Her big dark eyes seemed to stare into mine. I wondered what may be going through her mind. She kept shifting her weight from one foot to another as if anticipation was getting the best of her. All I could think of was how beautiful she was. We were both rather shy and I did not know what to say to her. --- Alas, I walked away.
This was Saturday morning at the stables on the grounds of the Blowing Rock Equestrian Preserve in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. This was the 95th year of the annual Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show, the oldest continuous outdoor horse show in the United States.
It is no wonder why Lloyd M. Tate, a horseman from Pinehurst, North Carolina, set up a livery here in the early twentieth century. Blowing Rock is a most enchanting village nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is beautiful anytime of the year, but the summer season is abloom with nature’s flora and fauna, making it a true visual treat. In abundance are snowcap hydrangea, coneflowers, daisies, and butterflies of countless varieties. The air is much cooler than most of the state and beckons visitors who are seeking relief from the summer’s heat.
Mr. Tate’s interest in horses, as well as teaching area youth the skill of riding, led him to create the first Blowing Rock Horse Show in 1923. Since that time, it has become a major event within the circuit of national horse shows. To this accord, it has been awarded the crown of a “Heritage Horse Show” by the United States Equestrian Federation. As there are only 20 such titles in the US, this is quite an honor, indeed. Such a designation is based on the event’s historic value to the sport and philanthropic efforts within the community.
Although I am not an equestrian, I have great admiration for these equine beauties and those who care for them. They are truly magnificent creatures. Today was their day to shine. It was the “Jumping Competition”. I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. Like a kid on Christmas morning, my eyes were wide open and I was wiggling with excitement to see what this was all about.
It did not disappoint.
Great pride is taken in the maintenance and presentation of the grounds. Although the previous week had experienced a deluge of rain, the jumping ring was perfectly groomed and ready for the competition. A total of 15-20 obstacles were strategically placed. These fences are constructed of wooden tree poles suspended at various heights between decorative endcaps. There is an art to this placement. Everything is measured so that a rider and the horse must be able to travel at the rate of 360 yards per minute for courses below 700 yards or 382 yards a minute for courses over 700 yards.
Flowers, potted shrubbery, and evergreen branches are carefully arranged around each obstacle to assist the horse in depth perception. In turn, this helps impede the occurrence of potential “faults”—penalty points for: horse falling, balking, or downing any portion of the fence. It was quite an interesting sight. A skilled course designer must make the field one of accuracy and challenge. This was easily substantiated by the height of each obstacle, its width, and its proximity to the next.
The rider and horse who navigate the course with the least number of faults in the fastest time, wins. ---As simple as that.
This is a competition with elegance. It is easy to sense the English roots of this event. Missing are the cowboy hats and chaps of a “Western” horse show. Instead, riders are adorned in fitted blazers, riding slacks, caps, and knee boots. --- No whoopin’ or hollerin’! Instead, calculated applause. ---- No chuck wagon or barrel races. Instead, premediated courses.
Only the riders are permitted to walk the ring to determine the best course of action for their horse. After a single walk through, they must wait to be called according to the line-up which is determined by a drawing. Once their turn is called, the horse experiences the course for the first and only time. It was most fascinating to view the animals in action. No fear. Pure commitment. This is truly a test of both the horse and the rider: judging skill in timing and jumping ability.
Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show 2018
While the trophy table glittered with silver and crystal, each class also had a purse of $15,000. One could easily sense the pride taken in this event, as a stroll about the barns revealed beautiful displays of ribbons and trophies won by the horses located within. I later found out that a trophy is given for the best display of such winnings!
As if the event, itself, was not enough to entertain those in attendance, a walk about the grounds revealed a collection of retail shops offering the finest in riding apparel and accessories.---Beautiful woolen blankets, leather bridles, and silk cravats seemed to be the offerings of interest. In addition, a collection of luxury automobiles were represented by the event’s sponsors, including: Porsche, Bentley, and Maserati. I couldn’t believe it….. Even an artist was present to offer landscape and pet portraiture!
The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show is more than a sporting event, as proceeds from the three week-end event are shared with such local charities as: Blowing Rock Rotary Club, Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue, Horse Helpers of the High Country, Watauga Humane Society, and Appalachian State University Equestrian Team. It is an event with a purpose. It is an event with a heart.
It was a delight to experience this bit of history and pride.