I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and while it is certainly more horsey than many parts of the US, a culturally epicenter for hunter/jumpers… it is not. We do have some nice barns and many levels of local shows, and a handful of AA shows each year. Of those rare local AA shows, by far my favorite is the Duke Children’s Benefit Horse Show.
Every year in November, the big deal in Raleigh is to go to the Duke Grand Prix. We only get two Grand Prix’s a year. They’re both in the fall, but the bigger one is Duke and for some reason the one me and my friends were always excited about is Duke. Now that I’ve seen huge Grand Prix in WEF with big name riders and 1.50 classes, Duke seems tiny… but back then it was amazing. It’s a $30,000 Grand Prix and I think 1.35 meter.
Every year it started with a leadline class, filled with pony adorableness.
And the oh so cool guy in formal hunt attire would play the trumpet to announce the start of every major class/classic in the show. He also gave out ribbons too – one thing on my equestrian bucket list is to get an award handed to me by a formal presenter one day!
They also had really cool fences compared to what I was used to seeing at the schooling and C shows. Kind of nightmareish for me since I rode a stopper, but still pretty and exciting.
And of course, then the first rider would trot into the ring to start off the main event.
Most of these riders were local pros, but not necessarily big names. Our vet always rode in the prix and was one of the local favorites… although not usually successful.
There were exceptions to the mostly local crowd. Right before Kent Farrington and Up Chiqui got really successful, I saw them compete at and win the Duke Grand Prix. All of us were amazed by Up Chiqui’s perfect jumping style and adorable face in his hackamore, and ever since then I was smitten with the horse.
There are certainly grander horse shows out there, but I’m nostalgic and thankful for the Duke Children’s Benefit. It gave me just a sneak peak of the larger world outside my local schooling shows, and ignited the bug for me to get more serious about riding.