The Hampton Classic Horse Show: Through the Years

THE HISTORY OF THE HAMPTON CLASSIC

―Story by the Hampton Classic Horse Show, edited by Carina Roselli

In the Hamptons each summer, horses and riding enjoy unprecedented popularity. Since the revival in 1971 of the Southampton Horse Show, and the growth of its successor, the Hampton Classic, the area has seen the return of an equestrian tradition dating back to the turn of the century.

When first organized in the early 1900s, the annual Horse Show in Southampton took place on the sprawling open fields overlooking Lake Agawam. With the outbreak of the First World War the show was discontinued, to be revived again with the advent of the Roaring Twenties. During the next decade, riding and the Horse Show flourished in the Hamptons; with a group of enthusiasts forming the Southampton Riding and Hunt Club in 1922. Construction of the Club began that year on 20 acres of land on the outskirts of town. The stables and other buildings were made with the finest of materials, and were finally completed after six years. When it opened in 1928, the Club was a showpiece for the entire eastern seaboard.

Patronized by wealthy equestrians, the Club hosted the Horse Show through the Depression until the outbreak of World War II. The War and the death of the Club’s founder-led to the end of the Horse Show, and eventually, the Club disbanded; the clubhouse, stables, and horses were sold.

The show was revived in 1952 and was held through 1958, but the glamour and enthusiasm that had distinguished the event in pre-War years were largely absent. Then in 1959, Mrs. Morris Scott Wadley helped to reorganize the show as a fundraiser for Southampton’s Parrish Art Museum, leading to the formal incorporation of the Southampton Horse Show. For several years, the Southampton Horse Show (held at the Stanley Howard Estate in North Sea) and the Horse Show Ball were major social events of the summer.

For several years, the show was dormant, and it seemed that the sixty-year tradition had died. But in the late sixties, horses and riding in the area were again rising in popularity, and those who remembered the colorful days of the Horse Show and Hunt Club in the twenties and the elegant revival of the Show in the early sixties felt that it would be a shame to let the tradition slip away.

The grandstands in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Classic Horse Show.
The grandstands in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Classic Horse Show.

Mrs. Edwin M. Schwenk, Jr. managed to revive the show in 1971, and for several years it was held at the Topping Riding Club in Sagaponack as a fundraiser for the Hampton Day School. At this point, the modern-day Hampton Classic was about to have its genesis.

Through the early years, exhibitors at the Horse Show, as at most shows throughout the country, were made up of wealthy members of high society. Athletic competition was most often of secondary concern to those who had turned out to see and be seen. Horse shows in those days were primarily social gatherings. Judging was a very informal affair. Through the sixties and seventies, shows became more competitive in nature, riding became more sophisticated, and show jumping was growing in popularity.

In 1976 it was suggested by Marie-Christophe de Menil that the Southampton Horse Show be expanded from a local show to a five-day “A” rated event that would include show jumping and attract the top riders and horses in the country. The spacious Dune Alpin Farm in East Hampton was chosen as the site for the newly upgraded Southampton Horse Show. Stabling tents were erected to house horses and equipment, show rings and grandstands were readied. Horses began to arrive two days before the show was to begin―and then,
disaster struck in the form of a hurricane the night before the show was to open. Hundreds of horses were evacuated from the tents, many to take shelter in temporary stabling constructed in the aisle ways and indoor rings of local barns.

In the wake of the hurricane, all the stabling tents had blown down. Undaunted, horse show workers, tent crews, and volunteers all pitched in to resurrect the show―it opened only one and a half days behind schedule. The 1976 Southampton Horse Show has been remembered ever since as the horse show that survived the hurricane, and another tradition was begun―that of violent, meteorological visitations upon the show.

In 1977, the Hampton Classic formally incorporated the Southampton Horse Show and was run as a benefit for the Southampton Hospital. A Grand Prix with a $10,000 purse was offered. The winners of that inaugural Hampton Classic Grand Prix were Bernie Traurig and the great “Southside.” Since that time, the Hampton Classic has grown to be one of the largest hunter/jumper shows in America, with more than 1,400 horses competing annually in over 170 events. The United States Equestrian Team was made an additional beneficiary in 1981, and team officials have worked closely with Hampton Classic management to achieve and maintain the highest standards of competition. In 1981, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) designated the Hampton Classic’s Grand Prix as the first of a select number of Qualifying Events for the following year’s World Cup Final.

