By Nancy Jaffer, originally posted on http://nancyjaffer.com/monmouth-at-the-team-more-than-just-a-show/.
The success of Monmouth at the Team is a testament to persistence, vision and risk-taking. Oh yes, and we can’t forget the organizers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty–but more on that later.
The last four years have marked an upswing in the 124-year history of the Monmouth County Horse Show, New Jersey’s oldest show. In 2016, the show’s new owners, cousins Tucker Ericson and Michael Dowling, moved it out of Monmouth County, where it was languishing, and took it north to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s Gladstone facility.
They weren’t discouraged by having to go from multiple rings to a single ring (albeit an iconic one) and being unable to hold A-rated classes because of a U.S. Equestrian Federation mileage conflict with the Fairfield, Conn., show. In addition, Monmouth runs at the same time as the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby and Green Hunter Incentive championships are headlining in Kentucky. While the horses in those big money competitions wouldn’t be the ones competing at Monmouth, that conflict means others in the barns of the trainers involved don’t come to New Jersey.
None of that stopped the innovative cousins. There is always moaning that B-rated shows are dying or dead, but Monmouth is doing fine, courtesy of a great location, excellent management (from Creigh Duncan), lots of hospitality and making competitors feel welcome. What a concept!
Entries have been so good at the show, which runs through Aug. 19, that “every night we’re battling the dark,” said Tucker, “and everyone’s having a good time in hospitality. There are a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.”
He gets some questioning looks “when I tell people these eight days are made up of four individual B shows, one unrecognized day, and a level 3 jumper show for three days, It’s probably the most unique show in the country for an eight-day span. But it seems to work. There’s something for everyone. It’s a schedule that was kind of forced upon us when we bought the show and moved it, but it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
Sponsorship continues to grow. New sponsor Aon, which backed a riders’ lounge, brought people to the show from non-profits, including the battered women’s shelter and Make A Wish.
As Tucker observed, people love showing at the USET Foundation, where so many famous riders got their start.
“This is such a great area with lots of grass roots, high-quality people,” said Tucker, noting it’s a perfect time for a show, because people are returning from vacation. For the kids, “it’s their last hurrah before they go back to school.”
“On the weekend, it’s nice having the jumpers, because the sponsors and the community that doesn’t know a lot about horses necessarily can really enjoy the jumpers and understand it a little bit, because height and speed is easier to follow than the subjectivity of the hunters,” said Tucker.
During the week, however, the show’s focus is generally on the hunters and equitation. My favorite time at the show is the Thursday, Bobcat Derby Day. It’s unrecognized, but features two $5,000 derbies; one over 2-foot and 2-6 fences, and the other over 3-foot fences.
Bobcat ear headbands with little tufts on top are quite a “thing” at the show. Riders in the derbies wear them on their helmets and most in the hospitality tent sport them too. The derby winners got plush stuffed bobcats toys to add a flourish to the concept.
The derbies are presented by The Nature Conservancy as a fundraiser for Bobcat Alley, an area on the border of Sussex and Warren counties. Buying more land will enable the endangered cats (whose mortal enemy is the automobile) to move safely between the New Jersey Highlands, the Kittatinny Ridge and part of the Appalachian Mountains.
“The good news is we’re protecting additional land, so they have the ability to roam. We’re making good progress against our goal of 3,500 acres,” said Barbara Brummer, the Nature Conservancy’s New Jersey state director. There are an estimated 300 bobcats in the state “up from almost nothing in the ‘80s,” she said, when some bobcats were imported from New England to add to the population.
“They’re recovering slowly; they need protected lands, so we just have to keep at it. It’s very rewarding to see everybody enjoying the bobcat ears and just thinking about the bobcat.”
The 2-foot/ 2-6 derby, which had 50 competing, went to Evelyn Smith of Morristown on C’est A Dire Z, a Zangersheide mare who usually does the equitation. As such, “I didn’t have too many expectations in terms of placing coming into this. She’s never won a class like this,” said Evelyn, a sophomore at Delaware Valley University who rides with Lindsay Mohr.
“I just came here to put in a good round and have fun. It came out a lot better than I thought it would. I love coming here every year, it’s such an incredible venue and they run it so well. Being in this ring, you feel like a million dollars,” noted Evelyn, who wants to do the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East there in October, so she had a good school for that in the derby.
The 3-foot class, which drew 32 entries, was won by Centenary University student Madison Myro riding Rock A Feller for only the second time in competition. The Hanoverian former show jumper did some grands prix but was “too slow for that,” according to Michael Meyers, who trains Madison along with Michael Dowling at Windham Hill in Long Valley.
Madison, a working student for the Michaels, came up with a different path on the handy course designed by Skip Bailey, and while one person copied her complicated route, complete with the fancy turns that boosted her score, she did it better.
“It’s certainly very exciting to win here,” said Michael Dowling, “but we want people to come here and have a great time, so we’re really excited for everybody’s success.”
The excitement over, he started collecting the garbage from cans around the ring. After that, it was going to be a tour of duty cleaning the restrooms to the degree of perfection he expects. Earlier in the day, Tucker—who often bartends—did his share of dirty work by kneeling in the ring and throwing footing in the air during the ribbon presentations so the horses would get their ears up. That’s what I meant about the cousins not being afraid to get their hands dirty, which obviously is part of the secret of their success.
“The organizers live and breathe this. They’re so committed to this,” said Guy Torsilieri, a board member of the Gladstone Equestrian Association, which helps promote the show and other equestrian events in the Somerset Hills.
Hospitality is a big deal in the ringside tent at the show, where a band plays during the afternoons and three meals a day are served, plus ice cream socials during the afternoons.
Julie Berman, who runs the hospitality tent, calls it “great fun. There’s so much energy, so much history, people want to come out and show in this beautiful arena.”
The history is part of Monmouth’s fabric. On a table in the tent are many of Monmouth’s historic sterling silver trophies, and three ribbons from the first show in 1895.
They came from a Californian, Felicia Tracy. She reported, “I believe they were won by horses of my grandparents, Robert S. McCreery and his wife, Madelon.”
Also on the table are several vintage photos from Monmouth of Sally Ike, now the USEF’s managing director of licensed officials.
“Monmouth was the first show I ever rode in. I was nine, I did walk-trot. The show was at the Monmouth Park track.
“To see this show come back to Gladstone, it’s drop dead gorgeous; the ambience. It makes me so proud to have been a part of it at the very beginning,” said Sally, whose father, Joseph Lord, was the show’s president in the 1960s. She cited the “community feel” at Gladstone, noting, “that’s the way it was back in the day.”
The hospitality tent is busy–and crowded–all the time, which promotes that sense of community.
“Now in the morning, we have different families and barns sponsoring breakfast and they’re all trying to outdo each other, and people are trying to outdo each other for lunch, and we have themed parties in the evening,” said Tucker.
Cuban, Louisiana, Greek and barbeque are among the different nightly offerings.
All in all, Monmouth at the Team is quite a package. As Tucker observed, “It’s hard to say whether it’s primarily an event or a horse show.” Most of all, though, it’s a destination.
This is a copy of an article that originally appeared on Nancy Jaffer Equestrian Sports and is reproduced here with permission. ©2019 On The Rail LLC and Nancy Jaffer. All rights reserved.