Following a 17-year break from the show ring, Elizabeth “Betsy” Simons of Briarcliff Manor, NY, returned to the saddle to win seven championship titles in four weeks during the 25th annual Vermont Summer Festival. Competition at the Vermont Summer Festival runs for six consecutive weeks through August 12 at Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, VT.
Simons found the sport of show jumping on her 29th birthday. Her husband, John, read a local newspaper announcement about Kim Perlman taking over a lesson and training business at a local farm, now known as Perlman’s Riverstone based in Central Valley, NY. He bought her a gift certificate for a riding lesson and her life changed forever.
A commercial banker by trade, Simons rode with Perlman from 1989 to 2002 and purchased her own horse during that time. Aptly named The Other Man by her husband, the horse was known as “Tom” around the barn.
“It was in 2002 that I had two young children [Will and Katie] at home and my husband, who is also a banker, was going out on his own,” said Simons, who experienced great success with The Other Man in the Adult Amateur Hunter division throughout their time together. “I decided to take a break and I sold him. He was a wonderful horse and we won a lot. I couldn’t imagine riding another horse, so I didn’t ride anymore.
“When my children got a little more self-sufficient, I went back to work, played tennis, joined a book group, and ran a half marathon, but nothing was the same as riding,” said Simons. “There was something about this world that I felt so passionate about.”
Six months ago, Simons’ husband went on a golf trip and left her with some free time. Her first visit was to Riverstone.
“It felt like coming home,” said Simons, who has been training with Perlman and his wife, Caroline, ever since. “Caroline is the best teacher I have every encountered, and Kim is such a natural with the horses. I could never imagine training with anyone else but them.”
When Simons had The Other Man, her friend and fellow Riverstone rider, Ann Cohen, would often tell her that she would someday own a horse that was just as special. After Cohen died from colon cancer in 2016, her Westphalian mare, Willow Bay, remained at Riverstone and was the horse Simons rode on her first day back under the tutelage of Kim and Caroline.
“I didn’t have breeches, boots, or a helmet, but within 24 hours of my second visit that community had me completely outfitted,” recalled Simons, who had not sat on a horse in nearly 20 years. “I remembered watching Ann ride Willow Bay one day and she told me that this was her “Tom.” Remembering that made the decision to purchase her easy.”
Simons bought Willow Bay in the fall of 2017 and fast-tracked back to the horse show scene, selecting the Vermont Summer Festival as her first horse show in decades. During the pair’s four weeks competing in East Dorset, Simons and Willow Bay were champions of the Modified Adult Hunter division three times and topped the Pre-Adult Hunter division all four weeks, winning all three classes of the division three weeks in a row.
“I have a home in Londonderry, VT, so the Vermont Summer Festival has always been a special place,” said Simons, who hopes to move back up to 3’ hunter competition soon. “The past four weeks have been a little piece of heaven.”
The Vermont Summer Festival is New England’s largest hunter/jumper competition and the richest sporting event based on purse in the state of Vermont with more than $750,000 in prize money. The event is also a proud member of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, the Marshall & Sterling League, and the North American League (NAL). Outside the show ring, exhibitors are immersed in the charm of Vermont's shopping, dining, and outdoor activities.
Competition at the 2018 Vermont Summer Festival runs weekly from Wednesday through Sunday, beginning each day at 8 a.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children with 100% of all gate proceeds benefiting The Dorset School, Manchester Community Library, and the Rotary Club of Manchester.