Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Hampton Classic Horse Show

We went to the Grand Slam... or the Grand Whatever... I never ever go to horse shows and so to go out to Bridgehampton on the South Fork of Long Island on Sunday with my wife, who is the one with the experience and love of horses -- for me to accompany her to see the horse show was a new adventure. The Grand Whatever should be on the television so that you can see and hear what I did not see or hear. Look for it.

What did I see? Well... I saw booths of people who sell boots, very expensive boots... and there were saddles, very expensive saddles without horns and there was faux antique furniture, not cheap. There were no chairs without seats to be woven by old men with rash opinions about the Swedes. The post-colonial English style is alive in the Hamptons, proper. There was also an opportunity to purchase the golf clubs of your neighbor’s dreams, a Jaguar or Range Rover but noticeably no Hummers, a very large tree with a wrapped root ball larger than our living room, and a Learjet. The Learjet was of the most interest to me and to a line of others better dressed -- clipped of tail and wings and packed into a semi-trailer for road transport... I speculated adaptive re-use as a camper when the fuselage is no longer used for horse shows.

I would like to say that this is a love story, but to admit so at this point of my general confusion that is mildly exacerbated when I walk around in new steel-toe work boots that pain my feet -- all so that my wife can inform me gently of what I do not know about what I do not see... and we find a blacksmith who works out of a truck... not works actually, sort of sits around and shoots the breeze... but I see that he has a collection of new unshod shoes. I begin to perk up. I feel frisky. No horses just yet, but there is a laundry trailer with red and chrome scooters for sale. I'm confused as to why a laundry sells scooters, but then I see a washing machine through a doorway. It makes no more sense than previously, but I'm assured that when all else fails we can clean our clothes and make a quick getaway.

There are signs of people from Brooklyn and further points west, evidence of visitors from as far away as Wisconsin. There are signs of people that camp out, if that is what it is called out here. It is a relief that not everyone stays over with a friend at their beach house, or in a $600 per night motel.

I never saw any horse books for sale. I understand they are expensive and come with colored pictures. But, you could get your photo taken with a helmet strapped to your head and have your body superimposed onto the photo of a jump horse... a rider less thoroughbred but in the apex of a huge lunge forward just the same -- but I saw no books for sale. I think it goes to a suspicion that nobody who attended the show will read this. I feel safe to say that no horse person sequestered in the Hamptons is constrained to invest in reading. They are after all just like the rest of us.

I saw the layout of the show -- studied a map tacked up to a fence. You had to walk through three-quarters of the hubbub to find it, but there it was. The field was divided up into smaller fields with nothing to happen just then in any of them, while we were there, and one main arena for the horses to jump. Jumping horses, that is, but only at two o’clock. It was noon and we ate tacos.

Two men who sat at a folding table next to us at the concessionaire's tent talked about how long it took them to drive to the show from their residences a modest distance south of the north shore Gold Coast of Long Island, then they talked about the political problems of their country club. It was apparent that they attended at the behest of their wives and children out of love. They ate wraps, the latest solution for a sandwich.

I looked for action. Though it had been a session of contemplative feed that we went through after my initial study of the map, and short of there being nowhere evident the promised exertion of horses to watch, I set out to review and admire the logistics of the portable toilets. They had the small one-person port-o-lets in rows, blue plastic huts with doors, and then they had swankier toilet trailers. One side was for men, the other side for women. Big white things they were. There was a wait everywhere, but it was orderly and civil. There is upscale in the society here... even the port-o-lets had shelves and mirrors in them. I took off my baseball cap and combed my hair. It looked good, though sparse.

I thought it odd that I did not see any horse manure in our walk. Either it is true as I had begun to suspect that there were no horses, or somebody runs around and shovels it up at the hot time of delivery. I felt enlightened as at breakfast I had read in a book about the British and how during World War II they had a secret service that designed bombs that looked like horse, camel or elephant patties. The idea, I suppose, was that the Germans in their heavy goose step would not look down or suspect if they did, and not pay too much attention to where they jumped off, would desire to stomp on the incendiary devices. I was sincerely anxious to see the real McCoy. I'm fairly certain this was not what my wife had in mind to bring me along. I imagine there must be a national museum of these sorts of bombs somewhere.

