Dust will fly and horses will soar as this year's Blowing Rock
Charity Horse Show comes to an close. The annual event is the oldest continuous event of its kind in
the nation, and this weekend marks your last chance to see the action, at least until next
Highlights like the international hunter derby (one of only 40 in the USA) keep people returning to Blowing Rock from all over the country. Take Pennsylvania's Louise Serio. No stranger to horse shows, ("I grew up doing this," she said) Serio knows exactly what it is about the show that puts North Carolina on the map.
"It's the idea of a nice horse show in the mountains where the weather is good and nice classes, just a really nice ambiance here," she said.
The Hunter Derby Class in particular keeps her and horses like Rock Star and Sailor's Valentine busy.
"The money that we win goes towards the finals, and the finals are held in August in Kentucky," she said.
And the $100,000 prize at the Lexington finals are an added incentive.
Spectators also can't get enough of the hunters. After all, it's more than a competition. It's a show, said Blowing Rock Equestrian Foundation's Kelly Lowry.
"It's based on the traditions of the hunt field, so it's a lot of big, beautiful, sort of natural looking jumps," she said.
And the horses are dressed to the nines, with intricate braids.
"They're really the best quality horses," Lowry said. "I mean, people develop them just to be in this series of classes all over the United States."
And it's a particularly good class for spectators "because there's a lot of numeric scoring, and it's explained as it goes," she said, with no need to wait for the end of the competition.
"The horses get points for their style, their way of jumping, their quality," she said.
There's a lot of style and quality to go around. This week hosts 400 horses in Blowing Rock and "all the horses come with people," Lowry said.
Horse shows are also ideal family events. Just ask anyone at the Equestrian Center. Like most people there, Lowry grew up with horses. "It's just something I've always loved doing," she said.
And her love, just like Serio's, was fostered in childhood. It's another reason bringing children to the shows is a great idea, both agree, as it's a way to foster a lifelong passion.
"I think it's great just to see all the wonderful tradition and just to experience a sport that's a bit different," Lowry said.
The tradition also includes a show jumping class "that will be very exciting," she said.
"Colorful jumps," she said. "The horses go fast."
But it's not just about the competition. It's also about the cause. Just ask Burr Collier, president of the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show Foundation. He'll tell you how proceeds from the show have been used to support local organizations like the Blowing Rock Fire Department, the Blowing Rock Rescue Squad, the Watauga Humane Society, Blazing Saddles and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.
He was there when the Foundation started just more than a decade ago. In fact, Collier has been coming to the show for longer than he's been involved with the foundation, a lot longer, every year of his childhood, and he's not alone.
"We have a lot of people who come back to this horse show every year," he said. "It's kind of like coming home to camp ... you get to see a lot of friends."
And the exhibitors are from all around the country. People like exhibitor Serio can't get enough of Blowing Rock.
"The way they treat the exhibitors here is a big part of it," she said.
Business from people like Serio is exactly what the hospitality industry needs in this tough economy, and Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Charles Hardin is thrilled with the way the show has affected the town so far.
"Everybody was full this weekend," he said of area hotels, "and I'm hearing good things from restaurants."
The show doesn't just benefit the July and August economies.
"A few years ago, the decision was made by the horse show board that they move the Saddle Breed Show into June because they used to be all three weeks in a row," he said.
By spreading the show into June, Blowing Rock got a pick-me-up.
"That decision helped June dramatically and didn't hurt July or August," he said.
And it's a big deal to area businesses. Take a 2001 Economic Impact Assessment conducted by Appalachian State University. The assessment found that the horse show brings $1.3 million in lodging, $1 million in restaurant business and $1 million in other miscellaneous expenditures, bringing the show's total economic impact to more than $4 million in High Country business.
And, as long as the show is offered, people who enjoy the temperate Blowing Rock climate, people like Serio, plan to come back.
In spite of the temperatures, quality food and lodging and the horse show itself, Serio did find one flaw with Blowing Rock, however.
"I wish that you had a little better cell service," she said.
For more information including a full schedule, visit http://www.blowingrockequestrian.com.