State's biggest horse competition is back

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DORSET — The Vermont Summer Festival, an annual equestrian event that infuses millions of dollars into the local economy, is back in town.

Billed by organizers as New England's largest hunter/jumper competition and Vermont's biggest in prize money, the six-week festival features hunter, equitation and show-jumping contests. All the events are being held through Aug. 11 at the Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset.

Now on its 26th year, the festival attracts thousands of participants from home and abroad. They span equestrian athletes from the pony ranks to the grand prix.

Last year, according to a survey by the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies, the event drew nearly 4,000 people. They accounted for about 44 percent of equine-event attendees in the state, who altogether spent $15.5 million.

The Vermont Summer Festival, specifically, leaves a "$20 million footprint" in Dorset from participant spendings on lodging, food, as well as local goods and services, said town manager Rob Gaiotti.

Many participants, he said, stay for the event's entire six weeks.

People often lodge either in Dorset or the neighboring town of Manchester, where they also dine out, shop and enjoy other outdoor activities, said Vermont Summer Festival spokeswoman Lindsay Brock.

Each year, the festival offers around $750,000 in prize money, including $30,000 for the Grand Prix contests held on the first five Saturdays of the circuit. The season culminates in a $50,000 Grand Prix on the last Saturday, which is happening on Aug. 10 this year.

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Some 500 to 1,000 horses participate in events each week, with three to five people accompanying each horse, such as riders and trainers. Though most attendees come from the East Coast, there are also international competitors, particularly in the Grand Prix, Brock said.

The festival is one of the highlights of summer for communities in the Northshire, said Matt Harrington, executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.

It's among nearly 20 marquee festivals in Bennington County — including the Green Mountain Bluegrass & Roots Festival, the Peru Fair, the Summer HomeBrew Festival, the Art and Craft Festival and the Garlic Fest — that Harrington said has earned the area the label of "Festival Region."

"We have an eclectic, very Southern Vermont-style of festivals. There is something for everyone," he said. "We find that if you can provide good food, good drinks and good entertainment, that's what people will travel over 100 miles for."

Horse shows in the state, which take place in summer and fall, bring "considerable" benefits to the area, said Jim Sullivan, executive director of the Bennington County Regional Commission.

"They bring visitors to the area, revenues for local businesses, raise some money and elevate the profile of the entire region," Sullivan said.

The Vermont Summer Festival, which opened Tuesday, runs from Wednesday to Sunday beginning at 8 a.m. The Beebe Farm is located at 2971 U.S. Highway 7.

Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday. On weekends, admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children. This year, ticket sales benefit the Dorset Equine Rescue, The Dorset School and the Manchester Community Library. For more details, visit VT-summerfestival.com.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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