As the HITS-on-the-Hudson show grounds were being made ready for the start of another season of hunter/jumper horse shows earlier this week, the first of the boots-and-britches clad equestrians who come to Saugerties every spring and summer have been spotted in the village.
They’re a familiar sight to locals, as they’ve been coming here for ten years now to participate in the nine-week season that draws, on average, more than 3,000 horses, 4,500 horsemen and women and 2,500 spectators to the region. The economic impact of their arrival is estimated at $50 million. That includes spending on food, lodging, living expenses and tourism.
And the visitors are receiving a warm welcome from folks in town, according to Eric Thompson, a rider and trainer. He and his wife Emily are making Saugerties their home base this summer for the third consecutive year. “We actually just had lunch in town, and we got a very nice reception at the deli we went to for a sandwich, and at Lucky Chocolates,” he said. “People were very friendly and asked us all kinds of questions about the horse shows. They seem very excited to have everyone back.”
The Thompsons consider themselves “officially gypsies,” dividing their time between the horse shows in their winter base in Wellington, Florida (West Palm Beach) and those in Saugerties during the summer. When the weather becomes too hot in Florida, they go north, and in September, make the return trip. “It’s not the most conventional way of life, but we find that the horses are able to be kept at their peak performance when they’re in the right weather conditions,” he said.
And while Florida has its conveniences, “it’s a little shy on character,” Thompson said. “Coming to Saugerties is wonderful for us; it’s just a lovely town, and this time of year it’s gorgeous, too, when everything is so green.” Some of the neighboring communities offer similar amenities, he said, but Saugerties appeals to him “because of its authenticity; there’s just a little more ‘realness’ here.”
The couple operate their business, Stella Farm, from the stables at the HITS show grounds. They currently have 11 horses stabled there, Thompson said. “We have horses at every level. At the entry level classes you’re really just acclimating the horses to the show ring; everything that is new to a horse can be perceived as a potential threat to them, so you have to take it very, very slowly. Then we have horses that are 10 and 11 years old that are sort of at the peak of their show career doing some of the top classes like the Grand Prix and the Hunter Prix.”
Thompson rides the horses in the competitions, as does wife Emily and assistant Lindsay Bailey, who also helps out with the management of the horses and the daily training. The Thompsons partner with a horse breeder in Montreal to purchase their horses; an unusual arrangement, he said, because most of the horses bred for hunter/jumper competition come from old bloodlines in Holland and Germany and are imported here from Europe. Emily Thompson is an entrepreneur, as well, with her own line of equestrian clothing sold through tack shops and online. Some of the vendors at the show grounds in Saugerties will be carrying her products, Thompson said.
‘We’ve gotten very at home here’
Trainer Ronnie Beard also winters in Wellington, Fl., the location of his farm Wyndmont, Inc. and the site of one of the largest circuit of horse shows in the country. (The Wellington shows are not connected with HITS, Inc., who operate their own winter competitions in Ocala, Florida.)