Old Salem Farm back in the spotlight with top shows

These are heady days at Old Salem Farm in North Salem.

The Spring Horse Shows, held the first two weeks in May, are once again among the Top 25 shows selected by the North American Riders Group (NARG). That same group also named the $200,000 American Gold Cup, an FEI World Cup Qualifying Competition CSI4*-W, the top show jumping event in the U.S. for the second year in a row.

Recently, the Cup joined the newly formed Longines FEI World Cup Jumping North American League.

“That’s going to bring (the Cup) up to another level,” says Frank Madden, head trainer at Old Salem.

It also adds to the prestige of the farm, which has been praised by NARG for its constant improvement and attention to detail. This year, Old Salem has added a VIP tent between the two sand rings for riders, trainers and owners. (There’s already a two-tier VIP tent for sponsors and special guests.)

And yet, the farm remains an approachable place.

“It’s an imposing venue,” Madden says, “but we try to make it really user-friendly.”

Indeed, part of the charm of the Spring Shows and the Gold Cup is picnicking on the rolling landscape that banks the grass ring with family, friends and pets. (There are always plenty of dogs at horse shows.) Or taking in the action from the grandstand. Or meeting various artists and other vendors.

So you don’t have to know a paddock from a pasture to enjoy Old Salem’s events. But it helps. While the Spring Shows and Gold Cup will include both junior amateurs and adult professionals, the two events are complements, Madden says. The Spring Shows are more varied and national; the Gold Cup, specific and international in its cast.

The Spring Shows, which award nearly $500,000 in prize money, feature hunter competitions, which judge the horse’s form over lower obstacles that you might encounter on a hunt; jumper events, which focus on speed and accuracy; and equitation, which considers the rider’s performance. (Only jumping is an Olympic sport.)

The Gold Cup — the name of both the five-day event and the culminating Grand Prix that is shown on NBCSN — features only show jumping.

“I like to say jumper is like hockey while hunter is like figure skating,” says Michel Vaillancourt, who won an individual silver medal in his home country at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. The former chef d’équipe, or coach, of the Canadian Equestrian Team, Vaillancourt has been charged with designing the jumper course for the first week of the Spring Shows, which he says is a challenge.

While NARG has praised Old Salem’s grass field as second to none, Vaillancourt says the classic field is nonetheless uneven with permanent natural obstacles.

“There’s a higher spookiness for the horses,” he says.

Then, too, as anyone who’s ever watched Wimbledon can attest, grass — as opposed to the all-weather surface used in other venues — can be slippery when wet. All of which Vaillancourt will take into account as he mounts and spaces his gates, walls, pillars and poles to test the mettle of the two- and four-legged competitors.

“The field dictates what I’m going to do. …The first gate will be easy, exciting and solid,” he says, to entice horse and rider. “Halfway through, the gate will be delicate, tricky, not as solid as the first one.”

The riders you’ll encounter in the Spring Shows and the Cup are certainly up to such challenges.

Among those you may see this season are Beezie Madden, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in team jumping, a former World Cup winner and Frank’s sister-in-law; McLain Ward, part of the same U.S. team as Beezie that took gold in Athens and Beijing; Georgina Bloomberg, who won the $127,000 Adequan Grand Prix CSI 3* at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Fla., recently aboard her mare Lili; and Jessica Springsteen, who won the Gold Cup last year, her first-ever Grand Prix title.

Says Frank Madden of Jessica, daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa: “When I was in New Jersey, I was their neighbor and I started her as a rider. It’s been fun to see her develop into the caliber rider she is, and I can’t imagine she won’t be back to defend her title.”

Particularly in a venue as lovely as Old Salem Farm.

For more on the Spring Horse Shows, which take place May 5-10 and 12-17, visit oldsalemfarm.net. For more on the American Gold Cup, Sept. 9-13, visit theamericangoldcup.com or stadiumjumping.com.

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