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The North Shore looks forward to 2006 Fidelity Jumper Classic

Horseback riding has a long and storied past. From the grand stables of Arabia to our own Pony Express, horses have been used for work and play by people from all walks of life.

Over 15,000 of those people will congregate in Hamilton September 6-10 for the 17th annual Jumper Classic ( ). At this glamorous and glorious event, which is being presented by Fidelity Investments, over 700 athletes – many of them of Olympic and world championship caliber – will compete for fame and fortune.

Having started as a private event at the Brackenside Estate in Ipswich, the Jumper Classic has grown to an international event.

“Seventeen years ago,” Classic president Melissa Lovasco explains, “a gentleman named Don Little, who lives in Ipswich, was buying horses, and he and some of his friends decided they wanted to start a competition.”

“We wanted to get a world-class event for the community,” explains Little, who serves both as Master of the Hunt at Myopia Hunt Club and also as a vice president at UBS Financial Services, “both to raise money for the Club and to bring the best riders from around the country to the North Shore.”

As Brackenside was then the official home of the United States Equestrian Team, it made sense that such an event would be held there. As the event grew and transformed into its present state, however, a new home had to be found. It was held at the Turner Hill Equestrian Center in Ipswich for a few years, and then it moved to Myopia.

Event chairman Jeff Papows explains show jumping this way:

“Show jumping is the execution of a round of jumps where a course designer will set out a pattern with maybe 12 or 13 obstacles,” Papows says. “His objective is to limit the number of people who can get through it all without an incident.”

As the average gallop stride of a horse is 12 feet, most obstacles will be spaced about four or five strides apart. A clever course designer, however, will position the obstacles so that the distances are not even. For a rider dealing with a 1,200-pound animal going as fast as it can, such subtle differences can make a big difference.

“It may sound easy,” says Papows, himself a longtime rider, “but believe me, it is very difficult to do….It gets extremely technical.”

As there is no playbook, and the rider cannot even speak to the horse during the ride, the event comes down to subtle weight shifts and the relationships that horse and rider have developed through years of practice.

“This is not some backyard horse show,” Papows adds. “Some of the best riders, like Margie Goldstein-Engle, who is the winningest rider in the United States, are at this particular show every year, so it is an incredible opportunity for people on the North Shore to see [equestrian competition] at a level and a caliber that they might otherwise have to go to the Olympics to see.”

Papows notes that equestrian events are the only events in the Olympic Games in which male and female participants are judged and challenged equally.

“Men and women compete as equals with no handicaps,” Papows says, mentioning that, in the last two Olympiads, the United States teams actually had more women than men. “That is typical at the high end of the sport.”

While not wanting to put his fellow riders aside, Papows is keen to mention the other half of the partnership – the horses.

“In addition to the human athlete,” Papows says, “there is an equine athlete that has a huge bearing on things.”

Most of the horses weigh more than 1,200 pounds, and they represent an immense financial responsibility as well.

“Some of the horses you see at the Jumper Classic are worth in excess of $1 million,” Papows explains. “So you have to be passionate to be invested at that level because the economics of it get to a point where it becomes a very serious personal commitment.”

Especially as most riders lack corporate sponsorship, the costs can be almost as crippling as a poorly timed jump over a fence.

“There is an elite five percent who can make a living from the prize money and buying and selling horses and coaching amateurs like myself,” Papows says, “but the rest write big checks, only to end up in the emergency room about every eight weeks.

“And yet, thousands of riders get back on the horse again and again.

“The people who do this are beyond passionate,” Papows suggests. “We are, as my wife says, ‘afflicted.'”

“Don Little is 75 years old and still competes,” Lovasco notes. “That is what this sport does.”

While the challenges are many, the rewards can be great – both emotionally and, in the case of high-end events like the Jumper Classic, economically.

That too is where Papows comes in.

“When I came on, the Classic was ready to go to the next level, but needed more corporate sponsorship support,” says Papows, who serves as chairman and CEO of Maptuit, Inc. “I came as an amateur athlete with a lot of connections and was able to bring that to the event.”

Each year, events like the Classic cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -  and that is just for course maintenance alone!

“To get the best caliber horse and rider combinations, you need a good [course],” Papows explains. “But you also need good prize money, so the corporate world has a bearing on this, too. And they have allowed us to do a lot more.”

During its 17-year history, the Classic has been supported by such sponsors as the Ritz-Carlton and Fleet Bank. Their help has enabled the event to offer sufficient prize money to attract the riders and teams that it does.

“When we started, the prize for the Grand Prix was $15,000,” Lovasco recalls. “It is now up to $75,000.”

The Classic attracts so many riders, in fact, that it had to be expanded from a weekend-only event to a five-day equestrian extravaganza.

“It starts on Wednesday because so many people compete that we had to move some of the classes over to make room for everybody,” Lovasco explains, “and because we also need to give the horses some time off.”

In addition to the event prize money, Classic riders are also competing for the annual prize from the American Grand Prix Association (AGA).

