Four-week equestrian festival
brings thousands to Traverse City
By Kelsey Lauer 7/13/09
Imagine having $250,000 in your pocket. Can you picture yourself spending
it on a horse?
Thats the average price for an equine at the four-week Horse Shows by the
Bay Equestrian Festival, where some horses have recently sold for as much
as $1 million. The horse show will be held for its sixth year at the
80-acre Flintfields Horse Park off Bates Road in Williamsburg, July 8-Aug.
More than 3,000 riders are coming from all over the U.S. to compete for
$395,000 in prizes in three different disciplines: hunters, jumpers and
dressage. And with a polo match and special events for spectators, theres
plenty to do and see -- regardless of whether or not you are familiar with
Following are some of the events at Horse Shows by the Bay:
HUNTERS VS. JUMPERS
Whats the difference between a High Junior/Amateur Show Jumping Prix and
the Show Hunter Derby? Youll see both terms hunter and jumper used to
describe events listed on the festival schedule.
Both disciplines involve a horse-and-rider sailing over a jump of an
intimidating height, thats where the resemblance ends. So whats the
A hunter competes over jumps from two-feet, six inches to four feet in
height and is judged on style, motion and way of going. Because the hunter
discipline originated from foxhunting, the horse should effect a safe and
Consistency counts for hunters; ideally, the horse should jump every time
in a manner identical to the prior jump.
For jumpers also known as show jumping speed is what counts, rather
than style. The object of the game is to jump over a series of jumps in an
allotted amount of time without knocking down any jumps.
A show jumping class consists of two different rounds. The primary focus
of the first round is to clear all of the jumps within 90 seconds. Only
competitors who have gone clear in the first round may compete in the
second round, which lasts 45 seconds. Jump heights are commonly raised,
and some jumps are usually eliminated.
The jump height varies depending on the difficulty of the class. At Horse
Shows by the Bay, jump heights range from three feet to four feet, nine
The hunter-jumper series runs July 8-26 and includes classes such as the
weekly $30,000 Grand Prix, four $5,000 hunter classics and a $15,000 UHJA
International Hunter Derby Classic.
Meaning to train in French, dressage is one of the most artistic equine
disciplines. Sometimes referred to as horse ballet, precision is the
Horse and rider perform a series of predetermined movements -- known as a
dressage test -- in perfect unison. Ideally, the signals that the rider
gives to the horse will remain absolutely invisible.
The difficulty of movements varies depending upon the level of the
dressage test. Examples of upper level movements include tempi flying
changes, which resemble skipping, and piaffe, during which the horse
marches in place.
Dressage by the Bay runs July 29-Aug. 1. New this year will be a musical
freestyle dressage competition on Saturday, Aug. 1 at 5 p.m., which
differs from normal dressage in that it is performed to music and that
riders may decide which movements they want to use in their performance.
Music -- chosen by the rider -- is selected to fit with the horses
movement and riders preference and ranges from classical to rock.
Back on the schedule for its second year is the Polo by the Bay
Tournament, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 2 at 2 p.m.
Co-ed polo teams sponsored by Team Elmers and Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel
will face off against each other. Each team consists of specially-trained
horses and riders from the Grand Rapids area.
Also returning is the Hat Contest, which judges the creativity and flair
of spectators hats. The owners of the four most creative hats will split
$400 in cash prizes.
One of the oldest team sports, polo is similar to field hockey, but takes
place on horseback and uses long-handled mallets and a wooden ball in
place of a hockey stick and puck.
More than 3,000 attended last years match, the first of its kind to be
held in Northern Michigan.
DOGGY COSTUME PARADE
If you tire of the horses, enjoy some laughs at the Doggy Costume Parade &
Contest on July 18 at 2 p.m. Five categories include Best Couple (owner
and dog), Best Celebrity look-a-like, Best Group (three or more dogs),
Best Dressed (rescue only) and Most Original.
Proceeds from the event benefit the AC Paw Animal Rescue. The contest is
sponsored by Northern Michigan Veterinary Hospital in Acme; the prizes
were donated by D.O.G. Bakery and Posh Pet Boutique, both located in
Mystery of the Horse ...why we fall in love
By Kelsey Lauer
Do you know that little girl who asks, Can we keep a horse in our
suburban backyard, Mommy? I was one of them.
But most girls grow out of their desire for a 1,000-pound horse. I didnt.
I started taking horseback riding lessons when I was eight years old, 12
years ago. Im still as addicted to horses as I was the day that I started
To this day, Im not sure what exactly it is that still draws me to them.
Maybe its the sheer beauty when a 1,000-pound animal allows you to get on
its back and move with it in perfect unity. Maybe its the spirit a horse
exhibits when she runs and kicks and bucks in the wind that precedes a
coming thunderstorm. And maybe its merely the tickle of whiskers when
they siphon the umpteenth carrot out of your hand and come back for more.
(A horse does, after all, tend to eat like a horse).
My own first horse, Perky, is no exception when it comes to inhaling
carrots, as well as peppermints, sandwiches, grapes, Skittles and just
about anything else you offer her. As you might expect from her name,
Perky, who is an 18-year-old Arabian mare (female), is one of the resident
personalities at the stable where I keep her.
In horse years, her age is approaching the upper end of middle age, but
someone seems to have neglected to tell her that. Her latest nickname is
beautiful brat, given by the vet when Perky refused to allow her to
check her teeth. Its my favorite nickname that shes acquired in her time
with me, although Marezilla isnt far behind.
When we first met in March 2006 during my junior year of high school,
things didnt go so smoothly. Perky was a world away from the saintly old
mare I had leased for the past four years (that same mare is now used to
give lessons to six-year-olds). That mare would put up with anything;
Perky knew perfectly well that she was the one in charge, and because I
didnt understand the way to signal to her, I was just along for the ride.
Her favorite trick was to forget how to stop. I would ask her to come to
a halt; she would merrily keep on moving, completely ignoring me.
Riding away from the barn was just about impossible, and the first horse
show we tried to participate in was an unmitigated disaster (think moving
too quickly on slippery mud, while lacking brakes). I stayed on the horse,
but it was made obvious that we needed a change.
AN UPWARD TURN
From there, however, our partnership took an upward turn. A few stepped-on
toes, slobber-covered fingers and months later, we were placing at the
regional meet for my last year on my high school equestrian team and were
well on our way to mastering the difficult skill of stopping.
What I have with her today is a stronger partnership than Ive had with
any other horse Ive ridden. She follows me around like a dog, comes when
shes called and neighs to say hello (the canine resemblance is becoming
rather eerie). When we ride, I would swear that she reacts to my very
thought, and we can ride just about anywhere together.
She still has a few of her old quirks, like drinking water out of the hose
when getting a bath and flirting with the resident stallion. The fitness
water, Propel, has been added to her list of favored human foods, too, and
she goes nuts trying to get to a bottle.
But thats what makes her Perky, and I think, like it or not, shes here
to stay for a while.
I still dont know what it was that attracted me to horses in the first
place, or what it is that keeps me going back to them day after day.
Perhaps its the majesty and innate sense of awe that a beautiful horse
inspires, or the sense of accomplishment when a 1,000-pound animal obeys
your every thought.
Maybe its simply laughing when youre trying to pull your ponytail out of
a curious horses mouth. It can be all of the above, or none of the above,
depending on the day. Its something different for everyone, but what
attracts us is all the same: that beautiful being known as a horse.
Kelsey Lauer is the Express summer intern.