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New England’s Great State Fair - The Big E

by Bob Funkhouser

WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass.- In the words of professional football coach and outspoken character Bill Parcells, “It is what it is.” Those words seem to hold true year after year for the grand ole Eastern States Exposition Horse Show, otherwise known as The Big E.

It is one of the longstanding icons of the show horse industry, especially in the Northeast. It is one of the cleanest and nicest fairs in the entire country with big name entertainment, food, rides and wares galore. It is a horse show venue that has enthusiastic, cheering spectators filling the stands in the afternoon and evening. It is a horse show that offers good prize money and beautiful challenge trophies that rival Louisville and Kansas City. It is a horse show that frustrates its management and supporters because of just average support in terms of entries. And, it is a horse show that can frustrate the exhibitors and trainers with inconveniences.

This show is a dot in the middle of a huge fair that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. Many of these visitors stroll by the wash racks where trainers and caretakers field questions and let children pet their horses and ponies. Others line the fences to the warm up area watching and asking more questions. And still others fill the seats and line the rail inside the Eastern States Coliseum.

Because the actual horse show is a small part of the fair, exhibitors don’t enjoy all the conveniences they do at other shows where there are no spectators and therefore, parking and travel to and from the show are a breeze. The problem with traffic has been exaggerated to great extents over the years. Yes, the main roads are crowded, but there are hotels and routes that allow easy access.

This writer/exhibitor stayed at the
Hilton Garden next to the Basketball Hall of Fame and in every single trip to the show I was sitting in the parking lot of the fairgrounds in five minutes or less. I made the trip back and forth to the show two to three times a day.

Now, one day the many wonderful Eastern States parking attendants and the swarms of state troopers that are present allowed several extremely inconsiderate drivers to park their cars down the middle of the rows blocking nearly 100 cars from leaving the grounds. That qualified as a very unnecessary inconvenience and one that does make some exhibitors consider one of the many other shows being held in a short period of time during the fall.

Horses were on the light side for Show Manager Jim LaHood and coordinator Carol Keller. However, it was a good year for ponies at The Big E. Canadian trainer Larry Ella returned to the fair after a long absence, and he brought several of Karen Waldron’s world’s champions to entertain. Adding Ella’s string of ponies to the entries of area trainers/exhibitors like Rodney Hicks, the LaSalles, Brooke Sweigart, Frank Hester, Bud and Janet Laivo, Darlene Trento Wright and other individual enthusiasts and it made for several competitive classes. Big E audiences are always loud in their response to the Hackney pony stars and this year they really had something to cheer about as photographer Bob Moseder had several athletic championship victory passes to shoot.

Determining those champions was Lonnie Lavery who stepped in for an ailing Bruce Dixon. Sandy Sessink officiated in the Morgan and equitation divisions. Jason Gates was back as assistant show manager as were paddock master Terry Mason, steward Nancy Noble, farrier Tim Keller and organist Amy Paradise Braden. Bob Kleinfelter served as ringmaster and Todd Bedard as announcer.

There is a lot of great tradition that goes with Eastern States and part of that heritage is the NEHC New England Medal Finals. This great program has given New England riders the opportunity to compete in a Finals atmosphere with many great prizes and awards. There was an even greater story this year as sisters Marissa and Michaela Gillespie won the NEHC Saddle Seat Medal and NEHC Walk and Trot Saddle Seat Final, respectively. New York’s Darlene Trento-Wright was the winning instructor of the tricolor-riding sisters. Brooke Gove rode away with the reserve championship in the Saddle Seat Medal Final, while Margaret McCool was crowned the reserve champion in the Walk and Trot Final.

Pony classes were some of the most competitive outside the NEHC Medal Finals. The four-entry Hackney Pony Championship was power-packed. World’s Grand Champion On the Mark put on a performance that lived up to his reputation every step of the way. The elegance of Karen Waldron added to the picture and it was a picture that won the qualifier as well. Extremely gifted, Unique’s Starlighter was twice reserve with Brook Sweigart driving for Clarence Sweigart.

