Sunshine, Grass Fields and Artwork, all at the Heart of the Horse
By Nicole Lynn
We at Exceptional Equestrian were lucky enough to attend all three weeks of the inaugural Grand Prix de Santa Fe held at HIPICO Santa Fe July 23 through August 9. Set in beautiful, historic Santa Fe, MN, it was truly a destination horse show. What could be better than a little shopping for jewelry or artwork and finishing the night with a delicious New Mexican meal and a margarita? After the horse show, that is. As with any new event, there were growing pains and things that need to be fixed before we come back next year, but come back we will.
Upon arrival Monday evening we were met with a beautiful wood barn and large indoor arena, red rock driveways and grey gravel bridle paths. As we crested the hill to go down to the temporary stabling, you could not help but notice the amazing grass field that seemed to go on forever. Not having shown on grass, myself, since the late 1990’s, I could not wait to get out there. But first we had to get the horses comfortable in their stalls, get the trailers unloaded and set up the campers.
Within the first few days one thing that stood out immediately was the cleanliness of the facility. No trash, no weeds and no dust. While the red rock that had been laid down almost everywhere did have a tendency to turn your shoes pink, I’ve never been at a cleaner show facility. Even the RV parking was just about pristine. The parking spots were laid out so perfectly, everyone had plenty of room around their campers. The trash cans were emptied constantly and there were doggie pick up bags available for everyone to use. It is one of the few RV areas I have seen where everyone did their part to keep it clean.
Once the show started, it became obvious that the new GGT footing in the Hunter arenas, as well as Jumper 2, still needed some work. But Patrick Rhodes of Southbound Show Management, along with facility owners Guy McElvain and Brian Gonzales, began work immediately to make improvements. The grass field at times was too hard and at others, rain drenched, but overall it was a good experience that I believe will only get better as McElvain and Gonzales continue to improve that particular management. For me personally, it was an experience I will never forget.
The show excelled at bringing in a nice variety of vendors, both for shopping and eating. There were several tack stores, such as Fox Creek, Greenway and Quail Hollow, almost any saddle you would want to try, and of course, Exceptional Equestrian. The HIPICO Café served healthy salads and sandwiches while its neighboring grill never disappointed with an amazing green chili burger. There was a Kabob food truck, an outdoor restaurant run by Blue Corn Brewery and a good, old fashioned ice cream truck.
Show management did a great job each week keeping the spectators and exhibitors alike interested and entertained. Each Friday afternoon everyone was ready for the National Hunter Derby, often accompanied by Derby Hat contests and wine tasting. Saturdays were always something to look forward to with the “All-in-one Grand Prix” week one, the “Ride and Drive” week 2, where competitors started over a 1.30M course and ended on a race car course with actual Uncer drivers, and the “Master’s Choice” event week 3. Of course the ever favorite Grand Prix was every Sunday afternoon showcasing amazing riders and horses and seemed to draw spectators from all over Santa Fe.
The real feather in their cap at HIPICO was their hospitality. Starting with the staff and ending with the VIP tent, everyone was made to feel welcome. We were asked on numerous occasions what they could change for next year to make it even better. At one point Brian Gonzales sat down with a group of us for a half an hour asking for our feedback on the show. I have never been to show where they cared more about the exhibitor’s experience. Gonzales and McElvain envisioned this show to feel like coming into their house as guests for dinner, and that is exactly how you felt. The VIP tent, for an extremely reasonable price, provided breakfast and lunch every day, snacks and drinks throughout the day, beer and wine from noon until night, couches, TV’s, pool, ping-pong, wifi, massages and the list goes on. Situated between the jumper rings, it was the perfect spot to spend the afternoon out of the sun.
So while certain items need to be addressed in order for this show to rank as one of the best, they are well on their way to achieving what they set out to do. A horse show run by people who horse show. What an extraordinary concept! And all of it based around HIPICO, around the heart of the horse.
Come see us in Texas this winter, or keep dropping in at exceptionalequestrian.com or www.MyEXEQ.com to keep up with the latest fashion. You might just hear a little about our latest adventures, too!