This year the Vermont Summer Festival is going to be putting more focus on a different side of the horse show. Known mainly for the jumping side of things, where horse and rider navigate obstacles on a course in a timed event, last season the festival introduced the Hunter Derby, which is designed to closely an actual hunt.
"In the last five years, this class has been introduced across the showjumping circuit," said Ruth Lacey, Marketing Director for the Vermont Summer Festival. "It tries to emulate, as much as possible, some natural obstacles, as if you are really in a hunt."
The Hunter Derby is a judged event and features obstacles that more closely resemble the elements you would see out in the outdoors on a hunt. This year the Vermont Summer Festival is upping the prize money for the Hunter Derby, hoping to take advantage of the growing popularity of the event. For the first five weeks of the show, there will be a $5,000 prize every Thursday and in the sixth week of the show
"We've seen a real increase in interest," said Lacey. "I think there is just a fondness for the fact that the jumps look natural. They are a big clusters of logs, something that if you were really doing a hunt would be obstacles."
Another big change coming to the Vermont Summer Festival is to the Grand Prix. The week-ending events, which features the biggest names and biggest purses, in the past have been held every Sunday. This year the festival is changing the Grand Prix to Saturdays to help accommodate the professional riders who come in for the final event.
"We were getting a lot of conflict," said Lacey. "We just decided that Saturday's would be better for the Grand Prix."
The change was made because too many riders were having to choose between the Vermont Summer Festival and another event near Albany, N.Y. The festival made the change so that riders could make it to both events.
"The Grand Prix riders are loving it," said Lacey. "We think, from a spectator standpoint, it might be a better day. We are hoping that the Saturday event might help more Manchester folks come out."
A change for locals who are interested in going to watch the events at the Beebe Farm is the help for local organizations. For the last few years, the Friends Foundation for MEMS has manned the gates and received the money from the entrance fees to go towards the organization.
"We talked about ways to reach as much of the community as possible," said Lacey. "So the gate receipts are being split between four non-profits. The gate receipt program has always been about wanting to give something to the community."
This year the festival has decided to switch things up, partnering with three new local organizations. The Mark Skinner Library, the Community Food Cupboard, and the Second Chance Animal Shelter will join the Friends Foundation in earning money for their organizations through the event's gate fees.
"It was time to mix it up a bit," said Lacey. "We're hitting a broader part of the community."
While the festival has made some changes this year, they are optimistic that there will be a slight increase in their numbers this year. Early numbers have looked promising, so Lacey says that they are feeling cautiously excited.
"People still view coming to the Vermont Summer Festival as part of the circuit," said Lacey. "They still view coming to Manchester as a way, to not just compete, but to take in a really nice community that has a lot of amenities. We're really optimistic for this year."
The Vermont Summer Festival will run from July 4 through Aug. 12 at the Howard Beebe Farm in East Dorset. For more information about the event, go to www.vt-summerfestival.com.