There’s a wealth of action to soak up at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Classic– for more than just horse lovers.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Everything is moving quickly. Every muscle on the horse seems to bulge beneath his thin brown fur as his powerful hooves kick dirt into the air. Everything’s rider, Duncan McFarlan, makes a clucking noise with his mouth and digs his spurs into the huge horse’s sides with his heels to urge Everything to go faster over a fence and toward the next obstacle– pushing him to as fast as 40 miles an hour through the course.
McFarlan and Everything finish without knocking down a pole or committing a single fault, marking a clean round and the fastest time yet: 14 jumps in 38.475 seconds, which will prove enough to win last Thursday’s Level 6 Jumper class at the 61st Annual Pebble Beach Equestrian Classic. As they exit the arena McFarlan thrusts his reins loose and gives his horse a big pat on the neck.
Such high-flying competitions are just one element of many to enjoy at the massive event, which moves into its climactic final weekend this Thursday through Sunday, July 31-Aug. 3. Hunters and jumpers will compete in six different arenas each day from 8am-5:30pm.
When they do, their goals will differ. Jumpers care only about quickness, scouting the course in advance and taking super-tight turns to shave off time. Whichever rider finishes the big obstacle course with the best time without knocking down any poles off the fences– which can stand as tall as 4’3”– wins. To gain enough momentum to clear the initial hurdle, some riders start galloping outside the entrance.
Hunter and equitation classes are judged on how pretty the horse and rider look, how contained and consistent they are throughout the course, and whether or not they make the right strides in between lines of jumps or not. Form trumps speed.
Three of the six arenas are devoted to hunter and equitation classes, which are on the polo fields. The other three arenas are for the jumpers classes– one on the edge of the forest even includes trees.
The entertainment isn’t limited to the arena. The show grounds are filled to the brim with riders wheeling around on customized golf carts, their show barn logos painted on the side, navigating their way from their barn to the arena where their class is being held. Because the show grounds are so spread out, some riders also use beach cruisers or mountain bikes for the same purpose, or buzz by on mini motorcycles such as Honda 50s. Meanwhile, small breed dogs– corgies and terriers seem to be most popular– roam among 700 horses and their riders, trotting alongside their owners with ritzy little dog jackets on.
In the center of all this activity stands a tall, white plastic tent, which hosts 21 vendors every day and the Classic’s featured luncheon at 1pm on Sunday. The vendors are a high-end scene unto themselves, with fine sterling silver and custom coin jewelry purveyors, a Le Waf cart, a fudge and chocolate shop called “Grandpa’s Fudge,” alpaca purse sellers, sunglass huts, and spendy clothes that, of course, include equine attire.
Specially themed highlights further expand upon the entertainment. Friday afternoon features a dog show at 4pm, where dogs win paw-imprinted awards for highest jumper, best costume, oldest, best trick, cutest and… ugliest.
Friday also includes the Lexus Derby at 2pm, a hyper-competitive jumper event with a purse four times larger than typical pots, and well over 40 riders from various age ranges.
Saturday is Kids Day (11am-3pm) and will include ice cream sundaes, a bounce house and a mechanical bucking bronco just outside the big white tent.
At 1pm on Sunday, the biggest competition of the three-week Classic, the $30,000 Ariat Grand Prix, takes place in the Collins arena. Dozens of riders dare to soar over obstacles reaching a full 5 feet in height, making them almost as tall as the average woman and the highest hurdles of the entire competition.
The weekend’s signature luncheon– catered by the Pebble Beach Company and Jeffrey’s– starts simultaneously in the big white tent, so eating and watching at the same time is an option. In other words, it’s not a stretch to say this event has a little bit of Everything.
The 61st Annual Pebble Beach Equestrian Classictakes place from 8am-5:30pm Thursday through Sunday at the cross streets of Portola Road and Alva Lane. Admission is free. 624-9359 or www.ridepebblebeach.com/.