The Grand Prix Tent in 1979. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Classic Horse Show.
Grand Prix tent in 1979. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Classic Horse Show.
The Grand Prix Tent of the Hampton Classic 30 years later, in 2019. Photo by EQuine AMerica.
The Grand Prix Tent in 2019. Photo by Carina Roselli.

In 1982, the show was moved to its present location, the 65-acre Hampton Classic Showgrounds on Snake Hollow Road in Bridgehampton. That same year, after the tents were raised, disastrous weather struck the Classic once again; a freak tornado ripped through the stabling, destroying several tents with only seven days left before showtime. Replacements had to be flown in, crews labored overtime, and the show was able to begin
on time.

In 1984, a day was added to the schedule to provide a full seven days of competition. On Grand Prix Day of that year, the Olympic showjumping riders of the United States Equestrian Team, just returning from a Gold Medal victory at Los Angeles, were honored in a special ceremony.

In 1985, bad weather returned with a vengeance. That year is remembered as the “Year of the Mud.” One day before the show was to start, a torrential rainstorm deluged the showgrounds as exhibitors arrived from all over the country. Eighteen-wheeled transports and small cars alike became mired in the stabling area; parking fields had to be closed to spectators for two days. Just as the showgrounds began to dry on Friday, the heavens opened again; tornadoes touched down in Southampton, Water Mill, and East Hampton, but miraculously missed the horse show. Heavy rains, with rivers and lakes appearing out of nowhere, transformed the grounds. Incredibly, the showgrounds were dried out in time for Grand Prix Sunday and the sun shone on a record crowd of onlookers.

In 1986 the schedule was revised so that Opening Day would take place on a Sunday, enabling Hampton Classic festivities to span two weekends, and in 1987 the Grand Prix was telecast on ESPN for the first time.

In 1988 the show was chosen as the final selection trial for the Olympics. The show’s dates were moved up from the end of August to the end of July to facilitate the lengthy mandatory quarantine of Team horses destined for Seoul.

The following year, 1989, was a very special, almost magical year, for showjumping competition. Riders Michael Matz and D. D. Alexander (husband and wife) had survived the tragic Sioux City plane crash just a week before the start of the Classic. Uninjured, they both came directly to the Hampton Classic and began competing early in the week. Alexander went on to win the $10,000 Warner Communications Jumper Classic on Saturday. To everyone’s joy, Matz put in a stunning performance the next day aboard “Schnapps,” winning the $75,000 Grand Prix class in a field of very strong competitors. Matz’s repeat win in 1990, this time aboard “Heisman,” cemented his popularity with the Classic’s spectators. Matz has since retired from showjumping and concentrates on training racehorses. One of his charges was the much-beloved “Barbaro.”

As if a magnet to weather-related disasters, the Hampton Classic was hit in 1991 by Hurricane Bob, packing more than 80-mph winds, just days before the horses arrived. Acres of canvas tenting were dropped and lashed down to prevent harm and the showgrounds sustained only minor damage. The big Pepsi scoreboard and a few little tents were destroyed by the winds but the showgrounds were remarkably unscathed, and with a Herculean effort on the part of the crew, the show was up and ready when the first horse van rolled in that Saturday. Following a week of perfect weather, a record crowd turned out to watch Joe Fargis, Southampton’s own Olympic gold medalist, ride “Mill Pearl” to victory in the $100,000 Grand Prix.

Olympian Joe Fargis judges Leadline class at the Hampton Classic. Photo by Kiley Bates
Olympian Joe Fargis judges Leadline class at Hampton Classic. Photo by Kiley Bates.

In 1994 a new all-weather schooling ring was added, to offer the riders good footing conditions no matter what Mother Nature has in store. This is also the year when a new program with circus acts and entertainment geared towards kids was initiated. Kids Day, as it is called, admits children under 12 free of charge, and free pony rides are offered that day.