Rodney Hicks directed Totally Excellent to the top of the New England Hackney Pony Championship with Nathan Roden at the whip for Nathan and Betty Roden. They went on to win the amateur stake as well. Stablemate The Marksman won the UPHA Hackney Pony Classic with owner Marjorie Kenney driving.

The Ella/Waldron team struck again in the Harness Pony Championship where another world’s grand champion titleholder triumphed. Sweetheart Of Success was at the top of her game to turn back challenges from three other teams for Waldron’s Bent Tree Farm. It was their second victory pass of the week. Janine LaSalle drove the UPHA Harness Pony Classic Champion Twin Oak Royal Shamrock to the Harness Pony Reserve Grand Championship.

Continuing their good season, Sharon Francis and Dun-Haven Exquisite were two for two. They returned to the Rodney Hicks tack room with the New England Harness Pony Championship and the amateur stake. Bud Laivo and A Fine Affair were twice reserve.

Pleasure driving ponies came ready for battle and what a grand championship it was. New England Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Champions Janet Crawford Hicks and Miss Excellence defended their turf as they marched down victory lane after defeating four other more than capable teams. Among them, Shannon Ella and Super Spy were reserve grand champions, followed by stablemate Spirit Of Success with Karen Waldron. Spirit Of Success had been reserve in the qualifier to Steal The Show and Mary Cichowski.

Also in the pleasure driving division, Kaitlyn Grant and Classic Dreams topped the AHHS Youth Medallion competition, while Janine LaSalle and Forrester took home the UPHA Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Classic.

There was also a strong cast in the Amateur Road Pony Championship. Fame And Fortune and Adam Bovaird represented Ella Stables with a tricolor drive to follow their blue ribbon outing in the amateur qualifier. Fame And Fortune out footed the competition including reserve grand champions Dun-Haven Highly Impressive and Donald Spann. This Cricket Hill team qualified with an impressive victory pass in the New England Road Pony Championship ahead of Rhythm King LF and Courtney Cahill. Junior exhibitor driver Alex Ververeli was reserve in the amateur qualifier and third in the amateur championship with the popular Mastercraft’s Gambler LF.

Coming from the winner’s circle of the UPHA Road Pony Classic, Nathan Roden and Michigan’s Habanero again made it hot for the competition with a tricolor performance in the Road Pony Championship. Reserve grand champion honors went to the popular new team of veterans Frank Hester and Dream Boy’s Magic. It was a winning drive in the open class for Hester in their debut. Tim Lydon and Heartland Double Trouble were third in the championship. That ribbon winner qualified with a red prize in the UPHA Classic with Bob Funkhouser driving for Lydon and Funkhouser.

Moving to the Saddlebred division, a New York trainer and a Pennsylvanian squared off in the Five-Gaited Championship. It was Darlene Trento-Wright and the ground covering Cameo Appearance recapturing the Firefly’s Fancy Challenge Trophy that they last won in 2004 for owner Jodie Goff. Endolane Top Cat and Gary Guz were reserve to Cameo Appearance in both the open and championship. In the qualifier Cameo Appearance won the Barry W. Kiger Memorial Challenge Trophy.

Kate Harvey Codeanne and Yes I Have retired the Tangled Up In Blue Challenge Trophy by winning the New England Five-Gaited Grand Championship for the third consecutive year. This was a circuit championship that also offered the Callaway’s Carissa Challenge Trophy, a mare Codeanne won the
New England class with in 1999 and 2000. They finished the 2006 Big E as the Amateur Five-Gaited Grand Champions, also for the third consecutive year. After winning the amateur qualifier, Louise DeBlois and Grand Marq came back for the Amateur Five-Gaited Reserve Grand Championship.

Allyson Ehle and Homecoming Heir had the ring to themselves in the junior exhibitor gaited qualifier and championship.

