Getting a jump on the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show

Pulling up stakes and moving to St. Charles County is liable to get you dirty looks and mutterings of "urban sprawl." But the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show's relocation there will likely elicit only enthusiasm from exhibitors and showgoers.

Now in its 22nd year, the show — a benefit for the Kilo Diabetes and Vascular Research Foundation — has left the only home it's ever known, Queeny Park, and begun settling into new digs at the equestrian-sports-centered America's Exposition Park, off Highway 40 in Lake St. Louis.

The first half of the two-week show, Hunter/Jumper Week, runs days and evenings, Wednesday-Sunday, Sept. 15-19. As the name implies, exhibitors and their horses take part in two types of competition: hunter, in which rider and horse are judged on proper form and how well they work together, both on the flat and over jumps; and jumper, in which the pair is judged on how quickly they can negotiate a course of jumps with the least number of faults, which are incurred when rails are knocked from fences or a horse refuses a jump.

The National Charity Show draws top-notch competitors from all over the country. Exhibitors range from tiny tots, in the crowd-pleasing leadline class that usually represents the very first show experience for the "competitors" (everyone gets a ribbon and trophy), to professional riders vying for their share of a $25,000 purse in the grand prix. This class, the highlight and final event of Hunter/Jumper Week, features fences up to 5-foot-6 tall and 5-6 feet wide, which the horses and riders clear with breathtaking speed and daring.

The new facility is a big step up from the old show grounds, where most events were held in a converted indoor hockey rink. America's Exposition Park boasts a 120-by-240-foot indoor arena with specially designed footing, along with 330 permanent stalls and indoor warmup areas. Local equestrians are eagerly awaiting their first glimpse of the new venue.

The second week of the show, Sept. 29-Oct. 2, features Saddlebred, Arabian and Western classes. During both weeks, admission to day classes (except the grand prix) is free; tickets for evening classes are $5 general admission, $10 reserved seating. Call 458-7994 for tickets and directions.

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