The best side of the fence

The serene green field outside Biltmore Estate will soon be transformed into a sea of 1,000 horses. And they aren’t coming just to crop the fancy grass.

George Vanderbilt’s historic property is slated to rise neighing, pawing and sweating to life July 14-18, and again July 21-25, with two high-stakes installments of the Biltmore Summer Classic Horse Competition. This pair of five-day shows features riders of all ages and skill levels guiding top-ranked animals through formidable obstacle courses.

Horses categorized as Hunters or Jumpers — the former are judged mainly on how stylishly they clear a fence; the latter get sized up for strength and speed — will be showcased in eight rings, and in more than 300 classes, along the banks of the French Broad River.

And on July 17 and 24, the event’s Grand Prix will test finalists on skill and precision — i.e., clearing obstacles with no “faults” incurred. Winners will receive a $25,000 purse.

Bob Bell, president of the Classic Company out of Johns Island, S.C., began bringing the show to Biltmore Estate five years ago, after it outgrew its prior facility in Charleston.

But the Estate’s posh reputation was certainly as big a lure as its size.

“We moved it to Biltmore because it has incredible grounds and staff,” Bell says. “We try to think of ourselves as a top-rate horse show, and Biltmore is a top-rate facility, so it makes for a good marriage.”

He estimates that roughly 3,000 riders will be at the event, with an average of three riders per horse, and coming from as far away as Texas, New York and Rhode Island.

“The animals are just spectacular,” raves Bell. “They are true athletes as well as the riders.”

And you don’t have to be among the horsey set to “get” what’s happening.

“You can’t leave the Estate without passing the event, so we hope people will drop by to see what is going on,” Bell says.

He allows that there may be some increased interest this year due to the country’s lingering love affair with underdog racing champion Smarty Jones.

“There may be a lot more spectators,” Bell suggests.

Sarah Thomas, the PR coordinator for Biltmore Estate, singles out the joys of experiencing the show’s well-bred atmosphere — including riders attired in full English riding gear.

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