The 99th annual Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA got off to a big start Sept. 18 with a record opening day attendance of 73,213. Unseasonably warm weather along with the always popular food, shows and rides drew crowds of people to the fifth largest fair in North America. Folks were not just lining up to ride the Ferris wheel they were also gathering at the coliseum to watch one of the oldest and most prestigious horse shows in the area.
This year the horse show drew international exhibitors from as far away as Ontario, Canada which provided a fresh flavor among the loyal returners to the show. So what is it about the Eastern States Exposition Horse Show that draws riders from so far away? Seven time participant Karen Waldron offered her insight to that question.
“My husband and I drove 12 hours from Virginia to get here when we could have gone to a horseshow only one hour away,” said Waldron. “The number one reason we come here is because this is a delightful venue for a state fair. The facilities are superb and it includes a weather-proof warm-up area that’s as good as anything out there.”
Waldron also credits the massive crowds that come to the Big E. “Most of us here are used to competing in front of small crowds or no crowds at all,” said Waldron. “It’s lovely to come somewhere where you are so appreciated and welcomed by the audience.”
Waldron is the owner and driver of eight Hackney Ponies which competed in three different divisions (Road Pony, Hackney Pony and Harness Pony), both amateur and open. The interesting thing about her ponies is that they were bred and trained by Larry Ella who resides in Stanbury, Canada. Ella used a successful bloodline of Hackney Ponies to breed with Waldron’s ponies with the hope that success would carry on at horse shows. In her first competition of the show Waldron got off to a good start. She finished in second place in the Roadster Pony Amateur Stake with a six year old pony called The Lightning Thief.
It was Larry Ella who invited Randy, Joanne and Tyler Keniston to the Big E this year, a fellow Canadian family from Greely, Canada. “They are not afraid to welcome you here with open arms,” said Randy. “We kept hearing about the Big E from other horse stables near us and The Big E Horse Show Committee kept in constant communication which finally convinced us to make the trek south for a first time showing in the United States.”
Although Randy and Joanne have a long history of breeding, developing and showing horses it was their 24-year old son Tyler who competed in five total competitions with his six year old Hackney Roadster Pony named Palisades Mr. Manhattan. In the end the Keniston’s came away with a great experience, enjoying the competition of the horse show and taking in all the other festivities that the Big E had to offer.
The person from the Horse Show Committee on the other line with the Keniston’s was none other than The Eastern States Exposition Horse Show Coordinator Stacey Hathway. One of her responsibilities is to draw new exhibitors to the show by providing information and answering any questions that they may have.
Once exhibitors are at the show she provides various accommodations in order to make their experience one to remember. In addition to this Hathway is responsible for all the show logistics including advertising, sponsors, affiliations, entrances and prize lists. Hathway is just in her second year leading the show but she already has lofty goals of returning the Eastern States Exposition Horse Show back to its original grandeur of the 1940s and 1950s. So far she is off to a good start with 288 exhibitor stalls at this year’s show up from last year’s 169.
Cheryl Innis of Somers, CT knows something about the past grandeur of the East States Exposition Horse Show. She has been coming to the show since she was 11 years old and has never missed a year since then.
“Back then if you were showing at the Eastern States it was a huge honor because there were not as many shows going on across the country,” Innis said. “I can remember a time when there were covers on the box seats, champagne and cheese trays being served and everyone coming dressed in tuxes and gowns. There was always someone really great at the show when you came. I recall seeing movie star Arthur Godfrey with his trick horse, the famous Lipizzaner horses from Austria and famous World War II General George Patton.”
Since that time Innis has run the Connecticut Summer Classic Horse Show for 24 years and now drives a Hackney Roadster Pony under the guidance of her trainer Rodney Hicks. Her first night at the show this year Innis won a first place blue ribbon in the Amateur Road Pony Class with her six-year old pony called Prim Rose.
“What I like most about the show is how people will come up to you and talk about the horses,” said Innis. “They ask all sorts of questions such as inquiring about your horse’s breed, where they can see more shows and how they can start taking riding lessons.”
As the 99th annual Big E came to a close the countdown began for next year’s centennial milestone event. Behind people such as Stacey Hathway who manages the show, loyal returning exhibitors like Cherly Innis and newcomers like the Keniston’s the horse show is in good hands. Next year’s Big E Horse Show should be a grand celebration of all the wonderful past memories of New England’s finest fair.