By Sissy Wickes, Photos by Teresa Ramsey
The horse show industry watches as the behemoth box show rolls like a steam belching machine over the local show circuit. Stand-alone horse shows, as the smaller, more locally based events are called, are gasping under the weight of large multi-week corporate managed shows. Virginia has a horse show heritage unrivalled by any other state this side of Ireland. Deep Run, Upperville, Loudon, James River, Keswick- all storied grounds hosting horse shows for many decades, in some cases centuries. The endangerment of the smaller, historic shows was not lost on the horse community in Virginia. With the mission to “foster, promote, reward, and encourage hunter competition at independent horse shows located in Virginia,” the Virginia Hunter Championships were born.
Virginia Beach trainer Chris Wynne was the organizer behind the program that offers a lucrative Championship Finals event for equestrians who participate in Virginia horse shows. “I was worried about the survival of the great stand alone shows and wanted to provide an incentive to go to these shows.” Wynne and a group of fellow trainers devised a point system based on the number of shows in Virginia in which a horse competes. Each of the “A” shows counts as 1.5 points, while each of the “AA” shows counts as 1 point. In order to qualify for the Championship Finals, a horse ridden in the professional divisions and the pony hunters must have accumulated 4.5 points, and a horse shown by a junior or amateur must have accumulated 6.5 points. The “A” show garners more points toward the total in order to encourage participation in the smaller shows.
Financially, the Virginia Hunter Championships endeavor to make the program affordable and lucrative. Horses can be nominated at the start of the calendar year and accumulate points throughout the season at 18 designated Virginia shows. There is a one time nominating fee each year of $250 with no additional charges. At the finals, there are no entry fees, no office fees, no stall fee. Imagine walking out of a show office without a charge!
The Championship Finals offer an impressive amount of prize money. The finals for horses are held on Tuesday, August 8th at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, VA, a day prior to the Lexington National Horse Show. The finals event features five classes: $15,000 Open Classic for professional riders, $10,000 Pre-Green Classic, $10,000 Junior/Amateur Owner Classic, $10,000 Adult Classic, and $10,000 Children’s Classic. The Championship Finals for ponies are held at the Rosemount Horse Show on July 23 and feature a combined $10,000 Pony Hunter and Children’s Pony Hunter Classic.
For Wynne and fellow Virginians, the event provides a great incentive and finals experience for many riders who cannot afford to participate in the larger year-end finals, which can be prohibitively expensive. As Wynne explains, “I can say to kids, ‘let’s qualify for the Virginia Hunter Championships’ and it gives them something to work for. You don’t have to win, you have to participate.” On that Tuesday in August, the Coliseum at the Virginia Horse Center is decorated and adorned. Flowers, banners, freshly painted jumps, and excited spectators- a spectacle that rivals any other indoor finals. Virginians love all things Virginia. Virginia equestrians love to support Virginia horse shows and now they have a summers end championship as a reward for that dedication.