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Hipico, whose name comes from the Spanish word for “equestrian,” is a world class equestrian facility right here in the City Different that is both hip and traditional. The grounds play host to the A rated Santa Fe Summer Series, a four week international hunter jumper competition in which a rider guides a horse over a set course of obstacles.

The property also is home to community horse shows, dressage events and the New Mexico Center for Therapeutic Riding.

And you don’t need to be a horsey family to appreciate the skill, partnership and pageantry of horse and rider or the beauty of a facility that is a world unto itself but also is contributing to the community. The Summer Series contributes more than $5 million to Northern New Mexico’s hospitality industry, and the Grand Prix de Santa Fe, the equestrian center’s summer finale, is a nonprofit charity event benefitting both at risk youth and equines. It also provides for a veterinary or agricultural scholarship.

The sprawling 138 acre Hipico facility, founded by New Mexico natives, the McElvain and Gonzales families, has indoor and outdoor arenas, barns and numerous outdoor stabling.

I spoke with media relations director Margaret Mooney and equine competitors about the upcoming season and spectator etiquette to make your day a classy affair.

Wardrobe: This is a large property to walk, so plan your outfit from the foot up. Wear comfortable walking shoes to navigate gravel parking lots and grass. If you plan to visit with riders and their horses, you’ll be navigating hoofs, mud and horse poop, so a closed toe shoe or boot is a safer bet.

Casual attire and dressing in layers works well. Riders will be in their traditional uniform of show coats, breeches and polished riding boots.

Pack sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat the bigger the better. But also pack an umbrella for monsoon season.

For the ticketed VIP tent (all shaded), dressing up is fun, as the space itself is quite chic. However, you’ll see plenty of jeans and riding attire. Heels are not ideal at this event.

Children: Kids of all ages are welcome, and it’s not unusual to see pint size riders from time to time. Small children need to be closely supervised by parents. Their sudden movements are unpredictable. Running toward a horse can spook them. They should not run around on the grass you never know when a rider will come along, and safety is important.

Dogs: You’ll notice riders love their dogs and bring them everywhere on the grounds. Take in the beloved Weiner dog races. However, these pups are seasoned horse lovers. As a spectator, keep your focus on the events and leave your furry friend at home.

Gear: Folding chairs, blankets, picnics and backpacks are welcome. There is shaded and bleacher seating, but it’s heavenly to settle in on the carpet of green grass. Stay hydrated bring water with you or purchase it from the multiple food vendors. Upon arrival, find a printed schedule with the “order of go,” so you can follow along with the events, or pull up the online version on your smartphone.

Accessibility: There are handicapped accessible parking areas, as well as a golf cart shuttle service that is available to all patrons the shuttle picks up and drops off at specific access points throughout the site, Friday through Sunday.

Your wallet: While the parking and event viewing are free, bring cash as a backup for food vendors. You’ll also want to keep your wallet handy, should the equine themed paintings and sculptures tickle your fancy in the grand Art of the Horse exhibit.

“Another enticement of Hipico are the vendors: shopping both for equine gear, clothing for the rider and accessories, so that can be lots of fun to browse the wares,” said lifelong equestrian Anne Wrinkle Veenstra.

Right of way: Upon entering the grounds three miles west of the Santa Fe Municipal Airport, you are immediately immersed in a city unto itself. Cars share the narrow gravel road with horses and zippy golf carts, so follow the posted speed limits. While parking attendants will direct you, it’s up to you to give horses the right of way, and you may need to stop to let a horse and rider or trailer go by. While you’ll see dozens of unmarked golf carts parked outside the multiple riding arenas, they do belong to specific riders and stables.

Approaching horses: These are some of the most beautiful horses you will ever see, and because of the accessible layout of the grounds, you’ll see many up close. Opportunities abound to inquire about breeds, training and hometowns. Always ask permission before approaching or touching a horse. Some horses are not predictable around the excitement of the show grounds.

It’s best to approach a rider who is returning from competition. “A rider’s mind might be somewhere else” when he or she is headed to the arena, advised Alex Miller, an 11 year old competitor who switched from Western to English riding after visiting Hipico a few years ago.

Annie Veenstra, a 12 year old, third generation rider, warned, “If you notice a horse with a red ribbon in his tail, that is not for decoration, but to warn that he is a kicker! So steer clear of all hind ends, but especially those with red ribbons.”

Fellow rider Lisa Vesper warned that “anything can spook a horse. Quick movements, hats, things flapping in the breeze. Horses are big and can hurt you very easily unintentionally.”

Approach from the side to be safe. Miller suggested petting a horse up and down the nose, rubbing the cheeks and sliding the hand down the neck.

Viewing experience: Once the clock starts, observe silence as the rider negotiates the course. Watch for a sign that the ride is finished.

“Clapping and cheering after a horse competes is appreciated. The announcers in the jumper ring usually share very good information,” Vesper said.

You’ll notice fencing around every arena. While you may approach the rail to watch an event, don’t lean on it, which could spook a horse or cause a competitor to make an error. You get a better view of the course from farther away.

In addition, “Hang out at the warm up arenas. You can learn a lot there if you watch and listen,” suggested Anne Wrinkle Veenstra.

VIP tent: Offering ringside vantage points, the VIP lounge offers a luxury viewing spectacle often found at more established venues out of state. It includes delicious dining, live music, pop up vendors, gaming and billiards, lounge seating and all day shade. It is quite simply good fun and a lovely splurge for a special occasion.

Walking the barns: Several horse owners, trainers and riders rent out stalls and sections of barns temporarily or year round. They are open to spectators to walk freely and observe the activity. It’s a busy environment, revolving around competition times, with horses getting tacked and untacked, groomed and fed. Ask before petting a horse; if no one is present, pass by the stall. Never feed the horses, as they are on strict diets.
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