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Flags Fly Proudly At The Big E

Posted October 2, 2001

by Bob Funkhouser

W. SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - While Americans around the country were trying to return to some sort of normalcy, for those in New England that meant going to the Big E. Billed as New England's Great State Fair, Eastern States is a must for a handful of eastern exhibitors. As with many shows it used to have a lot of pomp and circumstance and attracted horses from a number of states outside of the area. Now it is a local show, but one with lots of ties to the past.

Some of the greatest trophies you will see are awarded in several divisions and this year it only got better with the addition of the New England Championship Series classes. There had always been New England owned classes but at the request of exhibitors, show management changed these to New England Championships this year. To qualify, exhibitors must have shown at at least two different open New England shows in at least two classes. More than $5,000 in prize money and custom designed trophies was given in those 10 New England classes.

Along with the custom trophies in those classes many additional challenge trophies were presented September 20-23. The list of names on the trophies give you a sense of the history and tradition of the show.

And of course the best part of the fair is the number of people that you show in front of. "One-hundred and thirty thousand people came through the gates of the fair on Saturday," said show manager Jim LaHood during Sunday's final session of the Saddle Horse, Hackney, and Morgan show. "I bet it will be right at that today."

Of all those fair goers at least a couple of thousand were on hand for the Saturday and Sunday sessions of the horse show. Even during the Thursday and Friday classes there were more spectators than there were at any other shows in New England throughout the year.

Too many trainers and exhibitors have become soft and complacent. Instead of viewing the great crowds as a plus, all too often you hear, "It's too much trouble to show at Eastern States."

While it's not perfect, the show officials at Eastern States have worked to make it more exhibitor friendly. The office staff goes out of their way to please and there are a couple of good parties. Brookmont Farm hosts an opening party in the Brooks building with lots of food and socializing on the menu. Corporate sponsor Cains Pickles hosted an afternoon party with plenty of pickle tasting and other snacks available along with pickle hats which were seen up and down the aisle ways. Another night after the show Eastern States sponsored a party with lots of food and drink. Besides the food stations, waitresses moved up and down the aisle way, from tack room to tack room offering delicacies.

The Eastern States Saddle Horse Breeders Association (ESHBA ) has always played a role in the Big E horse show. This year they randomly awarded $600 in prize money with $200 per class presented to an exhibitor from a selected Saddlebred, Hackney, and Morgan class. You didn't have to win the class, just show in it and have your name drawn.

Again, perfect it's not, but there a lot of things going for this show. One of those highlights was the New England Medal Saddle Seat Equitation Finals. Run just like the national equitation finals, this program gives equitation riders a great sense of accomplishment as well as invaluable experience for those who will go on to compete in national finals.

Of course the rallying point around this year's show was the patriotic feeling of the exhibitors. You would have thought this was the 4th of July instead of the end of September. American flags were displayed at many tack rooms and several riders wore red, white and blue ribbons of support on their lapels and back numbers. And maybe best of all, Donna O'Keefe came driving in the Fine Harness Championship with an American Flag flying from her buggy whip. Tricolor ribbons and silver trophies were the focus, but reminders of the recent tragic events were never far.

Deciding the 2001 champions were Linda Lowary in the Saddle Horse, roadster, and pony divisions, while Patty Kent handled the Morgan and equitation sections. Chris Cassenti joined Lowary and Kent on the panel for the New England Medal Finals. Kent Moeller again served as ringmaster, while Terry Mason was the paddock master and Jason Gates sat high above as the announcer.

For the complete show story see the printed edition of Saddle Horse Report dated October 2, 2001.

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