Growth of FEI Competition in USA Extends to the Historic Upperville Horse Show

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iding beneath the shade of towering oaks on the grounds of the oldest horse show in the United States is a tradition like no other, and as the 163rd Upperville Colt and Horse Show, in Upperville, Virginia, continues through this weekend, riders and organizers have a new reason to celebrate.

Impressively, the historic venue gained FEI 4* status this year after over a decade of nationsal standard, giving it a needed boost amidst the growing number of shows in the U.S. and abroad offering a higher range of prize money and FEI ranked classes. Determined to maintain its history while providing the present day standards and opportunities of the country’s top show venues, Mike Smith, chairman of the board of the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, commenced a six-year long effort to create a more modern and more world-class experience to a show rich in tradition that had been in danger of losing traction.

FEI recognition is a game changer in many ways. Competition-wise, Upperville’s top three jumper classes have leaped into the global big time and with the help of board member Tracey Weinberg, sponsorship for the hunter and jumper divisions nearly tripled in the last three years in anticipation of the FEI rating. In addition to an increase in prize money, upgrades to the show grounds include improvements to the current footing and rings and all new amenities for spectators and exhibitors alike.

The nation’s top hunter/jumper riders will continue to pilgrimage to America’s oldest horse show but with the improvements to the venue already completed, Mike Smith is excited to unveil the show, continuing through Sunday, June 12, like the nation’s never seen and appeal to a whole new target group of riders.

Smith tells us the response has already been tremendous and feels confident that Upperville will regain a reputation as a premier venue and an unmissable stop on show jumping calendars.

Q: It’s been 11 years since Upperville offered FEI classes. What’s the single biggest factor that contributed to it regaining FEI status?
A: The growth in the quality of the show has contributed to this status. Over the past few years, much of the show has changed as far as infrastructure—new rings, new footing and other improvements throughout the show have made it a world-class venue that’s worthy of international attention and competition.

Q: Can you describe the six-year refurbishment campaign in detail, and how it’s helped?
A: We first took on the quality of footing and the rings. The show is in the same venue where it occurred in 1853, which presented the challenge of maintaining the historic venue while providing all of the necessary modernization. We also upgraded the spectator areas and put in a club with VIP seating, upgraded wi-fi and other technology capabilities. Fortunately, we did not need to do anything to improve the views or the overall setting as the show is situated in a spectacular area of Virginia horse country.  It has all come together to become a world-class show for riders, horses, spectators and sponsors.

Q: The topic of riders going to Europe to seek a higher level of competition is not new. Yet it bears addressing as more and more FEI dates are added to the American East Coast summer calendar. What are your thoughts on the situation?
A: This is one of the things we took into consideration when we chose to upgrade the show. We’re hoping that more riders will stay in the U.S. and that our show will become as important and as beneficial for riders as many of those in Europe.

Q: How does an organization go from “zero to four star”, i.e. how did Upperville management pull off such a big step up in rating?
A: We worked diligently to get everything in place first. We wanted to make sure we were ready and that our improvements were so significant that we’d get the attention of top riders. We also wanted our competitors and potential competitors to know that we’re serious about making this a top competition.

Q: Can you explain in detail Upperville’s designation as the USA’s oldest show? What is the history associated with it? How would you describe Upperville to riders who have never been there?
A: The Upperville Colt and Horse Show began in 1853 as a one-day show with two Confirmation classes—one for colts and one for fillies.  This was at a time when there were not horse shows as we know them. The initial intent was to encourage better breeding of horses through competition.  The founder of the show, Colonel Richard Dulany, a local resident of the Upperville, Va. area, later went to Manhattan to consult with silversmith Louis Tiffany to get suitable trophies for the show.  Tiffany donated the labor on the trophies and only charged for the silver.  One of the trophy cups is still in the possession of a local resident.

The initial show created so much interest and there were so many entries that a sponsoring club was formed, the Upperville Union Club.  As time went on and the show grew, more days were added and it became a weeklong AA Rated show. The show tied in area charities and, even today, still gives back to area charities.
For anyone who has never been to the Upperville Horse Show, it’s an experience unlike any other show in the U.S. We’re only 40 minutes from a major international airport and Washington, D.C. is only an hour to the east of the show. And as I mentioned before, the location and scenery are unparalleled. Looking across the rings and watching the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains is something you won’t find anywhere else.  Add in well-run classes with more than 1500 horse/rider combinations throughout the week, the top footing in the country, elaborate spectator (rider, trainer, owner) venues, and close-by quaint villages and towns and you have a show that is unlike anything else in the U.S.

Go to Upperville.com for more.

-Source: Krisin Stine for NoelleFloyd.com