Plenty of thoroughbreds compete in the benefit event, says Queen, a member of Skidmore’s varsity riding team who hopes for a career as professional rider. But, he notes, “You’ll also see the occasional Arabian or appaloosa, and other breeds. They all compete together.”
The horses and riders compete in one of three rings—in hunter, equitation, and jumper classes. Explains Queen, in hunter classes the entrants are judged “on what the horses can do. They’re supposed to show consistency— a nice, smooth, steady rhythm.” By contrast, “in equitation judges are looking for an effective ride, so the rider is judged. The rider must make the horse look like it’s using itself well” either over jumps and on the flat. Finally, “Jumpers compete against the clock. They try to make it around the course without any faults.” Faults are charged for exceeding the time limit, for knocking a rail off an obstacle, or for the horse’s refusing to jump.
Within the major categories, horses and riders compete in age-graded classes from youngsters to adult amateur riders. The horses, too, may be classified as greens or more experienced performers.
“People come from a distance to participate in the Saratoga Classic. This show fills up ten to fifteen barns at the track. That’s about 600 horses from all over the place—California, Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Connecticut,” Queen says.
Skidmore alumnae from the early days remember the horse shows that began in the 1920s but were suspended with the outbreak of World War II, says Adele Einhorn ’80, Skidmore’s annual fund director.
Like Queen, Einhorn came to Skidmore in part because of its varsity riding program. The college owns more than two dozen horses and maintains a barn that can hold five dozen. Students and local residents pay rent to board their horses at the barn.
Einhorn credits Cynthia Ford, coach of the college’s riding team, with helping the Saratoga Classic get off the ground after so many decades. “Cindy Ford taught me to ride as a child in Albany,” she says. Much later, “when I began working at the college, we put our heads together about the shows. At that time we ran them at the college’s barn. Then I poked in the Skidmore archives and found photos of the 1920s shows at the Oklahoma Track, and we brought it back.”
The archives tell that the first Classic was held on May 15, 1927. In the early days it was both a horse show and gymkhana, which included potato races, a ring race, a trotting race, a faculty exhibition, a musical-chairs game with horses, an interclass derby, and a handicap race.
This year the new Classic again featured equitation classes just for alumni riders (in which Einhorn herself took blue ribbons), and the Capital District alumni club sponsored a lunch with tent seating. As always, the show’s considerable proceeds (about $200,000) benefited an endowed Skidmore scholarship fund for Capital District students.
For Einhorn, an avid horsewoman whose Skidmore office is festooned with prize ribbons from horse shows big and small, “The entire show is a three-ring circus, definitely action-packed. Once you do it, you can’t get it out of your skin.”
This story was adapted, with permission, from a report by Mae Banner in the “What’s Happening” section of the Saratogian for June 14.