It’s a Buffalo tradition – one that used to draw men in tuxedos and ladies in finery.
It’s a venue to raise money for a local organization that gives children with special needs a chance to ride horses.
And, it’s a chance for horses like Mickey - that’s short for Mick-O-Angelo - to clear sequences of hurdles the size of kindergarteners, all around a timed course, to the delight of spectators who “ooh” and “aah,” and duck the occasional clump of flying hoof-tossed dirt.
This is the Buffalo International Horse Show.
The event today will wrap up its 67th annual competition in the stable complex on Amherst Street that houses the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center and Buffalo Equestrian Center.
Once more, the show this year won fans – and reminded onlookers why horses and city settings do not have to be an odd combination.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Molly McDermid, a Buffalo resident who was sitting alongside the show ring during an evening jumper class of the show.
McDermid and her brother, Colin McDermid, also of Buffalo, had brought Colin’s children Tully, 2, and Bailey, 4, to the event, to introduce them to the horse-showing world that the McDermids had enjoyed participating in when they were growing up.
“It was a big part of our childhood,” said Molly, a high school science teacher.
The four-day show concludes today in the Buffalo center, running from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is free to the public, organizers said.
The Buffalo International event – which dates back to the World War II era – this year attracted participants from as far as New Jersey and Ohio, said Jessica Marinelli, co-chairwoman of this year’s show.
“There’s nothing that compares to this show in this area,” Marinelli said.
Besides being a sought-after show for competitors looking to add prize ribbons to their horse’s resumes, the show is a favorite among entrants because of its charitable purpose, said Marinelli, who works for Hodgson Russ law firm.
It is a fundraiser for the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, which offers individuals with disabilities and special needs the opportunity to ride horses in a supervised setting, she said.
“This is our major fundraiser,” said Marinelli, who is on the board of the therapeutic riding group and owns a Tennessee Walker of her own. “Ninety percent of our scholarships for the year – this pays for the kids to ride.”
During a recent jumper class in the show, the pounding beat of the hooves of well-trained horses – Arabians and warmbloods among them – thudded steadily around the arena, broken here and there by the huffing breath of a horse approaching or descending from a jump, over hurdles as high as 3 feet, 9 inches. Clods of dirt flew into the air behind competitors, as they bent into the turns, increasing speed.
Every once in a while, a horse refused a jump, and the rider circled around for another approach. The sound of falling bars from the jumps echoed with a hollow “thunk” in the vaulted arena.
Over the loudspeaker, the voice of an announcer noted the names of horses, riders and results.
Marinelli said that the Buffalo International show allows the horses used by the Therapeutic Riding Center to perform in competitive events, which keeps them sharp and skilled in semi-retirement.
Mickey, for example. He jumped the jumper course this weekend; kids also use him in the special needs program.
“You don’t have dull horses in this program,” said Marinelli. “They were, and are, still champions.”
When these horses work with the children with disabilities, she said: “It’s like Jim Kelly getting out there to teach kids to throw a football.”
The Amherst Street site was founded as an equestrian-focused complex in the 1920s, when some wealthy Buffalo men started it as a place to stable horses and play polo, Marinelli said.
“People played polo in Buffalo,” she said, laughing.
It later was used as a riding club, and in 1990 it became the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, explained Susie Schoellkopf, executive director of the riding center.
Schoellkopf said the Buffalo International Horse Show event in past years has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the special needs riding programs offered at the center.
The Buffalo International show recently won a designation as a “Heritage” show in the country, based on the length of time it has been running and its history, Schoellkopf said.
“It’s a jewel,” she said of the site and the show.
Marinelli said that she took lessons and participated in camps at the complex when she was a kid, and that’s how she knows the value of an equestrian facility located right in the middle of a bustling cityscape.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for families to come and see the horses,” she said. “How else are these kids going to get access to knowing what a horse is like?”
“Not every kid can get out to the suburbs or a rural area. This is accessible.”
For the McDermids, that accessibility was certainly a lure. It made it easy to introduce Tully and Bailey to their first horse show.
“I have taken my other nieces and nephews out for rides already,” said Molly.
“That bond you get with an animal – it’s amazing.”