Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lamplight lights up for fall jumper show

WAYNE, Ill. - You can get close enough to get sprayed with flying arena footing. Close enough to hear the rider whisper to the horse. Close enough to smell the exertion. Close enough to see the expressions of horse and rider: determination, anticipation, concern, sometimes fear.

The sprawling Lamplight Equestrian Center is host to many high-end horse shows during its April-to-October season, including the recent Showplace Fall Classic Championship. The Classic is a series of hunter/jumper competitions ranging from junior and pony level events to sanctioned regional finals for the top horses and riders in the Midwest.

There's prize money at the top. Winning a single class can earn a $25,000 cash prize. A slim 1/100 of a second can determine the difference between the $25,000 first-place award and a second-place finish with much less for a prize. To reach for that fraction of a second requires horse and rider to fly.

Jumps are set at 5-plus-feet heights in a pattern each team navigates as fast as it can with as few errors as possible. In the instant rider and horse leave the earth, there's quiet, near silence. If the next sound is that of a soft thud and grunt, the jump was cleanly cleared. But if you hear the clatter of hooves striking poles, then the jump is wrong, time to the finish increased, poles knocked over creating errors or the chance of something much worse.

While the jumps are lower and the prizes smaller, junior events at Lamplight are no less intense than the professional classes. Young riders complete courses set to the age and experience levels of the specific class. Learning to fly with your horse is clearly an acquired interest with some apparent addictive qualities.

You're more likely to see fear creep into faces in the junior arenas.

There are reasons Lamplight is what it is where it is, said manager Tom Moxley. The curious should use the Internet to search for Oaklawn Farm, the Dunham family and Wayne, Ill., he suggested.

In 1835, Marc Dunham purchased land in Wayne and began to import and breed French Percheron horses for sale to expanding transportation and agricultural interests. According to Wikipedia, Oaklawn Farm was at one time home to at least one-fifth of all imported French horses and stabled more than 1,300 head on the 1,700-acre property.

Dunham got fabulously wealthy with his enterprise and built a castle made from rock mined near Racine, but over time, cars and trucks and tractors replaced horses on the landscape. For Wayne, Ill., the pattern of an equine community was established.

The area is one of the oldest and largest equine communities in the country. A showplace such as the Lamplight Equestrian Center that's now more than 50 years old is part of the community fabric.
At Lamplight you can choose what you want to see. If you can't make up your mind, sit between two arenas and watch both. From some spectator areas you can watch two arenas at once and keep tabs on a third all while seated right next to a jump.

To understand how Lamplight works requires a grasp of scale. During the Fall Classic, officials reported more than 400 riders at all levels were competing. To pull that off, space is needed. The grounds of the center cover more than 50 acres.

There are 450 permanent stalls in attractive barns. In addition to the barns, another 1,000 stalls are kept under large Camelot-style tents. Everything is wired and plumbed plus there are 46 stalls devoted to washing horses.

To make large shows move along, Lamplight has six hunter/jumper arenas, seven dressage arenas and four warm-up rings each with compacted limestone base and surface, according to its website.

Lamplight boasts that it's located in the center of one of the oldest equestrian communities in the country and is home to many champion riders, horses and competitions. Extensive remodeling and landscaping over the years have helped to make spectators part of each event.

For people seeking, if even for a moment, to touch and feel the grace, elegance and competitive pressures of big-time horse events, the Lamplight Equestrian Center can place you squarely in the center of the action.

No comments: