here’s always a distinct moment in September where the season starts to turn and it very suddenly feels like fall. Looking up, you notice the leaves have begun transforming from bright green to a rich burnt orange, rusty red and vivid yellow. Soon, your softest sweaters and puffy vests start to make their way to the front of the closet. The horses’ coats soften, hinting at the beginnings of a fuzzy winter coat. Autumn often feels fleeting, but show jumping riders and fans can’t help but slow down and celebrate the coming season at the historic American Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, New York.
Fresh off her gold medal trip to the World Equestrian Games, Adrienne Sternlicht – who is based at McLain Ward’s Castle Hill Farm just down the road in Brewster – knows how to make the most of a day at her hometown show. From a hot morning brew at a local shop to lunch with friends to the comforts of home, Adrienne soaks up everything the AGC has to offer.
Hot Drinks at Hayfields
Born out of a passion for gardening and love for the endearing visuals of country life (think a field of freshly baled hay, perfectly spaced rows of corn, happily grazing livestock and friendly neighborhood farmers) Renea Dayton and her husband opened Hayfields Market in North Salem. The cafe and market, currently decorated with an array of pumpkins, squash and gourds of all colorful kinds, have a distinctly sweet, small town vibe. Visit the garden center, pick up some fresh produce or relax on the patio with a good book and a freshly made pastry.
Adrienne is a frequent patron at Hayfields, whether or not Gold Cup is going on. “I go to Hayfields probably five times a week!” She tries not to drink more than one cup of coffee in the morning so at Hayfields she opts for a robust English breakfast tea with almond milk.
"Normally I like to get lunch for my team there. In the afternoons I really like their salads and soup selection. My grooms really like the panini sandwiches. It’s the closest place with gourmet options. They have really delicious food and cute atmosphere. Sometimes we go and sit for a barn lunch. It’s part of the family environment that we have at Castle Hill.”
A Relaxed Routine
From Hayfields it’s back to Old Salem Farm where Adrienne feels at ease despite the pressure of competition. Familiarity is a comfort when riding at a high level. Being a frequent flyer at AGC, Adrienne knows the lay of the land at Old Salem Farm.
“I have my routine that is specific to that show, like where I like to sit and park. It seems silly but it makes a difference. Especially on a big day.”
It’s nice, too, for the horses because it’s a quick trip from home. The national horses are able to go home at the end of each day and turn out or relax in their own stalls. Adrienne herself will exercise horses on the show grounds in the morning and then zip back to Castle Hill and ride the horses there before afternoon classes.
Riding for the Hometown Crowd
"North Salem is very horse friendly environment. It’s one of the few areas that feels like a niche pocket of horse lovers and people who know and understand the sport. I think that’s an added quality to being home. It’s a nurturing show for us,” Adrienne says.
“It has that little bit of added pressure or sort of expectation of wanting to perform for the home crowd, but it’s special. It does mark the transition to indoor season but more so the culmination of the summer’s work. In the States after the Hampton Classic, AGC is really the target for the month of September.”
A deluge of rain forced officials to adjust the schedule and have horses jump on the all weather footing for a portion of the competition. Typically they warm up on the footing and compete on a gorgeous grass field.
“We have one of the most beautiful fields in the U.S. to jump on. Despite all the rain they were able to get us out on the field Saturday and Sunday which was nice.”
Return of Alan Wade
World Equestrian Games course designer Alan Wade was commended for his Championship courses last month. He turned right around after Tryon and treated riders to great tracks at AGC, too.
“He’s my favorite course builder. He’s unbelievable. It was a very different feel he was building for from one event to the other. As a rider I love the challenge and I think I rise to that. I thought the courses at WEG were some of the best courses I’ve ever jumped – for sure the most challenging. He obviously had a condition to be aware of when he was building at Gold Cup, but he always tests the horses and riders without compromising anything.”
Horse show weather is notoriously unpredictable and erratic, but you can count on a chilly fall breeze at AGC and vendors come prepared to outfit anyone looking to add another layer.
“Fall is my favorite season. With indoors you don’t get to experience it as much. It’s great that we can have that fall feeling while jumping at Gold Cup. Everyone has their beanies and down layers on. It’s cozy."
Being so close to home, Adrienne is able to truly relax in the evenings. “We’re on the road so much so it’s really nice to sleep in your own bed and not feel rushed in the evenings.”
With a number of competitors lodging at Castle Hill, the show affords an opportunity to play host for friends and share all your favorite things about your town. “It’s a really nice gathering point and to see friends you haven’t seen in months.”
Above all, she can visit with her WEG partner Cristalline, now on a well deserved holiday, at the end of each day. And there’s simply nothing better than that.
Photography by Dani Maczynski.