In 1995, the new Corporate Chalet Tent was added adjacent to the Grand Prix Arena. In honor of the enormous impact the Hampton Classic has on Long Island and the local community, the Hampton Classic was honored with three proclamations. Congressman Mike Forbes entered a Proclamation in the Congressional Record congratulating the Hampton Classic on its contributions to the community and proclaiming August “Hampton Classic Month,” as did the Southampton Council and Suffolk County Executive, Robert Gaffney.

In 1997, Mother Nature once again wreaked havoc just three days before the show began when hurricane-like winds blew down the Grand Prix tent and uprooted some of the smaller tents. However, the tent crew rallied their efforts and the horse show was ready to roll on opening day. The year included the first-ever “Classic Wedding,” which was televised nationally on the Discovery Channel’s “The Wedding Story.”

In 1998, McLain Ward of Brewster New York, aboard “Twist du Valon,” rode to victory, narrowly defeating Leslie Burr Howard in an exciting finish that kept the spectators in their seats up to the last second. In 1999, Ward rode “Twist Du Valon” for his second consecutive Hampton Classic win.

In 2000, Margie Goldstein-Engle of Wellington, Florida, riding Hidden Creek’s “Laurel,” was victorious in the $150,000 Crown Royal Grand Prix presented by David Yurman. Her victory came just days before she boarded a plane for Sydney Australia where she would represent our country in the 2000 Olympic Games. The first-ever Senior’s Day premiered in 2000 with a special “Senior-Surfing” program within the Classic’s new Internet Café, designed to introduce the Internet to seniors in a relaxed and friendly setting.

In 2001, Engle rode Hidden Creek’s “Laurel” to her second straight victory in the $150,000 Prudential Financial Grand Prix at the Hampton Classic Horse Show. Fiesta Day, the Hampton Classic’s salute to Latino participants and the growing Hispanic community on Long Island, also premiered in 2001.

In 2002, Engle made history as she became the first rider to win the $150,000 Prudential Financial Grand Prix three consecutive years. Despite muddy conditions from four days of on-again-off-again rain, Engle topped a five-horse jump-off and proved why she is one of the highest-ranked female riders in the world. Engle claimed the winner’s share of $45,000 for the victory aboard Hidden Creek’s “Perin,” her Sydney Olympic mount.

In 2003, Ward became only the third rider in history to win the Hampton Classic Grand Prix three times when he rode “Hurricane” to victory. Ironically, the weather remained pleasant that year.

In 2004, Darragh Kerins of Ireland rode “Nabucco” to victory in the $150,000 Prudential Financial Grand Prix to close the 29th annual Hampton Classic Horse Show. Kerins’s victory, before an enthusiastic crowd of more than 10,000, was a fitting climax to a highly successful Hampton Classic. Good weather, clear skies, exciting competitions, innovations such as the new Loaves & Fishes Cookshop Demonstration Kitchen, and traditional activities like the World of the Horse made the week one to remember.

In 2005, culminating a week that celebrated 30 years of Hampton Classic history and the careers of retiring executive directors Tony Hitchcock and Jean Lindgren, Joe Fargis, a rider who holds his own place in showjumping history, put an exclamation point on this year’s horse show with a ride that all who were there will talk about for many years to come. Fargis, the three-time Olympic medalist from Southampton, NY and Middleburg, VA, thrilled a crowd of 12,000 with an electrifying dash to the finish line to win the week’s main event, the $100,000 Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate Grand Prix, by 13 one-hundredths of a second over his 1988 Silver Medal Olympic teammate, Anne Kursinski.

In April 2006, Shanette Barth Cohen took the reins as the new Executive Director of the Hampton Classic. Despite week-long rains that forced the cancellation of some classes, the horse show ended on a very positive note when three-time Olympic veteran Anne Kursinski rode “Roxanna 112” to victory in the $150,000 Prudential Financial Grand Prix.

Aerial view of the show grounds years ago. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Classic Horse Show.
Aerial view of the show grounds years ago. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Classic Horse Show.