There was a trailer full of tack. A lot of leather stuff with soap as best I could tell. I was not inclined to investigate as I knew full well I would have to ask the names of almost every item that was there. It is bad enough if you have to ask the price, let alone have no idea what the name is of the odd item that you imagine a purchase to hang on the wall in the den as a memento.  I do not like to look stupid in public. I prefer to shop online. That is how we got the gross box of super fly masks. I like the color.

I stood idle to wait for my wife to complete her pragmatic inspection of a service unit when a black Chevy sport utility vehicle pulled up, lead by a Show Security man... a handsome black man in a black suit with a stylish earpiece who walked in front of the SUV to clear the way of people. It looked pretty serious, heavy metal in those trucks accented by their blackened windows. The SUV backed into a slot in front of a vegetarian pizza truck and two kids in their twenties got out, a boy and a girl. Hand in hand they walked towards the VIP tent followed by what had to be the chauffer. Soon they were joined by a body guard. I have no idea who they were; dressed casual like people I might know. But I did not know them. For all I know they were going to visit their Aunty.

A woman with bug-out eyes walked up to me. In desire to be polite I looked the other way. When I turned she was in my face and asked me if there were any horse activities going on elsewhere. I had no idea. I told her I had never ever in my life gone to a horse show and that I was curious to know where they put the horses... it seems the price of a ticket did not include a program. I had gone to a rodeo once in Houston at the Astrodome but I thought it too complicated to explain to her that to sit up so high in the air that you need binoculars to see the riders does not quite in my imagination count as attendance to a horse show. I told her that so far what I had seen at the Hampton Classic was people. All sorts of people and a lot of them physically rude and not very well trained... they like to walk and drive into and in front of each other in the Hamptons. The Hamptonites also seem to wear funny summer hats that have no relation to the equestrian arts as far as I can tell. Sort of breezy and squashed up lumps. My new bug eyed friend, who did not wear a hat but just the same stood too close to me for my comfort, did not appear to believe me when I told her that I had no idea where the horses were at. I had to shrug my shoulders, twice, then once more. I had to repeat myself politely several times before she walked. She went off toward the horse tents where we had previously seen no horses. As she parted I blessed her that she might get to see a horse.

I like the idea of horses that stand in a field undisturbed and when we drive around the island on back roads, usually lost, I make a point to point them out to my wife when I see them. "There is a horse," I say. "Yes, dear, that is a horse." I do the same with squirrels, but it does not have quite the same effect. I know when I am being trained. But, all humor aside, despite my reading about them in a book I imagine the best use of a horse is that it hold down the field, better yet a bunch of them spread around like tacks in a wall map.

The situation was not exactly fair... we had seen a horse. It did something. It moved around in a circle on a long leash held by a woman with a very impressive whip. She could have been fly fishing if you had not seen the horse. I would say the horse trotted or sauntered or dressaged or whatever all that is... but I have no idea about horse vocabulary and so I will stick with the horse moved around in a circle. With the horse, there was a girl on its back, or on its neck, or flying off its rear, or running beside it... it was difficult to tell exactly what was intended... there was a girl. She looked like a nice girl as girls go. It looked like a fine specimen of a horse, as I was informed though I had to suppose -- we were short of other horses to make a comparison. At one stroke the girl stood on her head on the horse while the horse was moved around in a circle.

A young fellow right about then, dressed in a mustard-yellow coat with a distinguished emblem embroidered on his chest, walked briskly past us -- when he saw the girl jump up and down on and off the horse he said, "It used to be just enough to ride a horse." He then took great pains to avoid a large puddle that he almost stepped into. I looked over the puddle fairly closely; it was rather deep for a puddle and full of dirty water. I was impressed that it did not explode.

I was interested to notice the variations in sand from one area of the lot to another. You could easily tell the difference between the natural yellow sand and the white sand deposited and spread over near the VIP entrance that had been imported. I'm curious if anywhere there is an ecological concern over an intermix of invasive and native sands.

