BY INTERN ERICA O’NEIL
Out of all of the many HITS Horse Shows, HITS Balmoral Park has proven to be a tremendous ‘hit’ this past summer. The initial shows at Balmoral Park have already attracted significant interest among barns and competitors, as the classes filled and the rings became busy. The 200-acre facility, located just 40 minutes from Chicago in Crete, Illinois, has already renovated 23 permanent barns and developed 10 competition rings for the shows being hosted there.
Many trainers, pony kids, hunter riders, equitation riders, and jumper riders all agree that this new facility is one of the greatest and will grow exponentially within the next two to three years. From footing, to stabling, to prize money, classes, and competition, there is something that everyone likes about Balmoral.
When asking multiple riders, competing in different disciplines, about their opinion on Balmoral there was a similar response from everyone, including 18-year-old Gia Rinaldi, who’s competed not only nationwide, but around the globe. “I’m really liking it so far,” states Rinaldi. “I love the Grand Prix ring and especially the grandstands. There’s so much space to walk around and graze your horse. It’s really a great place to be. I like it a lot.”
The grandstands are one of the best features of the park, displaying all of the history the site has to offer. Inside the grandstands, 4,467 seats overlook all the competition rings, and you’ll also find a VIP Clubhouse with climate-controlled seating, a variety of food services, and many different shops, including retailers like Rider’s Boutique, GhoDho and Devoucoux.
The history behind the facility adds a ton of character to Balmoral. The thoroughbred and harness racing track originally opened in 1926, and today’s competitors can ride on part of the vintage track as they look up to see the former lights that once lit the nighttime horse races and practice runs at Balmoral Park.
When HITS and Showplace Productions team up, you should expect some of the top riders to come – and therefore some very tough competition. Top riders like Kristen Franz, winner of Zone 5 USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur Jumper Championships back in 2016, on her mount Cypress, states, “Spring Spec is always competitive, but there’s definitely a huge amount of competition going on here at Balmoral.” All of the top junior riders and other upcoming riders have been attending the new show series at Balmoral, and even more attendance is expected in upcoming years.
The footing at Balmoral seems to be a frequent and popular topic of discussion as it has been frequently called, “one of the best.” The footing at HITS Balmoral is a proprietary mixture of sand and textiles, installed by Tom Struzzieri, owner of HITS. It is comprised of many materials, but the most interesting ingredient is actually the sand. The size, shape and texture of the sand dictates how hard or soft the footing is naturally, and what needs to be done to prepare it. The “give” that is wanted in the footing is different depending on the height of fences that are being jumped, obviously needing to provide soft landing surfaces following big jumps yet staying solid enough to hold up to sharp turns at a fast pace in the jumper rings for jump-offs.
According to officials at HITS, “In order to keep the footing in good condition, usually rings are dragged only once or twice during the day, depending on the number of trips in the ring. In the Grand Prix Ring, it will often be dragged before every class – those are big horses jumping big jumps. In the pony ring, it may only need be dragged once during the day – ponies don’t weigh as much, and they jump smaller fences, so the surface integrity of the footing lasts much longer. The amount of water is also key to good maintenance. It may seem counterintuitive, but water actually helps bind the sand particles together and keep the footing more intact. One usually thinks of water as making the ground softer, and too much water does just that! But, when you find the perfect balance of moisture on the footing, you have a surface that will hold up to many, many rounds of jumping that is easy on the horse’s’ legs and feet – and that’s what you are looking for.”
Professionals like Winn Alden, competing in the Grand Prix Ring almost every day in classes like the USHJA National Hunter Derby, on June 20th 2017 told The Plaid Horse, “The footing has gotten a lot better, and they are definitely keeping up with it.” Everyone can agree on that. HITS and Showplace Productions hope to keep it that way, as it’s critical to serious horse owners and competitors.
No one competing at Balmoral can argue when someone says the stabling is terrific. The 23 permanent barns have proven to be solid and reliable through the storms and downpours to the hottest days summer’s been able to dish out so far. There are multiple paddocks throughout the entire facility, offering a space for barns and owners to turn their horses out on off-days or when the horse need to burn some excess energy. The barns are very airy and feature two bathrooms in each barn along with a lockable tack room that competitors will appreciate.
Big-time riders at Galway Farm, Mary Beth Canfield and daughter, Molly Canfield, brought their three horses to Balmoral and absolutely loved it, competing in every ring. Molly states, “I love the barns,” and her mom was quick to add, “Double thumbs up on the stabling and everything about the barns.”
When attending a horse show, everyone wants a picture to remember a Classic win, their Hunter Derby, or just a good show in general. Andrew Ryback and his skilled team are onsite, photographing each and every competitor in every ring, every day. When you combine a great photography team with a setting that offers so much history and amazing backdrops, you’re sure to get great photos. Ryback shares his opinion on photographing here by stating, “From a photography standpoint, it’s great because there is not a bad photograph to be taken here. There’s beautiful backgrounds everywhere, there’s no clutter behind any of the rings and it’s absolutely fantastic. We love being here, and it’s a great facility.”
Balmoral is one of the newest local shows for barns and riders located in Chicagoland, and Low Junior Jumper rider Hailey Royce makes the point that friendships and camaraderie make the venue that much better. “At shows like Great Lakes Equestrian Festival and the Winter Equestrian Festival, you get to see friends that maybe you don’t see very often from other parts of the United States. But at local shows like the new HITS Balmoral, you get to hang out with some of your best friends that you have grown up showing and competing with.” Though still new, Balmoral Park is off to a great start. Riders and barns, along with HITS and Showplace Productions, are excited for what definitely appears to be a very bright future.