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Tag Archives: Fairfield County Hunt Club
There are only 25 official Heritage Competition horse shows in the US.
This week’s Fairfield County Hunt Club benefit is one of them.
The designation is reserved for long-established competitions that have also made substantial contributions toward the sport, while raising money for charity.
Over 700 international riders participate, at the 97-year-old Hunt Club on Long Lots Road.
It’s a big deal. But despite the elite-sounding name — and of horse shows in general — this one welcomes all of us riff-raff as spectators.
Even better: It’s family-friendly. And free!
In addition to horses and riders, local and national vendors offer home goods, antiques, jewelry and food. (That stuff is not free. Sorry.)
The show — a fundraiser for the Equus Foundation, a Westport-based national non-profit that protects horses while fostering horse-human bonds — begins at 8 a.m. every day this week, and Saturday. There’s action on 3 rings, simultaneously.
The 2 biggest events are the Welcome Stake (Thursday, June 21, 4 p.m.) and Grand Prix (Saturday, June 23, 1:30 p.m.).
If you’ve never been to a horse show, here are a couple of things to know:
During judging, the rider and horse should appear relaxed. The riding should seem effortless.
Riders may be faulted or eliminated for knocking down any part of a jump, exceeding the time limit, “poor presentation of horse or rider,” bucking, stopping in front of a fence, going off course or jumping in the wrong order.
Those are the basics. To learn more, just trot on down to the Hunt Club.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Birchwood Country Club. I called the hidden-in-plain sight 80-acre property — just inches from the Norwalk border — “the only private country club in Westport.”
At the opposite end of town — just inches from the Fairfield border — lies the Fairfield County Hunt Club. It’s a country club too.
And though their emphasis is on horses, not golf, the Hunt Club shares several similarities with Birchwood. Both clubs have beautiful dining rooms. They offer tennis and swimming. They’re reaching out to younger families, and welcoming kids.
And they’re both trying to overcome low profiles and outdated stereotypes about who they are, and what they do.
The Hunt Club traces its history back to 1923. Averill Harriman commissioned Laura Gardin Fraser — a famous sculptor living on North Avenue — to design and execute a polo medal.
As part of her research she borrowed mallets, mounted a horse and began knocking a ball around on her estate. Intrigued, other Westporters joined her.
Games grew into the idea of a club — with, in addition to polo, horse shows and hunting.
Polo was played first on the a field on Hulls Farm Road, in Fairfield. Horse shows were held on the Bedford family estate.
The Long Lots Road property was purchased in 1924 by Henry Rudkin, whose family founded Pepperidge Farm.
Interest in horses flourished. But the Depression a few years later made riding seem frivolous.
Smith Richardson, Fred Bedford and Fred Sturges helped reorganize the club. They introduced sound financial controls, and things were looking up.
A fire on New Year’s Eve in 1937 gutted the clubhouse. With insurance money, the club could have paid all its obligations and closed up shop. Instead, leaders vowed to rebuild.
Then came World War II, and gas rationing. Though membership dropped to 70, the club emerged in good shape.
A swimming pool was added in 1952. Then came 6 tennis courts, a paddle court, and in 1965 an indoor ring for year-round riding.
Through the 1970s the Hunt Club built more tennis and paddle courts, another indoor ring, and other amenities.
In the 1990s a capital improvement program renovated the clubhouse, improved barns, refurbished the baby pool, and added a snack bar and irrigation.
The 40 acres now include 8 tennis courts, 4 paddle courts, 6 barns, 2 outdoor and 2 indoor rings, a casual grill room in addition to the formal dining room — and a 60 foot-by-120 foot skating rink.
Notable members over the years have included Martha Stewart, Lucie McKinney, Paul Newman, Ruth Bedford, Frank Deford, Robert Ludlum, and Harry Reasoner — who lived directly across Long Lots Road from the club.
There are now approximately 200 members. One-third are not interested in riding — they join for the pool, tennis and paddle courts, dining, family fun, summer camp, whatever. They come primarily from Westport and Fairfield, with a smattering from other nearby towns.
Things have changed over the years, of course — and not just the facilities. Members used to ride horses on the roads near the club. They no longer do — except occasionally on Godfrey Lane, off nearby Bulkley.
But key events remain the same. Several horse shows are held each year. The big one is in June. This year’s — the 95th annual — benefits the Equus Foundation. The US Equestrian Federation has designated it a “heritage competition” — one of only 16, out of 2,000 shows a year in the country.
The Hunt Club hosts other fundraisers, along with dances, Halloween and holiday parties, and more.
The riding program is robust. Youngsters start as young as 5 — and members continue to ride through their 70s. A summer academy (ages 6 to 11) teaches riding, as well as horse care.
The club owns 9 horses; some members own their own.
Polo begins as young as 10 years old.
Monthly horse shows are open to the public. The big one, in June, draws international riders.
Like its counterpart Birchwood, the Fairfield County Hunt Club honors its history — and is moving into the future. New, young members have energized both clubs.
BONUS HUNT CLUB FUN FACT: The Polo Ralph Lauren logo is based on a photograph of Benny Gutierrez — a Polo Hall of Fame inductee — taken on the Fairfield County Hunt Club polo field.
When Staples grad Susan Lloyd lost first her leg, and then her life, to bone cancer, her family could have wallowed in self-pity.
When Fairfield native Jeff Keith lost a leg to cancer at age 12, he could have limped along and watched life from the sidelines.
They did not.
And countless area cancer patients and their families have benefited as a result.
Since 1982, the Susan Fund has awarded hundreds of college scholarships to young people suffering with cancer. Since 2005, Jeff’s CT Challenge has helped cancer survivors live healthier, happier lives through fitness, nutrition, health and support programs. Fittingly, Jeff was one of the first Susan Fund recipients.
The 2 organizations work closely together. For example, the CT Challenge’s Center for Survivorship in Southport hosts the Susan Fund awards ceremony.
And on Saturday, July 26 there are 25, 50, 75 and 100-mile bike rides, all starting at the Fairfield County Hunt Club. A 2-day ride starts the day before in Lakeville, Connecticut, and ends at the Hunt Club.
Over 1,000 riders — all of whom raise money to participate — are expected for this year’s 10th annual event. Last summer, they raised a record $1.65 million.
Part of the funds raised by the bike ride support the Susan Fund. The bulk goes to the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship. It’s the only standalone center of its kind in the country not affiliated with a hospital.
Other money goes to CT Challenge’s yoga program, camp and college scholarships for young cancer survivors, adventure outings for young adult survivors, support for women in lower socioeconomic areas, research projects, outreach services, a speaker series and more.
Last year, nearly 54,000 cancer survivors benefited from CT Challenge programs.
Among the riders this year is Jessica Ellison. A Staples grad and Susan Fund recipient, she’s majoring in molecular biology at Georgetown University. Jessica spent several years at Camp Rising Sun, inspiring youngsters with cancer. She’s now a counselor there, and will join the camp team at the CT Challenge.
Last year, Jessica and her parents rode with the Susan Fund team. This year, there are 2 Susan Fund teams entered in the ride.
Of course, you don’t have to be part of any team to participate. All you have to do is support a cyclist — or get on a bike yourself.
It’s a beautiful ride. Plus, the Lloyd family and Jeff Keith have already shown you the way.
(Click for more information on the CT Challenge bike rides.)