Following a year hiatus forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers of the Hampton Classic Horse Show are champing at the bit and ready to bring the East End’s premier equestrian event back to Bridgehampton this summer. And despite skipping last year, there’s much to celebrate with the Classic’s return during the week of August 29–September 5. Riders are eager to compete, few sponsors have bailed out and the turf has had two years to recover. One could argue that 2021 will be better than ever.
Hampton Classic executive director for the past 16 years, Shanette Barth Cohen says they had little option but to cancel in 2020. Some horse shows were able to run competition without spectators during the pandemic, but that wouldn’t have been possible at the Classic. “We couldn’t afford to run the show with just the horse show itself,” she explains, pointing out that rider entry fees cover most prize money, but they have no built-in infrastructure or facilities, such as jumps, rings, PA systems—pretty much everything that makes the event what it is.
Last year was disappointing, but Cohen says she and her team immediately went to work planning for 2021. “We decided we were running in 2021 when we canceled in 2020. It wasn’t really a decision to happen,” she recalls, though they couldn’t fully go forward with contracts and booking officials and vendors. “It was a sort of gradual thing as it became clearer and clearer that we’d be able to run.”
Momentum has been building since then, as it’s become clearer this summer’s show won’t differ much from previous Classics. “Early in the year it was looking like maybe we’d have to do some modifications,” Cohen says, but the world is quickly shifting back to the way it was. “At this point we’re expecting the show to be relatively normal. I don’t think we’re going to have to change much besides encouraging mask wearing if you’re not vaccinated—that type of thing.”
They originally expected to cut the number of VIP tables, but even that is no longer a problem. As far as changes that stuck, Cohen says they moved Kids Day from its usual Saturday slot to Thursday in an effort to keep weekend numbers down and drive congestion to a day with fewer capacity issues. “Kids Day was a natural to move to Thursday because a Saturday is going to be busy regardless,” she points out. “Now we probably could have Kids day on Saturday, but we’ve already made the change and that’s fine.”
Unfortunately, a number of vendors with accepted applications have backed out, but mainly because the Hamptons is so hopping this summer that they’ve found it impossible to secure housing for the week. At least one other couldn’t come due to a pandemic-related corporate policy that has yet to change.
To cover their bases and put minds at ease, Cohen says they forged a partnership with Health Rover months ago to be the official COVID testing partner of the Hampton Classic, when they thought on-site testing might be needed. “They’re a mobile health unit that has testing equipment,” she adds, noting that the company is even working on a concussion test that could be available by next summer. “At the time we made the arrangement we figured we’d at least need to have our staff be tested on a regular basis,” Cohen continues, describing yet another precaution that is now unnecessary, especially since most of her staff is vaccinated. But Health Rover will still be on-site if the situation changes.
Normally, Hampton Classic tickets go on sale in June, but this year they won’t be available until August 1. “We modified because there were so many unknowns,” Cohen says, but even with the delay, she expects sales to be brisk. VIP tent areas are already mostly sold out, which happened much earlier than in previous years. And 2021’s competitor entries, which opened right around Memorial Day, are way ahead of 2019 in terms of how many horses have been entered to compete. Cohen also expects grandstand seats to sell out.
“I don’t know if our crowds can get bigger because we only have a certain amount of parking,” Cohen says. “I think we’ll be as busy as ever.” Typically, some 50,000 people come to watch the event, showcasing more than 1,500 horses competing hundreds of thousands of dollars in 200 hunter, jumper and equitation classes.
And, of course, the surest sign that the Hampton Classic isn’t going away this year is the 2021 poster reveal. Originally meant to be last year’s poster, the gorgeous image by equine photographer Shelli Breidenbach features a powerful chestnut horse on a white background. It’s the first time a photo has been used for the poster since 2007. Due to the carryover from last year, Cohen says the Classic never sent a request for submissions, but they still received a bunch, which will be entered for next year’s poster.
At this point, it seems nothing can stop the Hampton Classic Horse Show from a big, splashy return—and it comes just after the 2021 Olympics. Nearly all of the event’s top, fan-favorite riders will be there, and it will be the first time any participating Olympians will be back in competition on U.S. soil.
“What’s new is that we’re trying to make it as the same as it’s always been,” Cohen says. “We want people to feel like we’re back full-steam ahead and we didn’t miss a stride.”
Learn more at hamptonclassic.com.