We were bored and had time to kill and the horses were shy. I had heard about this shyness in the past but did not realize it was so.... so terminal. We once more took our chances and walked past the horse tents but I saw hardly any horses... a few horse heads here and there and they looked kindly upon us. Mostly I was struck by the effort of the temporary landscape. It was as much a garden show, if not more, than a horse show. Here there would be a little corner cut out of an area of fence with a temporary tree for shade and wood-chip mulch and a row of well-trimmed bushes and a spray of bright fresh flowers with a wood table and a few wood chairs. It struck me that this rustic camp scene, assembled with such a delicate sense of industry, would be wiped out by next Tuesday if not sooner.

We walked around behind the corporate tents where we had to move out of the way for a fellow on a golf cart that was loaded with plates of smoked fish, cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. The tents were up on wooden platforms. The driver stopped in front of us, he blocked our way though I had no idea what way that was, and from the tent platform above a fellow with suit and tie told the guy on the cart not to forget the Wall Street Journal. To wit, the fellow on the cart shouted up, "Are they going to pay?"

This little interchange of capitalist commerce made me feel comfortable that all is right with the world.

So we gave out in our search of horses to do something and we went to look for our seats in the Grand Stand. They were grand seats in the second row in Area C... which was difficult because they put the alphabetic area signs where nobody would ever think to look... my wife paid extra for this... and we sat right next to a barricade that was painted white with green stripes and had columns with flower pots and a spray of white lilies... like church flowers they were. Flowers very bright and cheery with promise on this sunny day.

Across from us was another barricade with an advertisement for something expensive on it... it may have been jewelry or boots but I don’t recall other than that it was not perfume. There was perfume around us; it went by on thin legs with short skirts, a bodacious scent that suggested distant fields, the gentle roll of aromatic meadows, with apple and peach and herbaceous notes... but no horse smells. I don't know how you can enjoy a horse without you get to smell it.

When I was a kid we had a horse, we stabled it in our garage. I'm not sure if it was a thoroughbred... it always seemed to be angry. You get what you pay for. None of us kids could ride, too dangerous -- our mount was forbidden. Papa on an odd Sunday away from the television would dress up with his sequined chaps and his western hat and he would saddle up to run the angry beast up and down the asphalt street in front of the house. It snorted and whistled and made us feel Western. Mary Jane Austen next door rode English, the distinction is that she bobbed up and down. She dressed in black. It was a regal event, like a little parade, and us kids would all run around to the neighbors to tell them to get out into their front yards to see the sight. I learned to spread lime on manure.

From the Grand Stands in Area C Row 2 to the left were more barricades with little arched bridges and flowers and signs that said that they were contributed by a variety of local florist shops. The entire field was filled up with these landscape barricades and after quite a while nothing much happened -- I had begun to read a book about the life of lobsters I had brought -- two old guys got in a black Land Rover and drove around the field. They stopped at each one of the barricades. I could not make out what the old guy said into his microphone... I could see that it was him that said something when they drove close to us. His lips moved. He seemed happy about whatever it was he thought he had to say. Used to be that I thought I had to understand, but at a certain point I just gave up and figured being there is enough without the need for me to understand diddle. It was about then I realized that the barricades had numbers. It had not occurred to me that there was a deliberate order to the event. I felt consoled in my heart and very much more reassured for there being numbers.

It appeared to me that the hot spot was the VIP tent where we could view a gaggle of people who ate and drank and for all appearances had a grand old time at a picnic party. The week had been one combined with the North Fork wineries who host a marathon wine imbibe. I saw that it was a long party and we showed up at the end of it. You get what you pay for... and obviously it costs a bit to see a real horse in the Hamptons. We did not even see that many fake horses, no statues, no trees carved into horses, no leather horses... other than the pictures... I began to feel we should go get our picture taken in order to prove our adventure. But I had no idea how to get back to the photographer's tent. They may frown on two people to sit on a jump horse despite our willingness to wear helmets.

I sat at the end of the row on our bench and it was difficult for me not to notice the people who milled around in the Grand Stands, particularly when once more I got whacked in the back of the head with a large purse. There is a need for helmets at a horse show.

