EAST DORSET — The Vermont Summer Festival horse show received 1,500 bales of hay and 1,000 bags of grain to feed the many horses that will travel here to compete this summer, and Lindsay Brock said that is only the beginning. More food will be delivered throughout the festival, which runs through Aug. 11, and which hosts anywhere from 500 to 1,000 horses per week along with riders, grooms, families and spectators.
The show is staged at the Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset.
Brock, a representative for the festival, said it takes a lot of effort to get it up and running.
“That property is basically a field for the rest of the year,” she said. “Everything on the property is brought in by tractor-trailers, and then the day after the festival, it will have to be broken down and taken away.”
The rings where the horses and riders compete require meticulous set up as well, and event managers monitor the consistency of the ground to make sure conditions are ideal for jumping.
“Footing in the ring is very important,” Brock said. “They have put (in) a lot of work before the start of the season to get the footing ready.”
According to Brock, it takes 750 tons of sand mixed with 80,000 pounds of the fabric fiber to set up the rings.
Germaine Dougherty, professional horse rider and trainer who was last at the festival in 2015, said the footing this year is better than she remembers. Dougherty is at the festival with her own horses, and several of her clients are in attendance with theirs. She said she enjoys the event.
“It definitely has a lot of character,” she said. “They do a nice job dressing up the grounds and the rings to make it inviting and aesthetically pleasing.”
Dougherty has been riding horses for 30 years, and she recommends new spectators check out the Welcome Kickoff every Thursday and the Grand Prix at 1 p.m. every Saturday.
“Your best bet is to watch the bigger jumper classes,” she said. “They are judged objectively, so it’s based on racing around the course. It’s a clean round, leaving the jumps up, and the one that can do it the fastest wins. So it’s easy to understand, easy to follow, and it’s more exciting to watch.”
Dougherty competed in the Grand Prix, but not every rider at the festival competes in the biggest events. Riders span from seasoned pros to 5-year-olds who compete in the leadline events, and many in between.
Brett Taylor is one of the riders in between. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up riding horses, but it was not until later in his life that he tried riding English style.
“As a kid, I rode Western, and then on my 45th birthday, I took my first English lesson, and it’s so hard, I got (angry). And I was like, ‘I’m coming back tomorrow,’” he said. “It turned into a bit of an obsession.”
Despite the challenges of getting into English-style competitions late in the game, Taylor enjoys riding at festivals. He said his favorite part is spending time with the team that trains his horses up in Ontario.
The Vermont Summer Festival is the biggest sporting event in the state in terms of prize money, with $750,000 awarded throughout the summer. The event generates revenue for the state as well, as a recent report by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont showed. According to the report, equine tourism brings more than $15 million to Vermont in the form of direct spending. According to Brock, the Vermont Summer Festival contributes heavily to that revenue flow.
For those who want to see big prizes awarded at events, Brock recommends attending the last week of the festival.
“Our last week is super-exciting because that’s the biggest prize of the season,” she said, explaining that the Grand Prix that week has a $50,000 prize.
“We love it when people come out and watch the horses and experience what we do there,” she said.