In 2007, following the week-long rains that hampered the 2006 horse show, the Hampton Classic invested about $250,000 to renovate and upgrade the stabling areas, focusing on new and enhanced drainage.

With a star-studded field of Olympic medalists and top Grand Prix riders from six countries, it was 20-year-old Hillary Dobbs of Sussex, NJ who dominated the competition in 2008. Dobbs became the youngest rider to win the $200,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup™ Qualifier, and she also won the VOX Rider Challenge, a new award that gave $30,000 to the top four riders in the Classic’s Open Jumper classes. Dobbs also won the Classic’s International and National Open Jumper Championships.

McLain Ward made history at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in 2009 by winning a Grand Prix class on three straight days and by winning the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup™ Qualifier for a record fourth time on his two-time Olympic team gold medal horse, “Sapphire.” Previously, Ward was tied with Margie Engle and Rodney Jenkins with three victories each.

Despite the threat of a hurricane and rain that impacted several classes, McLain Ward once again made history at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in 2010 by winning the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup™ Qualifier on his gold medal horse, “Sapphire.” At this point, he had won the Hampton Classic’s featured Grand Prix a record five times!

The start of the 2011 Hampton Classic Horse Show was delayed three days due to Hurricane Irene. On the Friday before the Classic’s scheduled Sunday start, the decision was made to take down 18 tents with 1600 stalls as well as 40 other large tents housing the chalets, VIP seating, and boutiques plus dozens of other small tents. After the hurricane hit on Sunday, approximately 150 staff and crew worked from about 5:00 am till
dark on Monday, and almost as long on Tuesday, to restore the show grounds to their former splendor allowing the show to begin with a compressed schedule on Wednesday. The Classic managed to keep almost its entire competition schedule, although compressed from eight days into five. Despite this, it proved to be one of the most successful Hampton Classics ever.

Highlighting the competition was another history-making performance by McLain Ward. Riding “Antares F,” Ward rode to another win in the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup™ Qualifier. Ward tied his own record winning a Grand Prix at the Classic on three consecutive days. He also tied Margie Engle’s record by winning the featured Grand Prix at the Classic for three consecutive years and added to his own record by winning the Classic’s featured Grand Prix for the sixth time, twice as many times as anyone else.

In 2012, Kent Farrington took top honors in the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup™ Qualifier. He claimed the win on “Voyeur.” As always, the show featured international show jumpers, elegant show hunters, beautifully decorated tables, celebrities, and more.

In 2013, Longines® became a major partner of the Hampton Classic. Their support enhanced the Classic in several ways, including instituting the Longines® Rider Challenge that awards $30,000 to the rider who accumulates the most points in the Classic’s Open Jumper division, sponsoring the Longines® Cup and working with the Classic to make it an FEI-recognized class, which gave the Classic an FEI-recognized Grand Prix on three consecutive days, and by becoming the Official Timekeeper providing timing services for the show.

Culminating the 2013 Classic, Farrington became just the fifth rider in the Classic’s 38-year history to successfully defend his championship in the Classic’s featured event, the $250,000 FTI Consulting Grand Prix and FEI World Cup™ Qualifier. Farrington topped the star-studded field on “Zafira.”

In 2014, Olympic veteran Kevin Babington of Ireland guided the nine-year-old, Hanoverian mare, “Shorapur,” to the fastest fault-free jump-off time (39.16 seconds) to claim the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix presented by Land Rover in an exciting climax to the 39th Annual Hampton Classic. Babington became just the
third non-US rider to win the Classic’s featured Grand Prix event. Megastar Jennifer Lopez topped the impressive list of celebrity attendees that year.

As one of only four riders to reach the jump-off in 2015, Yale University senior Karen Polle of Japan rode “With Wings” to victory with a fault-free round to claim the $250,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix Presented by Longines® at the 40th Annual Hampton Classic.

