It's 1:30 p.m. on an unseasonably sunny and warm September Saturday. I take a seat in the front row of the stands. Behind me, a man and woman are chatting with the couple beside them about the logistics of flying their horse from place to place on a private plane. When the couple remarks on the expense of travel, the horse owners laugh it off. I can't make out the entirety of their response, but I'm able to catch the jist. Chartering a private plane is a sound investment when you're talking about ensuring the safe transport of an animal worth millions-with-an-s. To my right, a man is sketching the scene. Every so often he flips the page and begins again. To my left sits a stoic, silent man in dusty jeans. He's tapping his spur-heeled boot, anxious to get the show started. He takes a swig from a bottle of Perrier.
With that, one thing becomes crystal clear: we're not in Kansas anymore. We're in New Albany.
In all the years I lived in central Ohio, somehow I never managed to make it to The New Albany Classic. When an invitation was extended to attend this year, I jumped at the opportunity. Much like every little girl, my childhood was filled with horses, from My Little Pony figurines to Lisa Frank unicorn folders. I escaped reality on the backs of Black Beauty, Flicka and Misty. And 30-something years later, I still haven't forgiven the writers of The NeverEnding Story. (You know the scene.)
I have always enjoyed equestrian jumping, but have never seen it live in person. So when I showed up at The Classic last Saturday, I was looking forward to watching the horses and riders do their thing. If you don't know anything about The New Albany Classic Grand Prix and Family Day, here's the Wikipedia rundown: The Classic is a unique day-long event featuring a myriad of family-focused activities including a USEF/FEI-sanctioned equestrian event featuring Olympic-caliber athletes competing for $125,000 in prize money, a concert featuring top pop touring acts from around the world and a large-scale carnival atmosphere including rides, sports experiences, hands-on art activities, musical and dance entertainment, car displays, food trucks and farm tours. Held annually since 1998 in New Albany, Ohio on the estate of Leslie Wexner and his wife Abigail Wexner, the event serves as the primary fundraiser for The Center for Family Safety and Healing.
Now that you have the basics, here's what you really need to know:
1) It's not just an equestrian event. From petting zoos and food trucks to rides and live performances, The Classic truly is a full-scale family fun event for people of all ages. (Full disclosure: I'm 35 and experienced at least as much joy petting goats and alpacas as the four-year-old beside me.)
2) It draws a really diverse crowd. Wedged between high-end horse owners and a man who appeared to be a legitimate cowboy, one of my favorite things about The Classic turned out to be the way it brings a mix of people together around their shared passion: horses. The only common thread I was able to identify amongst the crowd was the way people were just so nice and welcoming. Even better? At $23 a ticket, the affordable cost of admission makes it an equestrian event accessible to all.
3) It's kind of a big deal. The Classic has been named the top specialty equestrian event in the nation. It draws horse lovers from around the country -- and Olympic-level riders. I know what you're thinking. In Ohio? Seriously? Seriously. 2016 marked the 19th year for the event.
4) It spotlights the true heart and spirit of central Ohio. If you live anywhere in the Columbus region, you probably already know the Wexner family by name. For those of you who don't, Mr. Wexner is the chairman and CEO of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, Henri Bendel, and others. The Classic was founded by his wife, Abigail, who hosts the event at their family home in New Albany. And while the day is an undeniable amount of fun, the true purpose of the event runs much deeper. This year's Classic drew over 15,000 attendees and generated more than $1.7 million in support of The Center for Family Safety and Healing, an organization that addresses all aspects of family violence, including child abuse and neglect, teen dating abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse. As of this year, The New Albany Classic has raised over $30 million in support of initiatives addressing family violence. I can't begin to imagine the amount of work that goes into coordinating such a massive and impeccable event, but I know it takes a heck of a lot of heart. And that's something you'll find in abundance in New Albany.
To learn more about The New Albany Classic visit http://www.thenewalbanyclassic.com.