Give me a sunny day, a good vantage point and a clear idea of the rules, and I could happily watch a Paint-Drying Competition. Toss in a compelling story line upon which to build a rooting interest and I’ll be the last one to leave the bleachers.
At last weekend’s Hampton Classic I had the first two in hand and was working hard on the others as I watched the Davenport Incorporated Amateur/Owner Jumper Classic, the first of the day’s two Grand Prix Ring events. Unfortunately, the tools of my event-watching trade (event documentation, intelligible P.A. system, informative scoreboard, knowledgeable fellow spectators) were in short supply, leaving me to my own devices to figure out how this whole horse-jumping scoring thing works.
At the risk of reducing equestrian experts into spasms of laughter, here’s what I came up with.
The Hampton Classic was once described to me as “the Super Bowl of equestrian events”. Hmmm. Intriguing. Unable to control the Pavlovian effect that the words “Super Bowl” have on a sports fan, I felt immediately compelled to travel to the outer reaches of Long Island, New York to take in Hampton Classic XXXV. Hey, I was in the neighborhood.
Mind you, this was the Hamptons on Labor Day Weekend, so I knew it wouldn’t be a piece of cake to get there. And as a resident of Los Angeles, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of fine traffic. But as I sat on Route 27 on a sun-splashed Saturday morning I was humbled.
This was clearly a new paradigm in traffic jams, rivaled only by the recent 9-day back-up in China. The next time you hear somebody say facetiously, “I could have walked there faster”, feel free to reference me as a hands-on authority on the matter. I had plenty of time to do the math.
If there was such a thing as “Event Production 101” the first rule of thumb taught would probably be “Make people aware of the existence of your event”.
Signs help with that.
You cannot possibly over-do on this. I guarantee that everyone who has ever driven I-95 through the Carolinas knows of the existence of South of The Border, a cheesier-than-Velveeta amusement park. The 4,379 billboards stretched for miles before the exit for the park make sure of that. Of course it’s not worth making the effort to actually go there…but I did once. And only because the ubiquitous signage captured my attention and piqued my curiosity.
I’m not saying that the organizers of the Hampton Classic should pursue that exact strategy, but as I approached Bridgehampton on the one road that you must travel to get there, there was not a single sign telling me how far I had to go, or even that I was getting close. Or that I had passed the turn onto Snake Hollow Road, for that matter.
But when I was pretty certain that I had traveled through Bridgehampton entirely, I stopped at a bowling alley and asked for directions. “Oh, that’s right off this main road. Turn around and drive until you see Bridgehampton National Bank. Then take the next right.” I did just that, and sure enough, in less than a half mile I came to the event’s entrance. Which is where I encountered the very first sign that bore the words “Hampton Classic”.
Things picked up from there, when I learned that admission was free once I paid my $10 parking fee. No ticket, no hand stamp, no nothing. Clearly they were not concerned about people parking in the plaza just down the road and wandering into the event for free. Don’t think I didn’t consider it.
The thing about no admission fee is that there’s also no front “gate” where one could pick up a program or other additional event information. As I searched that out, I wandered fairly aimlessly into the Boutique Gardens – an expo unlike anything that I’d ever seen at a sports event.
Dozens upon dozens of tents stocked with artwork, apparel, jewelry and pricey home décor items were laid out around a common that was almost as big as a football field. It was basically a huge high-end sidewalk sale. Without the sidewalk. Or the sale prices. While I could have easily scheduled a test drive for a Jaguar or a Land Rover – or completely redecorated my house for that matter – trying to find a schedule of events, or any information on the actual competition proved fruitless.
My mission to find documentation on the event was based on the hope that it would include some basic description of what I would be seeing. As a novice horse-jumping fan, I wanted to come up to speed quickly enough to be able to share pithy, insightful remarks as I took in the competition with my fellow equestrian buffs. Unfortunately though, I had to go in pithy-less.
I made my way over to the Grand Prix Ring, and found to my delight that the grandstand seating was exceptional, especially for a temporary structure. There were actual ballpark-type fold-down seats in the middle sections of the grandstand, and leg room was plentiful. I was amazed that this luxury had been bestowed upon the peasants like me who were not VIP tent occupants. In fact, I had a much better view of the action than did the folks in the tents. Granted, their set-up accommodated socializing a bit more – but I was here more for ponies than people.
As I surveyed the course in front of me, I couldn’t help but think how much it reminded me of an over-sized miniature golf course. There were two dozen or so hurdles laid out over a grass surface, most of which had different themes and motifs: A gazebo, a lighthouse, a couple of miniature castles, a handful of wishing wells, and my favorite – a mock dock, complete with mock seagulls.
I learned later that many of these hurdles were movable, allowing the event organizers to completely reconfigure the course in between competitions – presumably to accommodate a variety of ridership skill levels.
Two things became evident shortly after the start of the first Grand Prix Ring event, the Davenport Incorporated Amateur/Owner Jumper Classic. One – this was one of those higher ridership skill level events. And two – figuring out how the scoring of this thing works was going to present a challenge.
Normally in these situations, I simply eavesdrop on surrounding conversations in order to identify the right mix of knowledge and approachability, and then ask some kind soul for a quick rules clinic. That strategy has never failed. Until today.
Aside from the fact that there weren’t too many people who chose to sit in my section (even though I had a prime viewing location), nobody that did so fit the profile. If they knew what was going on, they weren’t talking about it. As far as my inquiring ears could hear, people were either dead silent or talking to each other about totally unrelated topics. This was not exactly a passionate crowd.
I was left to cobble together some semblance of the rules based on the snippets of P.A. announcements that I could understand, the rudimentary scoreboard display, and some basic competitive horse-sense. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.
To be continued…