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Top Equestrian Event in Vermont pits riders for big prize money

Amid sweltering heat, some 1,000 riders competed this year at the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, Vermont. The annual event draws riders from all over North America, but mainly from the East Coast and Eastern Canada.

Every year, a whole tent city springs up for five weeks on the Harold Beebe Farm. The tents become temporary homes for hundreds of horses, some worth as much as a million dollars. When you stroll the aisles of the temporary horse stalls you quickly realize what a big business the Vermont Summer Festival really is.

Whole riding stables arrive at the festival to compete for a week or so and then to travel to another horse show in search of more prizes and fame. Some competitors bring five or six horses. Winners can take away tens of thousands of dollars in prize money and the fame of a particular stable or professional trainer can lead to lucrative horse deals.

"It is generally the professional riders who come away with the big prizes such as the $50,000 Grand Prix .."

Aerial view of the Vermont Summer Festival at the Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, Vermont

Though an individual can compete in almost all classes, it is generally the professional riders who come away with the big prizes such as the $50,000 Grand Prix where horse and rider must compete in a gruelling International Olympic style course with jumps exceeding five feet in height. Riders must complete a whole series of jumps in a limited time.

It takes years to become a successful professional event rider and this is a big business sport. While it doesn't attract many spectators, it does combine big money with horse lovers. Some stables take on young people as trainees who spend every moment of their spare time grooming the horses and cleaning out their stalls in exchange for training from "the professional." The professional is somewhat of an "Equine Horse God" in this scene, dominating the barn/stable and deciding who should ride. Of course, the professional welcomes weekend riders who dabble in the sport. A stock broker, a lawyer, a wealthy businessman may well keep his horse with the professional, receive training and in time compete at one of these events.

Below is a slide show we hope illustrates the toughness of the competition. Riders in the Sunday, August 7th Grand Prix were competing for $30,000 in prize money. The jumps were about 5 feet high

All photos in slide show by Tim Palmer-Benson - Scenes of Vermont

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