The Girls of the Grand Prix

 
LEFT TO RIGHT: SYDNEY SHULMAN, LILLIE KEENAN, BRIANNE GOUTAL, VICTORIA COLVIN IN THE GRAND PRIX RING AT THE HAMPTON CLASSIC. PHOTOGRAPHS BY DEBBY HYMOWITZ

 
One of the premier events and grand finale of the Hamptons summer social scene, The Hampton Classic horse show, is taking place this week. The pinnacle of the show is the Grand Prix, a spectacular display of athleticism, bravado and showmanship that is not to be missed. Scheduled for Sunday, it is an event defined by speed and precision, and features massive jumps with heights up to 1.6 meters (5’3″) and spreads up to 2.0 metres (6’7″). The fastest time with the least amount of faults wins, and it requires perfect teamwork between the rider and the horse.

With a $250,000 purse, The Hampton Classic Grand Prix offers some of the richest prize money in the sport. It is part of the Taylor Harris Triple Crown Challenge which awards a $200,000 bonus to the horse-and-rider combination that manages to win the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon, the $250,000 Grand Prix at the Hampton Classic, and the $250,000 Grand Prix at the National Horse Show.

The event is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that men and women compete against each other in the same event. And second only to the competition is the style. From helmets to jackets to shirts, pants, and boots, the top riders are sponsored from head to toe. While many of the brands like Charles Ancona, Pikeur, Tucci, Samsheild, Parlanti, Grand Prix and Essex are known only to the cognoscenti, the look is nothing but chic.
 
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CLOCKWISE TOP LEFT: BRIANNE GOUTAL WARMING UP, AS SYDNEY SHULMAN AND ANOTHER RIDER WATCH; LILLIE KEENAN WHO IS PARTNERED WITH HERMES AT THEIR SPONSORED JUMP; TUCCI BOOTS; CHARLES ANCONA CUSTOM SHOW JACKETS, SPONSORS OF SYD SHULMAN AND BRIANNE GOUTAL; TORI, BRIANNE, SYD & LILLIE KEENAN.

 

While many people come to The Hampton Classic to see and be seen, they sometimes forget the reason they are there is the athletic competition among intensely focused and highly trained athletes (and their horses). Photographer Debby Hymowitz and I had a chance to meet up earlier this week with four of the top female competitors in the Grand Prix: Sydney Shulman, Lillie Keenan, Brianne Goutal, and Victoria Colvin, ranging from ages 16 to 25. I asked them about their thoughts on the star-studded social scene at The Classic, and whether they enjoy competing with so much happening outside of the ring.

“In America there is a lack of spectatorship from outside the sport and the Hampton Classic is one of the few horse shows that is successful in bringing in a crowd. Whether that’s for social purposes or for sport, it’s still amazing to have them there,” says Brianne Goutal. “We do have to change the way we interact, however. We have to please the public and compete for the crowd. The horses might have different reactions and you’re dealing with stress you might not be used to. In general, though, I love the crowds and it’s great for the sport!”

While these athletes are competitors, they also have a camaraderie that is apparent when you meet them. Says Syd Shulman, “Lillie, Tori and I are all the about the same age. We started together in ponies and then did juniors and then jumpers. We’ve been showing together since we were about 8 or 9. We are competitive, but we’re happy if one of our friends does well!”
 
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SYDNEY SHULMAN IN THE GRAND PRIX QUALIFIER; LILLIE, TORI, SYD, BRIANNE; SAMSHIELD CUSTOM HELMET, SPONSORS OF MANY OF THE TOP RIDERS INCLUDING BRIANNE; JUMP RAILS; DEVOUCOUX SADDLES; WARM-UP RING SIGNS

 
BRIANNE GOUTAL, 25

Brianne Goutal is the oldest, most experienced and accomplished rider of the group, with an impressive resume of wins, places and recognitions far too long to list. Brianne is currently ranked 3rd in the US and 44th in the world.

Brianne grew up in NYC and her family owned a house in Watermill, NY, just down the road from The Hampton Classic grounds. It was pony rides at the local farm stand, The Green Thumb, that got her hooked at a young age, and her 
record as a junior and Young Rider will go down in history as one of the all-time best.

Brianne attended The Chapin School then Professional Childrens School and, like many of these competitors, has been juggling school and riding ever since. She turned pro during her sophomore year at Brown University. After graduating, her parents bought Cloverleaf Farm in the riding mecca of Wellington, Florida, to support her career. Brianne currently runs her own business, Brianne Goutal LLC, which buys, sells, and trains horses and riders. She trains Sydney Shulman, against whom she also now competes. I was curious about that relationship as she is both her student and competition.

“I love training her,” said Brianne. “It’s a dynamic you have to be ready for and get used to, but I love the interaction at the ring. I’ve never been an introverted competitor, so it’s sort of natural for me to be able to coach her while competing at the same time. A lot of trainers don’t like such a dynamic because they feel they can’t dedicate 100% of themselves to either their student or their riding. I feel there is major benefit from working together with a student while competing.”

SYDNEY SHULMAN, 19

Syd, who has been riding since she was 3, was destined to be a serious competitor. Her mom was a professional rider, and she grew up with horses. Her family owns and runs Back Country Farm, with locations in Greenwich, CT, Wellington, FL and North Castle, NY. Both her mom, Jill Shulman, and Brianne Goutal are her trainers.

“Having the balance between my mom and Brianne is great because I get two amazing perspectives,” says Syd. “Having Brianne being in the bigger classes before me is a huge advantage. She can tell me exactly how the lines ride and how the course flows. I don’t really get competitive with her, because she has more experience and has been competing in these events longer then I have. It’s so nice to be able to learn from her on the horse and have my mom on the ground.”

As a young rider, Syd had a great pony career and has won an impressive series of medals as an older junior. She was recently chosen to compete in the Young Rider Tour by the United States Equestrian Federation in Europe — also recognized as the Olympic Development team — and spent seven weeks in Belgium, Germany and France this summer showcasing her considerable skills and gaining experience of competing on the international level.

LILLIE KEENAN, 17

“The Grand Prix is the ultimate event at any horse show as both a spectator and a competitor,” says Lillie. “It’s nerves and excitement!” She showed in that class for the first time last year as a junior athlete, competing against the pros. At just 17, Lillie Keenan has already earned herself an impressive riding resume and this year alone came home with a slew of champion ribbons in some of the biggest classes from shows around the country.

Lillie started riding at Claremont Riding Academy in New York City which while now closed, is a well-known landmark to anyone who grew up in the city. She is a student at the Spence School in NYC, and rides for Heritage Farm in Katonah, NY, a one-and-a-half hour commute each way. Her schedule forces her to miss a lot of school, but Spence is very accommodating to her show schedule, and her teachers and classmates are very supportive. “You can get lost in the show world,” says Lillie. ”It’s really nice to have the experience that a lot of kids in my sport miss out on and having the real world to go back to.”

I asked, “Do your classmates come to watch you compete?” She said, “Not really. I keep these two lives really separate. It’s like I lead two different lives.”

Lillie is partnered with Hermes for show clothes and equipment. Her long-term goal is to represent the United States in top international competitions and compete at the World Cup Finals, World Equestrian Games, and the Olympics.

VICTORIA COLVIN, 16

Rising superstar and teen phenom Tori Colvin is the youngest of the group, but her resume of wins is already as long as many seasoned competitors. Tori was born into the horse world, her mom being a trainer and her father a farrier, although a fall at age 3 when a pony took off almost stopped her. Luckily she “got back on the horse” at age 6 and has been scooping up medals since the age of 9.

Tori and her family are based in Wellington, Florida where she lives and breathes riding. Like many of the top young riders, Tori is home-schooled and competes in horse shows around the country on a year-round basis. She has excelled in just about every discipline in the horse show world, from the pony circuit to junior hunters, including equitation, hunter derbies, jumpers and now the Grand Prix.  She has even beaten her trainer in competition.

So be on the lookout for these up-and-coming and seasoned riders at The Hampton Classic this weekend. We wish the best of luck to these four competitors and look forward to seeing who will take home the Grand Prix!

 
 

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