State health officials slapped the Horses In The Sun facility in Saugerties with a cease-and-desist order Tuesday, forcing changes to the first event at HITS since the pandemic-induced shutdown in March. Events scheduled for July 1 and 2 are taking place with cap of 25 competitors each, while events slated for July 3-5 have been cancelled.
“We are not competing Sunday through Thursday,” said Francesca Mazella when reached at the HITS office Wednesday. Come Monday bigger classes will be run, she said, and the previously announced schedule will resume next Wednesday, July 8. The hunter-jumper competitions that had been scheduled for June were cancelled, and in an interview published last week, CEO Tom Struzzieri spoke about how the closure ripples through the economy to impact many other people including groomers, crew members, and horse traders.
A tone of exasperation was detectable in Mazella’s voice when she spoke about the order warning that moving forward with this week’s event, called the Vermont Summer Special, as planned could result in a fine of $1,000 a day. The letter sent also reportedly threatened court action to compel compliance. “We got all the approvals we were meant to,” she said. “I do not know what happened.” However, she was confident that the situation had been resolved and the new schedule would stick.
Struzzieri voluntarily cancelled the events for July 3-5, according to remarks made by Saugerties Town Supervisor Fred Costello quoted in local media reports.
Per Costello, the order initially called for a full stop, but state health officials agreed to allow the event to take place in a reduced form, with no more than 25 competitors at a time.
Shows at the facility will take place without spectators as a response to the coronavirus which continues to spread worldwide. Struzzieri is juggling requirements for a number of facilities throughout the country, with the Vermont Summer Special being arranged because the facility he’s contracted to buy in Manchester, Vermont, is operating under strict quarantine rules for out-of-state competitors. In contrast the Lamplight, in Chicago, has seen shows in June, albeit under conditions including mandatory face coverings and a thorough cleaning regimen.
The reopening of HITS has not been without controversy, as it mirrors the national debate around striking the right balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods. HITS is a significant economic driver in the area, and in a normal year draws thousands of out-of-state visitors to Saugerties.
The Great American Summer Series, of which the Vermont Summer Special is part, includes events scheduled through Aug. 9. The cease-and-desist order does not cover those later events. CEO Struzzieri was not in the office, and did not respond to a request for comment by press time.