The Central Park Horse Show Should Open Its Doors to All

CPHS-3It was revealed this week that organizers of the Rolex Central Park Horse Show have once again set ticket prices at an astronomical $250.00 for general admission to feature classes during the four-day event from 23rd – 27th September in New York City, New York.

General admission tickets for $30 or $50 are available to watch hunters, Arabians or equestrian exhibitions during daytime events, but I was disappointed to see that the average spectator has once again been priced out of the top of the sport.

I attended the inaugural edition of the Central Park Horse Show last fall. What an incredible thing it was to see show jumping horses make their way down the shady paths of Central Park amid the people of New York City. As on most days during the fall months, Central Park is both a quiet respite from the city streets, and a buzz of activity with its own fair share of pedestrians, joggers and tourists enjoying the park.

The warm up arena was some ways away from the show arena, so the aforementioned path that the horses traversed attracted a lot of attention. Most people had no idea why the horses were there, or that a horse show was occurring just steps away, but they all wanted to know more about it. In fact, every passersby I spoke with asked how they could attend the event.

The Central Park Horse Show is in a spectacular setting.
The Central Park Horse Show is in a spectacular setting.

Once you arrived at Wollman Rink, which had been converted to an arena for the week, the setting changed. Central Park’s famous boulders and hills surround the rink, with an iron fence along its perimeter and the rink (converted to arena) set at the bottom and surrounded by several hundred blue stadium seats constructed for the show.

New Yorkers climbed onto the boulders to get a peek into the arena. They stood two and three deep along the iron fence, peering through the bars to where the horses and riders were jumping. What many New Yorkers did not do was pay over $200 per person for a blue plastic stadium seat.

It was a misstep in what was otherwise a successful event. When show organizers Mark Bellissimo and Donald Trump addressed the media after last year’s grand prix, they acknowledged that ticket prices and scheduling needed to be looked into to improve the 2015 show. This year’s schedule has been modified so that the grand prix will not be the first class of the show – last year’s lack of clear rounds in the grand prix was partly blamed on not allowing the horses a chance to get familiar with the unusual setting.

“While the Central Park Horse Show is a massive logistical undertaking put together at no small expense, is it right that the cost of it be passed on to the fans of the sport?”

But the key to a successful event is the crowd it draws. Bellissimo knows this well; at his Saturday Night Lights Grand Prix classes in Wellington, Florida, admission is free. And while the Central Park Horse Show is a massive logistical undertaking put together at no small expense or effort, is it right that the cost be passed on to the fans of the sport?

As I looked up at empty seats last year, I didn’t think so. The irony of such an exclusive environment constructed in one of the world’s most public spaces was lost on no one. A sweeping VIP platform that literally dripped in diamonds and chandeliers offered a bird’s eye view of the arena. It not only attracted the sport’s usual high-profile attendees (Michael Bloomberg, Bruce Springsteen, et. al), it further blocked the view of anyone on the outside of the arena trying to look in on the action.

Maybe things will be different this year. Maybe last year was just a warm up. The buzz from last year’s event is sure to attract more people. The World No. 1 dressage pair Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro will compete in the U.S. Open Dressage Freestyle on Sept 26th, and there are certainly dressage fans out there that would pay more than twice the GA ticket price of the 2012 London Olympics to watch those global superstars perform.

But for a sport that needs all of the inclusivity it can get, it’s a shame to outprice the general public. Opening the doors to all for the Central Park Horse Show would do more to improve its reach and grow equestrian sport in general than making a few dollars on ticket prices ever could. With event sponsors such as Rolex and Land Rover, one would think that would be possible.

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