This weekend people and horses from all over the world descended on the Old Salem Farm in North Salem for the 45th Annual Gold Cup Equestrian Competition. One of 14 qualifying tournaments held in the United States each year, this is the only one in New York, according to the farm’s Sponsorship and Marketing Director, Chelsea Dwinell.
“We have a sense of pride to have the world’s attention for a weekend,” said Dwinell.
Under blue skies, perfectly manicured grounds and horses taking flight everywhere on 190 June Road, she likened the horseplay to the X’s and O’s that a good football team must manage to be successful. “To pull off a good result, it takes communication between the horse and the rider,” she said.
Noel Phelan, who comes every year from Waterford, Ireland, agreed and views the execution from the bottom up. “Jumping is all about getting the horse’s back end off the ground,” said Phelan.
Allison Stawarz of Pittsburgh wasn’t up in the air on the Phelan’s take, while understanding the gravity from a rider’s perspective. “You just have to breathe and relax on your approach,” said Stawarz as she waited to compete on Saturday.
The worst case then is always a possibility. “Sometimes falling hurts and sometimes it just hurts your pride,” joked Stawarz.
Hoping to get her turn someday – save too many falls, young Grace Crookenden of New Canaan took to the hill where spectators stretched out on the grass to see the action and reflected on what horses mean to her. “I love being with a horse, it’s so relaxing,” she said while eating lunch with her Dad Charles.
As for owning a horse rather than just taking lessons, her Dad was quick to interrupt her optimism with a less than definitive, “maybe” on the possibility. Nonetheless, the optics didn’t get away from him. “This is such a lovely setting,” said Charles Crookenden.
Linda Li and her daughter Katherine said as much with the excitement on their faces as first timers to the event. “I’ve always driven by but never came,” said the mom from North Salem, while marveling at all the patience that competing must require.
A word that came up among many of those in attendance, which vendor Laura Decker clarified. “You have to earn a horse’s trust. That takes time and patience,” said the representative of Voltaire Design, which makes riding saddles.
Once established, the all important aspect of accuracy can be nurtured, according to Michelle Stacey of Ipswich, Massachusetts. “The rider has to know a horse’s jumping arc, stride, pace and even mood so the right lift off point can be determined,” said the lifelong rider.
Milli Becker of Pound Ridge found that type of connection empowering for female riders like herself. “There’s something powerful about sitting on a two ton animal and making it do what you want,” said Becker. “That makes riding exhilarating.”