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ON THE SCENE: Lake Placid Horse Shows turn 50

July 12, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The Lake Placid Horse Show celebrated its 50th anniversary with a party and tributes to standout supporters on Sunday evening, June 30, at the Lake Placid Club Golf House.

The weather started a little rough in the morning, but the afternoon and evening were glorious, resulting in a perfect setting with the tents of the Lake Placid Horse Show sparkling in the distance.

Ruth Newberry founded the horse show. It was her vision, aided and abetted by Helen Bilby and Gene Mische, the legendary developer of stadium show jumping. Mische, who Newberry recruited early on to manage the horse show, took Lake Placid from more of a pony club horse show to the international status that it holds today.

Article Photos

Lorissa Martin is flanked by her parents, Laurie — director of the Lake Placid Horse Show Association — and Butch — manager of the North Elba Park District.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Consider the context when Newberry approached Village Major Bob Peacock and North Elba Town Supervisor Bill Hurley with her idea. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, significant protests against the Vietnam War were taking place, some violent, and the first Black Power salute at the Summer Olympics had been seen worldwide on television. There were positive counters as well: the first human-crewed Apollo mission to the moon was launched, "The Beatles" (also known as "The White Album") was at the top of the charts, and the first color television broadcast of a Winter Olympics (Grenoble, France) was held.

Hosting horse a show was not in the community's area of expertise but thinking big was. Support Newberry they did, turning to Bob Allen, then director of the North Elba Park District, to assist in staging the first event, as it has every year since. Current Park District Manager Butch Martin was then a member of Allen's crew. Every year since, he has played a crucial role in organizing the two-week extravaganza that has grown into the town and village's most economically important annual event.

While no other person has been associated with the Lake Placid Horse Show as long as Martin, several others come close.

"The horse show has gotten bigger and better," said Judy Richter, who has been attending for nearly 50 years. "As an example, the back ring was enlarged this year, giving people a larger place to ride and school on the flat without being in the way of the competitions. Another is the little corral that the vets have now. Every year they make improvements. That's what keeps bringing me back, that and the beauty of the area and the community itself."

"When I rode here, there were two circular rings, pastel-colored jumps, and it was very regionally oriented," said David Distler, horse show coordinator, who first rode in the horse show as a kid in 1971 and 1972. "Then Gene Mische took over managing the show and turned them it to what they are now. He made a huge difference."

Distler said he just wasn't a good rider, but he loved the sport, so in 1973 he joined the jump crew picking up rails and resetting the jumps. From there, he ran the in-gate, making sure the horses went into the ring at the proper time and in the correct order. Distler kept on taking different tasks, and in 1986, Mische hired him as the coordinator, a position he's held ever since. For him, the most significant change was the investment in state-of-the art footing, which made the show near weatherproof and dramatically enhanced the rider experience.

Marty Bauman, horse show spokesperson, started in 1981 under Newberry, who he describes as being extremely enthusiastic about life, the horse show and Lake Placid.

"Ruth was positive energy," Bauman said. "If she had an idea, she was going to make it work one way or another. I think what kept the horse show going was her belief in it, her energy and never taking no for an answer."

Though rated highly early on, and even having Mische at the tiller, the road to success was not easy and faced several challenges. The first was the horse show being nearly washed out during the 1986 season when it experienced two weeks of torrential rain. Then board chair Marty Stone recognized that a drainage system had to be placed under the fields to pull water away nearly as fast as it landed. The town agreed to make a significant investment in rebuilding the grounds.

Stone was followed by Dick Feldman, who held the reins for the next 25 years. Feldman, equally positive and determined as Newberry if not more so, was big on nurturing riders of all ages, making it very family oriented while maintaining its status as a premier venue for the nation's best riders and horses. His other mantra was constant upgrades, which in 2014 resulted in over $1.2 million spent in new footings along with an expanded number of rings. Phillip Richter, who followed Feldman as chairman, has continued to upgrade the facilities.

Another challenge was self-inflicted by the town when its visitors bureau booked the 1985 Wally Byam Airstream Caravan International Rally that attracted the fourth largest gathering in its 60-year history. The rally forced the Lake Placid Horse Show to shift its locale, an experience that remains a sore point among the horse aficionados who now use that mishap like a sharp needle when necessary to make a point.

That needle was used briefly and deftly June 30 as Richter described recent investments and others planned. The message to the town was clear. The competition is getting tougher every day, and we will need and expect your help to remain vibrant. Richter said the board intends to be aggressively innovative and continuously improve the show while retaining its core mission as a family-centered horse show with world-class jumping.

Mostly the evening was a look back, a look forward and a celebration of the recent prestigious designation as a USEF Heritage Competition, a high and rarely given honor, and the people who've given much to make the horse show so special. Jacobs family members were recognized for their critical investment in the shows in the mid-1980s to help address the double crisis caused by the flood and move, and their ongoing strong support.

Distler was honored as" A Great Friend of the Horse Show" and Kicki Umla for her dedication in developing riders' abilities by naming the new schooling ring after her. Also recognized were Butch, Laurie and Lorissa Martin, Diana Feldman and Kim Tudor for their ongoing dedication, passion and positive spirit. Other highlights included such significant investments as increasing the first week Grand Prix prize to $100,000, resulting in back-to-back six-figure purses, launching an endowment, shifting the horse show to nonprofit status, and starting an economic impact study.

"Even though it's one of the most competitive shows, Lake Placid is more relaxed than most," said Stacey Cascio, a competitor since 1984. "I can go fishing at 5 in the morning before I come in to feed the horses, and I can jump in a lake at day's end. I love it. Plus, management is astute about how they run the show. Lake Placid's a special place."

 
 

 

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