Having grown up on the New England circuit, Hawkwing was the popular Three-Gaited Grand Champion with Jan Lukens in the saddle for Margaret Biggs. It was a repeat performance from the open class. Sally Eichlin was aboard Albelarm High Fidelity to take reserve grand champion honors, while Jon Douglas and Harlem’s Last Call were reserve in the qualifier.

Nicholas Villa once again had Dorothy Riley and The Cardiac Kid in high order as they swept the amateur three-gaited division. They started the weekend by winning the Henry P. Welch Sr. Memorial Challenge Trophy from the New England Three-Gaited Grand Championship and then came back to take the amateur qualifying blue and tricolor as well. The Sassy Stepper Perpetual Trophy accompanied the tricolor. Joellen Fisher Blount and Cocktail Ring were in reserve in both amateur events.

In what began as an exciting showdown between David Cater aboard Maximilian’s Court and Jan Lukens with Ticket To Hollywood, the expressive Ticket To Hollywood threw a shoe just as they reversed and it couldn’t be replaced. Cater and Maximilian’s Court finished as the Three-Gaited Park Grand Champions for Kahla Buthlay.

Lukens and Ticket To Hollywood had been reserve in the open class for Annika Bruggeworth. Gary Guz and Gypsy’s Stella were the winners of the class with a fancy performance for new owner Melissa Swain. Swain then showed the cocky, bay star to win the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Park class. Lauren Sopel and Uwharrie’s Street Legal were reserve in that one, but came back to win the Amateur Park Championship under the direction of Robin McGahey. Reserve in that competitive amateur championship was Sagaman, winner of the amateur qualifier with Charmane Delisle. Tamarra Mitchell and Starsnip Enterprise were awarded the red streamers in the amateur qualifier.

While the gaited and walk-trot entries were a little light, the harness division was well-represented. Five entries may not seem like a large number in some areas, but that many in the Northeast is a good turnout. Not only was it a good turnout, all five were horses that are currently winning classes.

The lofty going Tornaado’s Tidal Wave captured both the championship and the amateur class with Joellen Fisher Blount at the whip. Those winning ribbons were hung on the gray and black tack room curtains of Jan Lukens Stables. Daryl Carlow and Kendall Jackson commanded reserve grand champion honors. The David Arnold-trained team topped the open class in which Judy Heinbach and the multi-titled World’s Champion My Special Dream were reserve.

Reserve to the eventual grand champions in the amateur class, Kathy Osnoe and Harlem’s Beau Dandy represented the Nicholas Villa Stables with a third place finish in the highly competitive championship. Callaway’s Whirligig and My Special Dream rounded out the ribbon winners in the championship.

Jerome Parker and Anna Commanda were the lone entries in the Junior/Novice Fine Harness class.

The junior exhibitor riders took the Five-Gaited Pleasure Championship by storm as both the junior exhibitor and adult qualifiers showed back together. Megan Ryan and CH Rastafarian were Judge Lavery’s top choice in the championship. Next in line for the reserve prize were Berry Garcia and Caroline Deshaies, winners of the junior exhibitor class in which Awesome Town and Allyson Ehle were reserve.

Joellen Fisher Blount and Bobbi Brown WRF made the victory pass in the Adult Five-Gaited Pleasure class ahead of Sharon Stoltz and Don’t Ask Why.

There were plenty of nice entries in the Park Pleasure Championship and its qualifiers. David Arnold and Pearl Buck’s Leading Lady went two for two winning the championship and junior/novice class for Gail Dearth. They had tough competition from top to bottom, including twice reserve champions Snorkle and Kristen Cater. MaryBeth Alosa owns this winning combination.

Right up there with the Fine Harness Championship as one of the best Saddlebred classes of the show was the seven-entry UPHA Park Pleasure Classic. At the top all season long, the leg-waving gelding He Is The Heir was crowned the champion with Kevin Tomasko providing a good ride for Phoenix Prophecies LLC. Also staying in the top ribbons, the homebred Callback collected the reserve money with Bob Funkhouser in the irons for Bob and Raye Lynn Funkhouser. It was the second class of My Hart’s Reminiscent’s career and the young star was good again to take third for David Cater and owner Heather Thompson.

