Hot Weather in TC — but Not Too Hot for Jumping Horses!

Toasting in the sun on West Bay.


You know it’s going to be a hot day when it’s 11 a.m. and the sand at the beach is already too hot for bare feet. That’s how it’s been around here lately, but the Bay has been blessedly warm and wonderful for swimming, snorkeling, or just wading around with the water up to your chin like a modern-day diplodocus.

Watching the temperatures climb all around the country lately, I feel triply blessed to be here in Traverse City, where you’re never more than a few minutes away from all the cool, clean fresh water a person could want. Every time I’m tempted to whine about the heat, I think about how it must be to live in some sweltering urban area or out on the Plains, where there’s no relief at all from the sun’s heat.

Hmmm. Now I’m starting to feel guilty….

Well, to my parched and sticky friends in other parts of the country – I wish you cool rains and sweet breezes. And know that you’re welcome to come and visit us here in TC whenever you feel like getting away.

Summer heat, by the way, is one of the big reasons for the success of Horse Shows By the Bay, Traverse City’s month-long equestrian festival, which features thousands of the best-trained horses from the U.S., Canada and Mexico competing in a series of show jumping competitions. The show goes into its final weekend this week.

Founded just eight years ago, the event has quickly become hugely popular with the horse-jumping crowd.

At first glance, Traverse City might seem an unlikely location for such an event; we’ve never been famous as an equestrian center. But when Florida horsewoman Alexandra Rheinheimer was investigating possible sites for a new United States Equestrian Federation event, she found TC’s relaxed atmosphere, plentiful tourist amenities and cool offshore breezes an irresistible combination.

“We travel a great deal in this business, and it’s really unusual for us to find such a lovely area for a competition,” she said. “So many other places are just too hot and humid for the horses during the summer months.

Apparently, the rest of the equestrian community agreed. When Horse Shows By the Bay held its debut competition in 2004, hundreds of horses made the journey to northern Michigan – compete with teams of riders, handlers and grooms. So did plenty of spectators, including many who had never attended a horse jumping event before.

Shane Sweetnam and Little Emir, $30,000 Grand Prix Winner for 2012
(Photo Courtesy of Horse Sports By the Bay)

There’s something thrilling about watching a well-trained horse leap over a fence. Maybe it’s the deep thunder of the approaching hooves, or the contrast between the massive, powerful animal and its tiny, vulnerable rider. The sudden gathering of those mighty muscles and sinews, and that split-second of silence as the pair of them sail through the air like some great flying beast and land safe on the other side.

It’s not surprising, then, that show jumping has become one of the most popular of equestrian sports. Competitors drive hundreds of miles to participate in sanctioned jumping events, and crowds of fans and curious spectators turn out to watch them go through their paces.

“It’s a fascinating thing to watch, even for those who don’t think of themselves as horse people,” says Alex. “There’s just something so graceful and stirring about these events.”

The show began on an open field along the side of US 31 near Chums Corners, but in 2007 it moved to a beautiful site of its own – Flintfields Horse Park – on Bates Road in Williamsburg, just northeast of town, with five all-weather arenas and space to stable 1,078 horses at a time. It’s been so successful that it’s now spawned two “spin-off” shows – Dressage By the Bay in late June and Reiners by the Bay in August.  (Dressage is an Olympic discipline that tests the ability of horse and rider to undergo a series of complicated maneuvers, while Reining is a similar discipline with a Western flair.)

Although competition is closed to the public on weekdays, spectators are welcome on weekends from 8 am to 5 pm. Tickets are $10 per day, which includes on-site parking and access to all five competition rings, vendors, and concession area. It’s definitely worth going to watch!


About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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