By MIKE NORTON
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.
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!