By Katie Benfield
For the last 94 years, the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show has been constantly providing equestrian exhibitors with an elite horse show to compete in, as well as High Country residents and visitors with an attraction unlike any other in the area.
“Our unique factor is the overall historic nature of the facility and the event itself,” Maurice Ewing, a member of the Board of Directors of the Broyhill Equestrian Reserve, said, “along with the fact that this horse show has been designed to be fun for the exhibitors, for the owners, for the people who come out to watch.”
The Charity Horse Show has been held in three locations since it was founded – on Green Hill behind the Green Park Inn, in a vacant lot on Ransom Street and at the Broyhill Equestrian Preserve. It has been in its current location, the Preserve, since 1928.
Originally, the location was a 9-hole golf course that was rarely ever used. The owner, Tom Broyhill, ended up selling his property to the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show Association in 1935 for $1, according to Ewing.
“We’ve owned the property ever since,” Ewing said. “We’ve added land here and there, added property and things like that, but it’s still the same original arena as it always has been.”
The United States Equestrian Federation sanctions about 2,500 horse shows around the United States, and that federation is a member of the International Equestrian Federation.
“That’s the context in which this event occurs,” Ewing said. “There are 20 Heritage Horse Shows in America out of that 2,500 that are sanctioned, and we are one of those 20. This is a very elite competition.”
People from all over the nation come to participate in these horse shows – some even arriving from Texas, California or New York. A lot of those who come do so because it is also a good opportunity to do business – so exhibitors will sometimes bring 40 horses with them.
“A lot of horses change hands here during this event, so it’s a multi-faceted type of thing,” Ewing said. “2,500 people will be here over the next couple of weeks, and there will be 500 horses present.”
Another thing that the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show has to its advantage is the weather.
“During the summertime, people who ride and show horses are used to doing so in 90 degree heat, and up here, it’s cooler,” Ewing said. “The horses perform better when its cooler and the people who are riding them are cooler. Everyone has a better time.”
However, because of the decrease in temperature, the horses can have extra energy and excitement. In order to work with this problem, the Preserve has an area that can be used for lunging the horses. Lunging horses is usually done by a groom – someone who does all of the technical work with the horse, such as feeding, watering, managing medication, all of the groundwork – and involves putting the horse on a lead of 30-50 feet so that they can work in circles around the groom.
“Because these horses, in the competition, need to go quietly and easily, it’s important to work some of that energy out,” Ewing said. “Grooms can lunge 2 to 3 horses in the morning before feeding time, and it takes the edge off and gets them to work out the energy.”
Along with a lunging area, there is also a schooling ring, which is used to practice riding the horse or to be schooled by a trainer. It is different from a warm-up ring as a warm up ring is only used for horses that are about to go into the arena for the competition.
“You’re not going into the schooling ring to be judged,” Ewing said, “you’re just going in there to take advantage of riding here, working with the horse and getting in there the day before you compete or earlier on the day of.”
A farrier, a professional skilled in the process of putting horse shoes on a horse and taking care of hooves, and a veterinarian will be present throughout the entire upcoming two weeks of shows and competitions. In a usual day, a farrier can shoe 8 horses, unless he brings a partner, and then they will most likely shoe 16 horses.
Every single stall within the Preserve will be full of horses, tack or feed for the entire two weeks of the horse show. There are 435 stalls currently, and right before the event, the Preserve will be erecting a tent with 75 stalls that will provide even more space for all of the horses competing.
Not only does the Preserve offer all of this space to board horses for the competition, but there are also two show rings that will be utilized throughout the events.
There is the main arena, which is a bigger, more spacious arena where the hunter and jumper classes will be performing.
“There’s a grand stand, boxes for people to sit and watch,” Ewing said, “and what’s most important about the main arena is the fact that this is where all of the horse shows haven taken place since the horse show was moved to this location.”
The main arena is a humungous arena with a grand stand on one side, complete with a judges’ box so they can see all competing horses within the arena at all times, and with box seating on the other side. Vendors and sales booths line the outer rim on the opposite side of the arena that holds the main entrance of the horses.
The vendors in these outside retail booths will be selling products throughout the horse shows, ranging from jewelry to equipment to apparel. It is right across from the concessions stand which, according to Ewing, is very popular during the shows.
Along with the main arena, there is a smaller ring where hunter and jumper classes will also be performing over the two weeks of competitions.
“Both rings will be used in the upcoming competitions,” Ewing said, “There will be classes competing in both rings simultaneously.”
The classes that will be competing in the upcoming competitions of the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show will be hunter and jumper classes. The Saddlebred classes have already competed with those division shows having taken place in June.
There are a couple of differences one will find when it comes to Saddlebred, Hunter and Jumper classes.