There were many kids... they did not seem to know where to sit, they did not wear helmets -- they hugged and crouched at the rail. There were many adults... they appeared to stand in front of us and pretend as if they were lost. They did not wear helmets, but many of them did wear hats. There were anxious husbands that showed up late and had to have the last fifteen minutes of inaction explained to catch them up. There were little babies who cried. There was one girl skinny as a rail that had to be seven feet tall. She did not wear a helmet, though if she fell over she might want one. Her small head floated around high above us. There were two older women with horsey faces and flowery hats dressed in what looked like brightly colored sack cloth. I assumed they were the misplaced literary set. I got the impression a Kahlil Gibran poem would bounce right out of them with the slightest nudge. I kept warily silent.

Then a lady from Prudential Financial came along to sing the national anthem, we could not for the life of us see her but we did hear her -- twice for the delayed echo of the sound system -- and we all stood up and turned around to face the American flag. I took off my baseball cap -- it serves as my almost helmet. I then noticed that I actually wanted the two Mexican landscape laborers, they looked like they were on their way to somewhere important when they were suddenly caught out by their boss man to work in their dirty boots. They stood next to me and secretly I wanted them also to take off their baseball caps. I did sense that they would know where all the legendary horses had been hidden. Then it occurred to me, in a look around at the assembled crowd, that at least eighty percent of the hat population at the event were ignorant of the patriotic respect to bare their skulls.

My wife often tells me that she would like to raise jackasses. She saw them on television and fell in love. I work on it. Like I said, this is a love story.

After the national anthem was slaughtered I went to sip out of my water bottle. It was announced a period of silence to respect our troops in foreign lands. I had not got the bottle down from my lips quick enough and the silence was over.

Then we got to see some horses. I think it was five, it may have been six. They had riders dressed in crimson coats. Second best to stand in a field I like the image of horses when they stand in a row, their heads lined up in a line, with riders who sit on them. When they move across a field with the horse's heads gently to bob up I'm reminded of ocean waves. We were told the horses and their riders were important for something they had done in South America. They paraded around a short bit while we were told other things over the speaker system that we could not make out. If you watch on television you may have better luck to figure out who they were and what they did that was so impressive.

Then there was the show that may have been the show that we were there for.

A rider and a horse came out and stood in the field of barricades a good ways off... but we could see them over there pretty well where they stood – it was not so distant and far off as at the Houston rodeo. There would be a horn blast and then nothing... then the rider and horse would move around the lot and come around to the corner at our left and then would sort of half charge and half hesitate until they were right there ten feet in front of us and then we could see the horse's head and see its eyes and see that it was either disturbed or mad or unhappy and then next thing you saw was the horse fly up with a jerk into the air over the barricade and the clunk clunk against the top pole and the rider held on as the horse went down the other side, hopefully we gathered with an idea not to take the top pole with them, and then they turned and were gone across the track.

My wife told me there was a lot of drama in the horse and rider in a jump. I had to believe. I could not imagine anyone doing this with a riding lawn mower, and a monster truck would make hell of the flower bed.

From there on out what we mostly saw was the helmet of a rider bob up and down across the field. We had to be particular to pick out the rider's helmet from all of the flowers as there was a slight and pleasant breeze. So we tracked the bob of the helmet and sometimes the horse's rump and the photographers that stood around with their equipment, or the men who snuck up to put the displaced poles back in place. I kept out an eye to see if I could see them put a pole back in place but each time all I caught was a backside that fled across the field. It was like a magic show. At one point there was a noticeable absence of rider as the poor chap had fallen off. The horse appeared to be relieved and went off in a new direction. A small airplane circled overhead. It dragged a long banner with red letters behind it to inform us to reinstate the local fire house. I could not help but read the banner as it was persistent with motion and buzz like a fly landed in the left eye.

Mostly the event was one of sounds. Oddly, though you could not make out just what was being said over the speaker system -- if a horse’s leg so much as grazed a pole you could hear it all away across the track. You could also hear the crowd, particularly the VIP crowd who had the challenge of a triple jump in front of them, let out their occasionally dashed expectations of a fault in a tremulous, "Aaaaawww!"

