Extreme Weather Forces Garden State Horse Show to End Early

Safety of exhibitors and horses paramount in management’s decision


Augusta, NJ — “I know we made the right decision,” Garden State Horse Show (GSHS) chairman Rodney Seelig reiterated several days after the difficult decision was made to cancel the final day and a half of the show.  “We just couldn’t take a chance of even a single horse or exhibitor getting hurt.”  Not a difficult decision when considering the possible consequences.

Never before in its 59 year history had GSHS faced anything like the situation that arose very quickly on Saturday, May 8. At about noon, just after a brief rain shower, the sky cleared off and it got breezy.  Breezy rapidly turned into windy and then within an hour gusting winds were knocking down jumps and heavy wing standards.  Rails were literally being blown out of the jump cups of those jumps still standing.. The jump crews were scrambling, but even with the aid of sand bags they couldn’t keep the jumps standing long enough for a horse to get around the course.  At that point, show management temporarily stopped classes in all eight rings.

Just moments later, it was reported that Tent H, housing 110 stalls, was compromised and in danger of collapsing. Immediate evacuation was ordered.  Crews continued tightening, securing, and protecting the more than a dozen other stabling tents as the winds intensified.  After four hours of  battling the severe effects of the high winds, and acting on information provided by the onsite Office of Emergency Management, that these conditions would continue until 6:00 AM the following morning the remainder of the event was canceled and exhibitors were advised to have as many horses as possible leave the property.  

Not all barns could ship out on such short notice and a massive relocation of those left from the more than 1300 occupied had to be orchestrated, everyone pitched in to find extra stalls among their permanent barns and the protected areas where the horses could be moved.  

The wind relentlessly assaulted the grounds through the following day. Katie Benson, speaking for the Executive Board of the New Jersey Horse Shows Association (NJHSA), emphasized, “We are very proud of how the Garden State Horse Show handled the near disastrous situation that ended the horse show early.  We felt that the staff and management acted quickly and decisively in a manner that ensured the safety of the horses and riders at the show.  Your preparation for the storms was evident, and the attempt at handling the conditions was incredible.”  She added, “The only disappointment was from our member exhibitors who didn't get to participate in one of their very favorite horse shows!”

Benson, who has for many years run a horse shows series at her and her late husband Jack’s Briarwood, can commiserate with the show management. “Not only did [GSHS officials] act in the safety of everyone, but they also acted in the fairness of everyone.  They could have run the show on Sunday for those who were in permanent stalls or for those who shipped in, but they didn’t think that was fair to all the exhibitors.”

Robert Beck, whose Hunter’s Crossing is always a big supporter of GSHS with many entries in both the rated and unrated divisions, echoed Benson. “The wind was just beyond belief.  No one could have done more than the horse show staff did.  It was literally an act of God,” he insisted. Beck said many exhibitors were very disappointed because they look forward to Garden State all year.  “But in hindsight, disappointment is a lot better than injury and life is a lot more important than a horse show.”

As expected, the show office was flooded with an unexpected mass check out that required an incredible amount of entry correction to refund the entry fees for the classes not held. “We really appreciated the patience and understanding of all the exhibitors and the support of management,” emphasized GSHS secretary Mary Norris.  “Plus, a big thanks to all the ‘girls’ in the office for their untiring efforts for the exhibitors.  Special thanks also to starters Cari Randall and Brian Livell, who voluntarily jumped into fray to help in the office.”

Show manager Tim Cleary noted the quick response and able assistance from the fire police and OEM services in regards to the collapsing tent.  “The cooperation from the Sussex County Fairgrounds grounds manager, Butch Decker and general manger Mark Musilli, were extraordinary, without them and their crew helping out the outcome could have been much different.”
“Our spirit has been severely tested but it was not broken, we are committed to continuing this labor of love that we all work so hard to make happen,” assured Seelig.   

“We want to thank the many, many exhibitors who have shown their support and generosity in dealing with this difficult situation.  We especially want to thank our crew that worked above and beyond anything originally expected of them.  He concluded, “Thankfully it was far short of a disaster, in that no people or animals were injured.”