The horse show season officially kicked off in New England April 19-22 with the United Professional Horsemen’s Association (UPHA) Chapter 14 Spring Premier Horse Show. A total of 295 horses and approximately 600 riders filled the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds in West Springfield, MA for the show’s 36th anniversary. Most of the riders participating in the show were from the New England states but according to show officials this year’s show included stables from as far away as Ohio, Michigan, Florida and California.
The four-day show is considered to be one of the most prestigious nationally recognized horse shows in the country. The horse show’s high esteem is due in large part to the high level of competitiveness and the wide variety of classes that are offered. There are equitation and open classes as well as UPHA classic classes and opportunity classes in all disciplines.
The predominant horse breeds represented by exhibitors were American Saddlebreds, Morgans, Friesians, Hackney ponies and National Show Horses. Show demographics consisted of both amateurs and professionals that ranged in age five years old to adults well into their 80s. Some of the riders used the show to get better acquainted with new horses while others used the opportunity to qualify for national championships that are scheduled to take place later in the year.
“It’s the first show of the year so we get a lot of new combinations of horse and rider,” said Corresponding Secretary of the UPHA-14, Lynn McNamara. “A majority of the stables will go on to the World’s Championship Horse Show at the state fair in Louisville, KY. Others will go to the national championship held in Kansas City.”
The first and second day of this year’s show consisted of qualifying classes while the third and fourth days were made up of championship classes. The top finishers in these championship classes received ribbons or trophies. There were also 15 cash stake classes that awarded first place finishers with a cash prize of $250.
During the show’s final day there was tournament final for beginners who spent the winter months learning how to ride as part of the UPHA-14 Winter Tournament. For program participants The Spring Premier Horse Show offered a thrilling end to the tournament because they were able to showcase what they learned at a nationally recognized show.
“These shows are held at different stables throughout New England all throughout the winter,” McNamara said. “These winter tournaments are for beginner riders who have never shown in the regular show horse division. It’s the stepping stone to become a show rider.”
One young rider who is now ready to make the jump to the next level is eight-year-old Ellie Riva of Warren, VT. The young equestrian has been under the tutelage of her riding instructor, Elaine Gregory of Luman Wadhams Stable, since the age of three. This year with her instructor’s help and support Riva was able to win the 11 & under walk trot canter equitation class during the UPHA 14 Winter Tournament Finals. Following her win Riva’s instructor couldn’t help but proudly gush about her young pupil’s future.
“This is Ellie’s second season competing in the Winter Tournament,” Gregory said. “This is her education to move to the next horse show division. Riva has just recently purchased her very first show horse. She will start showing that horse later this season.”
Riva is an example of how youth can grow in the sport of horse showing by getting involved in different horse clubs or associations such as the UPHA. The UPHA was founded in Chicago, IL in 1968 with the goal of promoting equine participation, supporting horse shows, and improving opportunities for professional horsemen. Since its inception the UPHA has expanded into 21 regional chapters which comprise all 50 states as well as Canada. The regional host of this show, Chapter-14, consists of all six New England states as well as New York.
“I think the thing that stands out about Chapter 14 is that it leads the way nationally for other chapters to emulate,” McNamara said. “Everyone works together as a cohesive group. New England is a small area so when we have chapter meetings they are very well attended. We have also instituted a lot of programs in this chapter that have been emulated by other chapters.”
According to McNamara, one program that has gotten a big push this year is called The UPHA Ribbons of Service. The program is designed to motivate the often more privileged children in the equestrian world to recognize and help seriously ill children who are fighting for their lives.
As part of their contribution to the cause participants are responsible for raising donations as well as performing 10 hours of community service. Along the way participants earn prizes while competing in equitation events such as The Spring Premier Horse Show. Those participants who raise the most funds also become eligible for special scholarships. All proceeds go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN or another charity of the rider’s choice.
“It’s children raising money for children with cancer,” McNamara said. “The program has been in existence for several years but this year our chapter voted to support it and even donated $1,000 dollars to it.”
Another program created by UPHA Chapter 14, which is now in its second year, is Trainers Helping Horses In Need (THHIN). The program helps finance the rescue of neglected, starved and abused horses throughout the New England area. The money is raised during various Chapter 14 shows and events throughout the year.
“This year we already gave out $5,000 each to the New England Equine Rescue and the Central New England Equine Rescue,” UPHA-14 Horse Show Committee Chairperson Cindy Mugnier said. “Our next big fundraiser for this program is in July at the Three County Fair in Northampton, MA.”
Mugnier believes that it is the generosity and commitment of the exhibitors, trainers, sponsors and volunteers which makes the programming and show so successful each year.
“There’s a great livelihood here and the quality of the horses and riders has been tremendous this year,” Mugnier said. “There seems to be such a positive energy of togetherness. I’ve seen it first-hand throughout the barn.”
UPHA Show Manager, Ken Moeller, agrees with Mugnier and adds that it is a united atmosphere which makes Chapter 14 so special.
“The unique part of this horse show is that this chapter is so united,” Moeller said. “If there is any chapter that represents united it’s this chapter.”
For more information about the UPHA Chapter 14 Spring Premier Horse Show visit their website at www.uphaonline.com/chapter-14 .