There would be three quick helmet bobs and flash of horse butt at gate number 8A, 8B and 8C in succession and then this gasp noise from the crowd. I felt with a spirit of the competition. I even saw the electronic sign board with a timer that told us the seconds and the fouls and the names of the riders and the names of the horses. I wish we could get this kind of score system on a pheasant hunt. And the names of horses, they are such wonderful names full of hope and promise: Cosequin, Edgar, Royal Kaliber, Freckles,  Newport, Playtime, Wichita, Eskadeur, Claddagh, Gladiator, and Crickett, but these are all made up names I threw in here to show that I have a heart for horse names.

I seem to recall that this run around and jump stuff on a horse happened fifteen times. It could have been fourteen. I lost track when I fell asleep. Though I like numbers I am not terribly good when it comes a need to keep track of them. When I play golf, another game that requires numbers, and where one time at a tournament I won a little statue of the rear end of a horse, which is my sole obligatory reason for mention of golf here, I tend to leave my clubs behind scattered across the yard. I always end up I have to go back to the keeper's house to ask for my loose clubs.

It was fortunate for my wife, who had a stupendous time as long as I made no remarks that two nice ladies from Hampton Bays, the pre-Hamptons to our unHamptons, sat next to her so that she had someone to talk with on the topic of horses. I was no help. When she leaned over and told them what to look for in the horse that jumped around on the field they were able to make sympathetic noises of appreciation and understanding. When she told me that a particular horse over in the corner that was about to get started with the race looked like a thoroughbred I was caught with my mouth open, "Why that one?" It is the same when we watch the Triple Crown on television. The horses are led up to the gate for each of the races and she tells me what I am to look at. I like the colors. Jockeys and their horses are so colorful. Everyone seems so damned excited. Then they run around the track and it is over.

We used to live above OTB, Off Track Betting when we lived in Brooklyn. The horses on the television there were too small and the quick announcers made too much noise and I could not understand the code they used. Now, the gamblers... now there was a lot of chums. Mostly old men with nothing else to go on in their lives, gray haired, overweight with their paunch bellies and not able to run very fast. It amazes me what modern medical science makes possible. I always thought of the guys that they were like police horses let out to the country, only they lived on the sidewalk in front of where we lived inside in our apartment. They used to taunt our little boy, pretend he was a tough guy and fake to box with him. Until the day he ran out of the door and briskly charged an old guy who had never seen him before and did not know what was going on until after he had been given a good solid punch in the groin. Life with horses is one of unexpected excitement. The old guys at OTB all look the same. I know they replace them year after year, but they always look the same. As with horses they have neat names: Benny, Luigi, Guzzler, Fritz, Sammy, Dirk and Bobby.

I could no longer handle the excitement and decided it was time for me to inspect the latrine. Along the way to the facilities I saw the llamas and the goats and a pot-bellied pig up for adoption. I really do not like it when I find out that a pot bellied pig has suffered abuse and been confiscated by animal control and now is in need of a wonderful home. Llamas you can keep, I'd rather raise ostriches. By the time I returned to my seat it was intermission and I was jostled about against the tide of people who wanted to leave the grand stands.

Intermission over it was then the long awaited Jump Off. At least some of the people were waited; others I noticed smoked cigars below the bleachers or inspected their surroundings or talked with their long lost friends. Mothers herded their children. Fathers followed their wives. Ladies ambled to hover towards the entrances to the VIP tents. The jump horses that did not jump with perfection or grace were being walked around and told sweet nothings before they would be put away for the day. And it was a distraction with all the adults, fresh ones that had replaced the last batch, who stood in front of us and acted as if they were lost.

Six riders and their horses got to go around again, only this time with a different set of barricades. Bob of helmet, flash of rump and it was very quickly over and the grand stands emptied themselves. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was presented to present something to the winner, but it was so far across the field that we could not make out any of it. They may have been getting $250,000 but we saw none of it.

There was confusion in the parking lot. We were motioned to stop and wait by an attendant dressed with a bright orange vest, we stopped, then we got honked at from behind, there were swear words in the air that were not ours, then four cars drove around us and cut into the line: a Range Rover, a Jaguar, a Mercedes and a BMW in that order. My wife had rented a compact car for this special occasion. On the way home we stopped at a fresh vegetable stand. We bought corn, chard, fresh dill, arugula, local tomatoes and white eggplant.

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