Results at the top were the same in the Adult Three-Gaited Show Pleasure Championship and qualifier. Dark Heiress and Jennifer Smith were right on the money to make both victory passes, while Annie Porte and Midnight’s April Dancer were thrilled at being twice reserve.

Wrighthall Stables had a winning week over and over and part of that success came with Corrina Arruda and Star Of The Millennium and their tricolor performance in the New England Three-Gaited Show Pleasure Championship. It was a good class that featured the always expressive Art In Motion and Traci Massaro in reserve and Cheryl Innis with the winning newcomer Endolane Supreme Admiral in third.

Massaro and Art In Motion came back to win the Limit Show Pleasure class topping another competitive group including reserve champions New York’s Time Square and Lauren Lagasse. New York’s Time Square was on top in the 14 and Under Three-Gaited Show Pleasure class in which Five Minutes Past Midnight and Audra Arel were second.

What a year it has been for Katie Hill. Representing Ricky Harris and the Somersdream team, Hill and Cashmere And Suede have tasted success over and over. Her hard work paid off again with the Walk and Trot Pleasure Championship and qualifying blue. Right up there at the top with two good rides as well, Stephanie Shoubash and Classic Star were twice reserve. Also in the mix, Jackie Maynard and My Peridot were twice third in the deep class.

CH Lover’s Heir fits the show pleasure driving division to a T. Driven by Tiana Tapper, Lover’s Heir made yet another trip down victory lane with the Show Pleasure Driving Championship for Wentz Stables. In the qualifier Claudia Fletcher and Midtown Magic got called to the winner’s circle ahead of CH Lover’s Heir.

New England shows have featured CH Titleist Commander in the winner’s circle of gaited pleasure classes several times over the past few years. He’s changed divisions but with the same results. Under the direction of Jan Lukens, CH Titleist Commander and Traci Massaro captured the Country Pleasure Grand Championship. They warmed up with a victory pass in the adult qualifier. From Cricket Hill Farm, Joseph Webb and Wicked Whispers rode out with the reserve championship streamers after also taking reserve in the New England Championship. Dawn Snyder and Just About Midnight were reserve in the adult qualifier.

Julianne Demers and Bi Mi Malahene were Judge Lavery’s top choice in both the New England Country Pleasure Grand Championship and Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure class. Megan Derby turned in a top ride to press the issue in the junior exhibitor class with reserve champion Mr. Diamond Merchant.

The names of Genius Poetic Justice and Megan Adams twice appeared on the big scoreboard at the end of the ring. They topped the Country Pleasure Driving Championship and qualifier. Elizabeth McCracken and Midnight Eclipse enjoyed the reserve championship, while Laurie Behr and Sox Appeal wore the red ribbon from the qualifier.

New England can boast of world-class equitation riders just as capable as any in the country. In addition to the Gillispie sisters dominating the prestigious New England Medal Finals, there was some tough competition in the age groups.

Winding down her winning career, Morgan world champion rider Brooke Gove landed Big E’s Saddle Seat Equitation Championship for instructor Kristen Cater. It was her tune up ride for her final Oklahoma equitation performances in October. NEHC New England Medal Finals Champion Marissa Gillispie garnered reserve grand champion honors.

Reserve world’s champion Olivia Prentiss topped the 17 and Under Equitation qualifier, placing ahead of reserve champion Meghann Wright, among others. Prentiss also turned in the winning performance in the USEF Medal where Laura McGee was reserve. McGee’s blue ribbon ride came in the NHS Good Hands.

