper Jackal.

Ward isn’t new to riding, though; she’s been doing it since she was 8 years old. Nor is she new to riding competitions, having traveled up and down the eastern seaboard nearly every weekend to participate.

Hundreds of horses and riders like

Ward filed into this equine-centric town last weekend for the St. Clement’s Saratoga Horse Show, which benefits St. Clement’s Catholic School, a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade institution in Saratoga Springs. The event typically raises between $60,000 and $100,000 for the school.

Horse shows are split into two main categories: jumpers and hunters. Jumpers compete in a larger ring and are judged based on time and a clean run. The horse that completes the course the fastest without knocking down any gates wins. Hunters are judged more subjectively, by how they look as they clear the hurdles and the number of steps they take throughout the course. The hunter category is not based on time.

Epstein said the jumper division is about agility and athleticism, but also about strategy. The horse that takes the shortest line through the course typically wins.

Ward trains by practicing, a lot. She rides six days a week and her training sessions are mostly repetition, she said.

While competitors in the St. Clement’s Horse Show come from all over, many are from local farms and schools.

Olivia Coco, 17, of Saratoga Springs, a junior at Saratoga High School, was competing Sunday in the junior hunter level. She was riding a 12-year-old thoroughbred named Tipper, who kept nudging her with his nose the closer it got to his turn.

Linda Orton, of Honor Own Farm at Manor Ridge in Hoosick Falls, coaches Coco, who is originally from Vermont.

Coco said her family had a horse farm in Vermont and her passion for horses and riding morphed into competition.

Coco said she typically does well in the divisions she competes in. She got second place out of about 18 competitors in a division Sunday.

The sport is dangerous. Ward suffered a broken thumb last year and riders are frequently falling off their horses and suffering broken wrists.

Deborah Coco, Olivia Coco’s mother, said she was always nervous watching her daughter compete because she typically rode “green” horses, a term that indicates an inexperienced horse. However, Tipper knows what he’s doing, she said.

“An inexperienced horse with a child rider is usually not good,” she said.

Coco said she loves that her daughter has chosen riding as a sport. She said she thinks horsemanship has taught her confidence and is so time consuming that she knows Olivia isn’t getting into any trouble.

About 500 riders participated in the weekend’s event. The number is expected to double this coming weekend. Spectators were few on Sunday, mostly friends and family members of competitors.

Allison Tussey of California and deSaix Hill of Louisiana were both watching the horse show Sunday with their friend Erika Guthinger of West Charlton, who trains horses and riders and had some of her students competing Sunday.

The group of girls who graduated from college together and are all riders said they get together each year in May. This year happened to be the week of the St. Clement’s Horse Show, and Tussey and Hill said they were glad to watch the event despite the bitter cold and wind.

Tussey said the St. Clement’s Horse Show is a big competition and popular among riders. The competition has an AA rating, the highest, through the United States Equestrian Federation. Ratings are based on the amount of money awarded at the competition. One of the highlights of the two-week event, which started Wednesday and will begin again this Wednesday, is the Saratoga Cup, a professional jumper event that includes the best in the field.

Winner of this year’s Saratoga Cup was Darragh Kenny of Wellington, Fla., who rode Gael Force. Kenny also won last year’s cup, according to Maureen LaBelle, president of the horse show committee.

The unusual thing about the St. Clement’s Horse Show is that amateurs like Ward compete on the same course as professionals, except the fences are much lower.

Professionals are hired each year to run the horse show, including judges and grounds crew, but most of the work is still done by volunteers.

“We’re still one of the biggest horse shows that is mostly run by volunteers,” LaBelle said.

Jennifer Thuermen of Vermont, a partner with Honor Own Farms in Hoosick Falls, said she likes the St. Clement’s Horse Show better than the large show in her hometown.

“I probably shouldn’t say that,” she said, “But everything is more contained here and the stables are very nice.”

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply