No one will blame you if you are of the opinion that the annual Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton is only a velvet-rope event reserved for the rich and famous. All those party pictures of glossy-haired, well-heeled attendees sipping rosé and hob-nobbing in the VIP tents, right?
But did you know it’s only 20 bucks to get in?
“It’s affordable! People are always surprised by that,” says Shanette Barth Cohen, the executive director for the Hampton Classic for the past 18 years. Yes, it’s one part a glittery social affair with excellent opportunity for star gazing, but it’s an annual community and athletic event attended by tens of thousands of horse fans well worth checking out.
It’s also become the gold-star standard for better treatment of the beautiful creatures it features, as well as the humans who ride them.
“We’ve long been a leader for horse and human welfare,” says Barth Cohen. “We were the first to prohibit the training technique called poling, which is entirely banned in the sport now.” Poling was a training tool that, for all intents and purposes, scared horses into jumping higher by using a bamboo pole held across a jump and then lifted to tap the horse on the legs when it was airborne, making it think it hit the barrier it was trying to clear.
They also instilled standard protocol like having a dedicated lunging supervisor on hand to make sure the animals aren’t harmed or overworked during cantering exercises — something many other jumping shows now insist on as well — and requiring anyone on horseback to wear a helmet for safety.
“A lot of these things eventually became rules of the Federation,” says Barth Cohen, referring to the Fédération Équestre Internationale, the international governing organization for equestrian sports.
The 60 acres of showgrounds in Bridgehampton attracts upwards of 50,000 spectators every year since its modern inception in 1976, moving from a local horse show that began around the turn of the last century in Southampton to an international event that attracts Olympic and other high-profile competition athletes.
But it’s also a place where amateurs compete, too — which is how Barth Cohen came to the sport, starting at the tender age of eight and competing all through her college years. “[The Hampton Classic] was my favorite horse show as a competition,” she says.
Indeed, there are somewhere around 1,300 competitors ranging in age from two to 70, both professional and amateur. They are spread among over 200 separate competitions, which are further broken down into jumping and hunter division classes, competing for awards that range from around $100 all the way to the coveted $425,000 Grand Prix prize.
“The horses and the humans are so impressive and really mesmerizing — they’re true atheletes. Even for people who’ve never had exposure to the sport, once they see it in person, it captivates them,” Barth Cohen says. “It’s one of the things I’m very proud of. Having the community who have no connection to the sport coming here and being introduced [to the sport]. Many even wind up taking riding lessons after because it’s a sport that you can start recreationally at any age.”
It’s also a pretty great day-long (or many days-long) thing to mark on your calendar, with a multitude of family-friendly, date-friendly and just plain equine-engrossing activities over the course of the Classic. In addition to the horse and pony-centric events (FYI: a pony is 14 and a half hands — a hand is 8 inches — and a horse is considered anything taller than that), the Hampton Classic includes daily pony rides for kids (which are free for kids under 12 on Saturday, September 2 — line up early!), to a shopper’s paradise of clothing, baubles, home decor, art and equestrian-themed treats, and food vendors shelling out fresh oysters, lobster rolls and a multitude of other satiating delights.
And if you ever thought you wanted a horse of your own, come on down Monday for Adoption Day, where EQUUS partners up with the Hampton Classic to adapt out ponies and horses that need homes from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hunter Ring 2, or find a smaller furry friend at the dog and cat adoption in the Kids Tent from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.. (Bonus: Admission and parking on Monday is free.)
For the rest of the week, tickets start at $20 cash per car at the entry gate at 240 Snake Hollow Road in Bridgehampton (that’s right — you can pack in all your friends for a couple of sawbucks!). On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, senior citizens and members and veterans of the military may enter for free, as can anyone who brings three or more imperishable food items for donation to local food pantries (“Bring three cans of beans and you’re in!” laughs Barth Cohen). For $60, you can nab a seat for the Grand Prix on Sunday, September 3 at 2 p.m. Get yours here. And of course, if you want to spend some big bucks on a VIP experience, there are still some tables left in the glitterati section — check here for information on availability and pricing.
“Come and plan to spend a lot of time with us — there’s so much to do and see at the Classic! Food trucks, great shopping, wonderful sports – come and make a day of it,” says Barth Cohen. ”