Another current world titleholder from New England, Gavin Gagnon made the last pass in the Walk and Trot Equitation Championship after winning the UPHA 9-10 Year Old Challenge Cup for Fairfield South. Wrighthall Stable’s NEHC Walk and Trot Finals Champion Michaela Gillispie was the walk and trot reserve grand champion. Nikki Percoco claimed the blue prize from the UPHA 8 and Under Walk and Trot Challenge Cup.

Pleasure equitation competition featured Kaitlyn Grant in the winner’s circle for both the championship and qualifier. Brynne Cummings was twice reserve.

There was a good representation of talent in the Morgan English Pleasure Championship. Kristi Evans and Hylees Dann Osgood put on their second sporty show of the week. They started with a win in the New England Morgan English Pleasure Grand Championship. Reserve grand champion streamers were awarded to KGA’s Center Stage with David Arnold in the irons for Linda Dzicek. They were also reserve in the open class behind Medomak French Expression and Jane Morrell who were third in the championship.

With Nikki Evans aboard, Medomak French Invasion carried the tricolor from the ring in the Morgan Amateur English Pleasure Championship. JoAnn Bush and Farabee took home the reserve amateur championship after also taking reserve in the amateur qualifier and winning the junior/novice class. WSG Whamo and Ann Whitman were the winners of that qualifying class.

Katherine Bennett and UC Top This were by themselves in the Morgan Pleasure Driving Championship and qualifier. The versatile Farabee won the Morgan Amateur Pleasure Driving Championship with JoAnn Bush at the whip. They qualified with a win in the junior/novice class. Amateur qualifying winner Whitemud Starlite Express was the amateur reserve grand champion for Sally Eichlin and Dorothy Hock.

A nice class of Morgan Western pleasure horses featured the smooth going Wait A Second at the top of the championship competition. Enjoying her second stroll down victory lane, Erica Mitchell was the winning owner/rider. Next in line for top prize was reserve champion Equinox Beau Jangles with Kris Ann Jardin. Third place finisher was H Vee Hawks Centair, winner of the open class and reserve in the amateur class with Randall Zimmerman. Ensuite and Roger Brown were reserve in the open round.

The best of the Morgan Hunter Pleasure Championship entries was PAF Boomerang, winner of the open qualifier with Julie Parisien. Reserve in the amateur class, Black Ice was the reserve grand champion. Amateur winner MLB Goldrush Willy was third in the championship for Julie Comeau.

Kristi Evans found the winner’s circle time and time again at the 2006 Big E. SBS Power Play, winner of the Morgan Classic Pleasure Championship and saddle qualifier was among her stars. Brynne Cummings and Portrait In Red twice took home ribbons of the same color.

Driving competition for the classic pleasure Morgans found Whispering Bellavante, an entry owned and driven by Paula Macklin. JoAnn Bush and Tapestry Field Of Dreams were twice called out in reserve.

The ever-popular Jorrit was the Friesian Open Pleasure Championship. Trainer David Arnold and the black giant have created quite a fan club that is headed by owners Lou and Delia Fox. Also putting together a consistent winning career, Gooitzen Fan Teakesy L was the blue ribbon winner of the amateur class before taking reserve grand champion honors with owner Annika Bruggeworth. Stablemate Daimler B was reserve in the open class before taking third in the championship with Jan Lukens riding for Bruggeworth.

Rounding out the competition, Eastern States also offered an open pleasure division. David Cater rode Main Son to the NEHC Pleasure Championship for Hannah Medico. Jon Holmes and Midnight Snow rode up for reserve honors in that one.

Mary Mitkish and Strictly Adventure turned in blue ribbon rides from both the CHSA English Pleasure class and the Junior Exhibitor Pleasure OTAB competition.

Those were the highlights from another year at the fair. In addition to the show ring competition, the show offered some top hospitality. The annual Brookmont Farm welcome party is always eagerly anticipated. Exhibitors and officials gather in the Brook’s building to enjoy great food and drink. On Saturday evening the annual ESHBA auction and exhibitors’ party was a great place to unwind. Along with all the activities of the fair it was a fun-filled weekend.

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