One of my favorite shows to go to (not that I go to many) is the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show at the New Jersey State Fair, held in Augusta, New Jersey. I can rattle off the Top 5 Best Things about this event without pausing to think: the iconic Ferris wheel behind the main ring, fried Oreos, Beulah the Elephant, Robinson’s Racing Pigs and legendary ringmaster John Franzreb III.
Mr. Franzreb has been a fixture at shows like the National Horse Show and the Washington International Horse Show, and my kids and I know him from watching him preside over those events as they are live streamed on our laptop. So it’s a big deal when we actually get to show at a venue where this living legend hands us our ribbons.
The Staten Island native has a smile and a kind word for everyone, and it’s clear from the twinkle in his eyes that he’s never met a stranger. He smiles and nods to trainers and exhibitors that he’s known throughout the years, and will happily stop and chat if he has time between duties in the ring. While his most visible duties are sounding his trumpet and handing ribbons out, he is also responsible for keeping order in the ring, something we got a firsthand glimpse of when my son’s class was going. One little girl’s pony got a tad exuberant when the participants were asked to canter, and it was Franzreb’s calm voice that was heard above the yells from trainers and parents, telling the apprehensive little girl how to bring her pony back to a walk.
Franzreb was presiding over the main ring in his signature formal red coat on Saturday night as fair-goers packed the stands and stood shoulder to shoulder at the rail in the shadow of the Ferris wheel to watch participants contend the $35,000 Sussex County Grand Prix. The event drew twenty competitors to the Augusta fairgrounds, pitting show jumping veterans like Anne Kursinki, Mark Leone, Kirk Webby, and Callan Solem against up-and-comers like Victoria Colvin, Michael Desiderio, Adrienne Iverson and Callie Morgan Smith.
Only three of the twenty riders managed to clear the 13 obstacles set before them to continue on to the jump off. The event is deceptively difficult, as it is run under the lights and with the distraction of the Ferris wheel and rides at one end and the animal pavilions at another. It’s very easy for riders or horses to become distracted and have a rail or a refusal. The first two clear rounds came early in the order: Heather Caristo, the early pathfinder from the second spot on Evening Star, and Chester, NJ resident Michael Desiderio, the sixth to enter the ring on Landini. Spectators then had to wait until Victoria Colvin, seventeenth on the card, negotiated the course on her high-jumping Monsieur Du Reverdy and rounded out the three finalists who were to come back and attempt seven more obstacles to eventually determine the winner.
Caristo and Evening Star came back into the ring first and proceeded to race around the jump off course, taking a neat inside turn after fence three in front of the tree at the Ferris wheel end of the ring on the way to the fourth fence. The turn required a trusting and brave mount, as it looked as if she aimed Evening Star at the tree as she was clearing the third fence, forcing him to turn or crash. He made the wise choice, turning handily and heading home in just under 41 seconds to claim the $10,500 first-place prize.
Desiderio, riding out of Tranquility Farms, entered next, but lowered the height of three fences, which ultimately left him in third place. Teenaged phenom Tori Colvin showed that she knows her way around more than just a hunter ring when she piloted Monsieur Du Reverdy to a four fault round and second place.
Rounding out the top six finishers were Kirk Webby in fourth with one fault in the first round, and Long Valley, NJ native Devin Ryan in fifth with two faults. Two-time Olympic silver medallist Anne Kursinksi finished in sixth.
Earlier in the evening fans had been treated to a win by another New Jersey resident, Michael Hughes of Allendale, as he won top prize in the $10,000 Lou Dobbs Tonight Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Classic for the second straight year. Dobbs, a Sussex County resident, is not only a well-known television personality but more importantly to horse lovers, he’s show jumper Hillary Dobb’s father.
If you’re in the neighborhood next August, stop on by, grab some fried Oreos and a ringside seat under the Ferris wheel, and then sit back and enjoy some great show jumping!
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