Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Country Classic

I have to get my hunter jumper fix at least once a year. The Country Classic held in Wilsonville, Oregon, each July is billed as the largest hunter-jumper show on the west coast north of San Diego. It began in 1973 at Inchinnan Farm south of Wilsonville on the beautiful Willamette River, the farm of Sir James McDonald. The jump courses were set up in the sheep pastures, vendors were located beneath the mature trees around the classic white farm house. In 1975 the Portland Opera Association became the beneficiary of proceeds from the show. The Opera Association displayed elaborate costumes used in productions and provided singers for the National Anthem. Following Sir James' death the show was disbanded; however, it was revived in 1998 at Pacific Meadows Farm farther south of Wilsonville near Newberg, Oregon. In 2000 The Country Classic found a new home at Hunter Creek Farm just miles off I-5 at Wilsonville. Current beneficiaries include the Portland Opera Association (again), Forward Stride therapeutic riding program, and Riding for Reading. Hunter Creek straddles Wilsonville Road with a tunnel that connects the east and west portions of the acreage. The house, pool and barns are located east of the road along the Willamette River; while permanent rings and warm-up areas are accessed through the tunnel on the west side of the road. Vendors are situated on both sides of the road, the tack stores located near the hunter and jumper rings, arts and crafts near the grand prix arena, and food on both sides.

I had to spend a little time at the Adult Ammie hunter ring for old time's sake. I could never afford to show at this level, but hunters was a lifelong dream and I eventually got to participate at a modest level. Sorry, but I find the 36+ AA division amusing. These are folks who are new to horses or who returned to horses after decades. Every year I see riders who would never make it around the course if their horse wasn't trained to death. It's more fun to watch hunters if you actually know one or more competitors, since it appears to be the same brown horse with the same rider in a dark hunt coat going around the course over and over again. :-) But I take notes for a mystery novel that I hope to write set in the horse world.

I prefer going to The Country Classic on Saturday when the Speed Derby is held. This is the only competition at Hunter Creek that uses "The Log." Hunter Creek is now owned by Sally Cutler, a long time member of the Oregon hunter-jumper world; but before Sally acquired the place it was developed as a bed and breakfast for horse and rider. In the large field near the main house is a log about four feet in diameter and maybe 20-30 or more feet long. It's landscaped at each end with a jump pole placed atop the log so it is in essence a 4-foot+ jump. During the Speed Derby it is an optional jump...a shortcut to the next fence, provided you clear it. So the goal for spectators is to crowd the bleachers that give a good view of The Log. Most courses are designed so the approach is from east to west, which is a downhill slope. Tricky. Horses tend to speed up and flatten out downhill. So it can be quite thrilling when riders elect to take The Log. This year no horse or rider crashed at The Log, thank goodness. One rider made the error of a tight turn from fence one to two, losing more time struggling with her horse than gained by the shortcut. Several riders opted for a neat angle over fence seven (an oxer) before the right turn to fence eight, The Log or optional vertical. Going for speed with a hot horse turned out to be a mistake. An excellent round on a large chestnut that made the course look easy fell apart when the rider forgot the course and later knocked down a pole or two. The Speed Derby is full of thrills for the educated spectator.

The Country Classic is widely advertised and attracts horse folks and non-horse folks alike. Not all the horse folks are knowledgable about hunter jumpters, and the non-horse families definitely aren't. Eavesdropping on crowd comments can therefore be as entertaining as watching the competitiors. This year most of the people I sat near knew what was going on, so we all recognized a tight angle over an oxer or the "not gonna do it" expression on the horse's face.

Hunter Creek hosts several hunter-jumper shows this summer produced by HAP (Horses and People). Great location in the country for anyone looking for an escape from the city and a chance to see gorgeous and athletic horses.

My favorite scene in "National Velvet" is when Elizabeth Taylor and the Pie arrive at The Grand National and she sniffs the flowers and says, "Horses!" My sentiments exactly when I attend The Country Classic.

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