“There are hundreds of horse shows across the country,” Lovasco says. “If you compete in them, you get points, and at the end of the season, there is a final event in Tampa with $200,000 in prize money.”

Lovasco suggests that this added level of competition also adds to the fun and excitement of the Classic.

“It is fun because the top riders are not only competing here,” she says, “they are also trying to get their points.”

In addition to the Grand Prix event Sunday, the Classic also offers a wide array of other events and attractions. From the arrival of the New England Sky Diving team during opening ceremonies to a VIP champagne brunch to celebrate the close of another fabulous year, the Classic will be filled with pomp and festivity worthy of such a celebrated and highly regarded event. In addition to the Grand Prix on Sunday, the Classic will also host another tournament event – the Mohegan Sun Speed Stake.

“It’s a competition where the horse and the rider race around the course against the clock,” Lovasco explains. “In the Grand Prix, the first round is judged by the number of obstacles the teams clear and the second round is judged on speed. This course is judged only on speed.”

While many come for the thrill of the race, Lovasco says that the bulk of the Classic’s 15,000 guests will come for the Grand Prix itself.

“They come to see the top riders compete for the prize money,” she says. “We have 50 teams competingÂ…and the money is divided amongst the top nine riders.”

As the course can get crowded Sunday, it can be difficult to catch all the action. Fortunately, 500 new grandstand seats have been added; these can be reserved online.

“We want everybody to be able to sit and see,” Lovasco explains, “so we added those this year.”

Another new addition is Saturday’s Family Day, which is being sponsored by northshore magazine.

“That will include a bunch of things for the kids like face painting and potato sack races,” Lovasco says, also mentioning free food from Dunkin’ Donuts and Polar Beverages and a cookie and cupcake contest sponsored by EuroStoves, “and it will all be free for kids under 13.

“Though show jumping has an old tradition, young people are an important part of it. That is one of the reasons why the Classic (which, by the way, is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization) has teamed up with the Lovelane Special Needs Horseback Riding Program. Based in Lincoln, MA, Lovelane provides therapeutic horseback riding to children with special needs.

“Through the horses, we try to provide physical, occupational, speech, and other types of therapy and try to improve the quality of life for the people we serve,” explains Lovelane founder Debby Kanzer.

When asked why she gets so much out of working with the people at the Classic, Kanzer responds, “It’s a nice fit because the horse community can understand and relate to the bond with the animal.”

According to Papows, that bond between horse and rider is one of the most beautiful elements of show riding.

“The partnership they develop is supernatural,” says Papows, who has also worked with such technology giants as Lotus and IBM. “I have done a lot in business and had many successful relationships, but I can not think of anything else that relates to this relationship.”

It is that same sort of mutual trust that has allowed Lovelane’s four-year relationship with the Classic to work so well.

“It helps us integrate the horse community into our fundraising,” Papows says, noting the charity luncheon that will take place on Saturday.

“That lunch has opened doors for them,” Lovasco says. “The first year, their lunch had 50 people. Last year, they had 150 people.”

“It’s been wonderful for us because it’s a fundraiser that we can do that is affordable for our families and our volunteers and our broader constituents as well,” says Lovelane’s director of development, Demie Lyons. “It is open to anybody andÂ…for us, it is as much a friend-raiser as a fundraiser. It makes for a wonderful day!”

Such excitement about and appreciation for the event pervades all aspects of it and reaches participants and fans alike.

“It’s fun,” Little says. “It’s a great atmosphere, and we have a lot of spectators and we all really enjoy it – both the riders and the community at large. We entertain a lot of people and people look forward to it year after year.”

“It is a great event,” Papows adds, “and we are fortunate to have it here in our backyard on the North Shore.”


(presented by Fidelity Investments)


Wednesday, Sepetmber 6

Free admission

10:30 AM – Gates open

Thursday, September 7

Free admission

10:30 AM – Gates open

2:00 PM – $7,000 Welcome Stake

Friday, September 8

Free admission

10:30 AM – Gates open

7:00 PM – VIP kick-off party (invitation only)

Saturday, September 9

Family Day (sponsored by northshore magazine)

Admission: Adults $20, children $15, under 6 free

10:00 AM – Gates open

10:30 AM – Boutique shopping opens

11:30 AM – Lovelane charity luncheon

Noon – Family Day activities begin

Sunday, September 10

Admission: Adults $25, children $15, under 6 free

VIP Luncheon $150 per person

10:00 AM – Gates open

10:30 AM – Boutique shopping opens

11:00 AM – VIP Champagne Luncheon

11:45 AM – Opening Ceremony: National Anthem; grand entrance of officials in a Belgian gelding hitch driven by Al Craig of the Topsfield Fair; the Boston Mounted Police Color Guard; Skydive New England air performance

12:30 PM –  $7,500 Mohegan Sun Speed Stake

3:00 PM – Speed Stake award ceremony

3:15 PM – Intermission

3:45 PM – $75,000 Fidelity Investments AGA Grand Prix

5:00 PM – Grand Prix award ceremony