In 2016, the Hampton Classic upped the ante in its Open Jumper division. The Classic added an Open Jumper class to its Opening Day schedule and a fourth FEI class, as well as increasing prize money in its three featured Grand Prix events. The 41st annual Hampton Classic featured more than 200 hunter, jumper, and
equitation classes for horses and riders of all ages and abilities. Athletes from nine nations competed in four FEI classes that culminated with a dazzling win by Ireland’s Richie Moloney in the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix presented by Longines®. In one of the most exciting jump-off rounds in the Classic’s 41-year history, Moloney blazed around the course on “Carrabis Z,” owned by Equinimity, LLC, to claim the top prize. The victory gave Moloney the $30,000 Longines® Rider Challenge as the horse show’s leading open jumper rider for the third time in four years.

At the 2017 Hampton Classic, riders from twelve nations competed in four FEI classes that culminated with a brilliant win by Israel’s Daniel Bluman riding “Ladriano Z” in the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix CSI* presented by SOVARO®. Bluman also won two other FEI classes―the $86,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Qualifier CSI4* presented by Longines® and the $40,000 SOVARO® Speed Stake; both of these wins were aboard “Bacara d’Archonfosse.”

Ireland’s Richie Moloney proved that consistent results yield big returns as he earned the $30,000 Longines® Rider Challenge as the Classic’s leading open jumper rider. Moloney received a lovely Longines® timepiece and a check for $30,000. In the five years, the award has existed at the Classic, Moloney has won it four times.

In 2018, the Hampton Classic ended in spectacular fashion with McLain Ward capturing the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix presented by Douglas Elliman for a record seventh time aboard “HH Gigi’s Girl.” Putting on the pressure was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, who had already scored two major victories at the show. Riding Indra van de Oude Heihoef, Sweetnam won both the $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix-Qualifier CSI4* presented by Longines®, as well as the $70,000 Longines® Cup CSI4*. It was two years in a row for Sweetnam, having won the latter class in 2017 with another of his top horses, “Main Road.”

McLain Ward and HH Gigi's Girl competing in the $300,000  Hampton Classic Grand Prix presented by Douglas Elliman in 2018, winning this event for the seventh time 20 years after winning it the first time. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography.
McLain Ward and HH Gigi’s Girl competing in the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix presented by Douglas Elliman in 2018, winning this event for the seventh time 20 years after winning it the first time.
Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography.

In September 2018, immediately following the Hampton Classic, the Classic’s Board of Directors approved a $1 million renovation of the Classic’s famed Grand Prix field. Installation of the Kentucky Bluegrass sod was completed in April 2019 and the horse show’s top national and international competitors were welcomed back for the 44th annual event.

The 2019 $300,000 DOHA.INC Grand Prix CSI4* was a family affair as Canada’s Mario Deslauriers Captured the win aboard “Bardolina” seconded by his daughter, Lucy (USA), who had won the $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Qualifier that previous Friday. Earlier in the week, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam had returned in good form to once again win the $30,000 Longines® Rider Challenge.

Mario and Lucy Deslauriers share a winning look after their one-two takeover of the Hampton Classic $300,000 DOHA, INC. Grand Prix in 2019. Photo by EQuine AMerica.
Mario and Lucy Deslauriers after their one-two takeover of the $300,000 DOHA, INC. Grand Prix. Photo by EQuine AMerica.
The final score for Sunday's Hampton Classic $300,000 DOHA.INC Grand Prix, 2019. Photo by EQuine AMerica.
The final score for Sunday’s $300,000 DOHA.INC Grand Prix. Photo by EQuine AMerica.

In 2020, COVID-19 rocked the globe and the Hampton Classic was sadly canceled, as was the theme across the nation. Thankfully, the horse world has excitedly reawakened in 2021 and the Hampton Classic Horse Show returns for its 45th year, August 29 – September 5. Tickets are available here.

Author profile

Carina is a 3rd generation equestrian who currently trains her Belgian x Haflinger gelding (below) in the fine art of dressage. Carina recently medically retired from the U.S. Army after 17 years of service as an aviator turned JAG attorney. After taking orders for many years, Carina is inventing a new, creative, entrepreneurial, and autonomous future for herself. EQuine AMerica is 1/3 of that invention. The other 2/3 is Carina’s new law firm, CLR Law, PLLC, which focuses on legacy planning, equine law, and land use law.