“If you saw the two perform, there would be no question that one could not do what the other one does,” Ewing said.
So, what do they do?
Saddlebred horses are much more intense, Ewing stated. They come into the arena fired up and then leave completely exhausted. Saddlebreds will show maybe once or twice a day, at most. They are more energetic and have more action than their counterparts.
On the other hand, Hunters are designed to mimic their performance in the hunt field; this means that they have to be quiet and relaxed. They are methodical and they preserve their energy, unlike Saddlebreds.
“The idea is for them to go easily and quietly,” Ewing said. “Sometimes a real fox hunt would last 5 to 6 hours, and a horse would need to make it that long. A Saddlebred, with its intense energy in the ring, wouldn’t be able to go for two hours. A Hunter would.”
A Jumper, the third category, is simpler than that. No matter what category the Jumper is in, the rail stays up or it stays down, and the clock tells you who wins, according to Ewing. Typically, they will have one round, and if a horse rides clean through the whole round, they will ride in the jump off round.
Regardless of whether a horse is in the Saddlebred, Hunter or Jumper divisions, at the end of each of the classes, there are awards and ribbons given out.
“There will be upwards of 100 classes, and after each class, there will be 6 ribbons presented,” Ewing said, “and on the final day, there are championships presented with trophies for the winners.”
Because it is impossible to tell how long each class will take to complete, a concrete schedule cannot be made. The beginning time of the first competition of the day can be made (for these events, it’s usually in between 7:30-8:00 a.m.), but it is impossible to tell when the classes will be finished, when other classes will begin or when the show will be done with for the day.
However, the shows have to be over by the time it gets dark in the evenings because there is no lighting. Although it would be simple and somewhat cheap to install lights, the Broyhill Equestrian Preserve refuses to install them on the basis of the partnership they have with the town of Blowing Rock.
“There will be 2,500 people staying in Blowing Rock within 18 miles of the Preserve that wouldn’t be here otherwise, so this is a huge tourist attraction,” Ewing said. “We don’t want to keep people here all night, and that’s a good thing for the town of Blowing Rock because then people can go eat, go to the shops, go home and rest.”
Ewing stated that the American Quarter Horse Association has found that there are 3.5 people associated with each horse, and if you have 500 horses, you can guess what the possible population will be that will come to Blowing Rock for these horse shows.
“Without the town, the horse show wouldn’t have the appeal that it does. With the amenities, atmosphere and traditions of the town, it is as much a part of what makes this a successful event as what we do here on the property,” Ewing said. “In return, we bring 7.1 million dollars worth of economic impact in 21 days, and I don’t think that there’s another attraction here that performs that well for the community in 21 days.”
There are a lot of people who return every year for the horse show, who are loyal contributors and donate to the show and the Preserve. Along with this, there are generations of people who return all the time, year after year, to leave their legacy.
A man who occupies one of the many barns on the Preserve is a professional horse trainer and owned the horse of the year for the entire country for two years. His daughter is a seasoned professional, and he, himself, has been coming to the Preserve since he was a kid. His dad was a professional horseman, now he is, now his children are and now his grandchildren are riding in the show.
“That’s four generations of that one family riding in this horse show,” Ewing said. “It’s absolutely incredible to have that kind of involvement and commitment.”
Ewing has been around for the horse shows for his entire life, having a picture of himself at 7 or 8 years old on a little white pony near the main arena. This will be his 68th Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show.
“Those of us who have been around for a long time, we feel like we have an obligation to those before us who were able to keep this horse show running for the last 94 years,” Ewing said, “and we are working towards keeping it going for the next 94 years.”
The Preserve, while it doesn’t rent out horses to the general public, does lease stalls. They rent out stalls by the day, week or the whole summer. If you happen to get a stall in the The Schaefer Boarder Barn, which was donated by Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer and built in 2014, Ewing says you’re in luck.
“You get full board and your horse is essentially cared for. It’s fed and watered, the stall is cleaned out for you,” Ewing said. “This barn is really incredibly spectacular. You will never find a finer equine building than this one right here.”
The Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show had the Saddlebred Division compete from June 8-11. The upcoming competitions are for the Hunter/Jumper Divisions, and they will run from July 25-30 and August 1-6. You can find beginning times for each day on the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show website on their updated and available schedules.
Tickets are $10 per day for adults, and children 12 and under get in for free.
The benefits from the horse show go towards multiple different charities, including the App State Equestrian Team, Horse Helpers of the High Country, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the Watauga Humane Society, Danny & Ron’s Rescue, the Blowing Rock Rotary Club and many more.
For more information about the Broyhill Preserve or the Horse Show, visit the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show Foundation website.