Welcome to the Sussex County Horse Show
Horses have always been a big part of the Fair. Back in 1919, when horses were still more common than cars, the Branchville Riding Club formed. Since then, this event has evolved into the 10-day spectacular of the Sussex County Fair!
In fact, the Sussex County Fair was called the The Sussex County Horse Show from 1936 to 1940, and the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show from 1940 to 1999. The pairing between the Fair and the Horse Show started all the way back in 1923! The change of the name highlights the Fair’s commitment to more than just horses, emphasizing other agriculture, community and youth development, and family fun!
Today, the Horse Show continues to demonstrate the excellence and commitment of the community to these wonderful animals and this traditional event. The 2014 Horse Show includes hunters, jumpers, and more! Over 2,000 participants are registered this year, promising a great show!
Originally, the Sussex County riding club held a horse show for its members’ children. This horse show was so successful that it was held year after year! Admission was first charged in 1926, and only cost 25 cents.
The Great Depression slowed the horse show for a few years, but once the economy turned around, the horse show was back in style! As of 1933, the horse show included 51 participants; that number doubled by 1934. 1935 introduced the first “Queen of the Fair” competition, which took place during the horse show. In the same year, attendance exceeded a thousand visitors! By 1938, the Horse Show was larger than any other outdoor show in the East.
In 1940, the Fair and the Horse Show joined forces, expanding to three days. The popularity continued to grow over the years, bouncing back from World War II, hurricanes, and floods. By 1963, over 65,000 people attended.
All this growth meant that the Fair and Horse Show needed a bigger venue. The Fair moved to Augusta in 1976, where it remains today. The new venue experienced some setbacks—mostly related to how many people were eager to attend. As the new venue grew, it included permanent buildings, such as the Livestock Pavilion, Horse Show office, Snook Museum, and Shotwell 4-H building. The horse show put The Fairgrounds on the map in more ways than one!
History of the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show
The Sussex County Farm and Horse Show has been around for many years, starting out as a 3 day show started by Branchville businessmen in September 1919. This was the beginning of the Branchville Riding Club. This was so long ago, horses were still being used as transportation in Sussex County! This club was for recreational riding and the members traveled to events around the country.
Walter R. Wright was the president of the Branchville Riding Club in 1923 and with the help of Miss Lydia Bale, a prominent local equestrian, organized a show for their students that was a huge success. Walter R. Wright was the proprietor of Rolison Farm in Culvers Lake. Because of the success of this first show, the Branchville Riding Club organized an open show the following year. It was held at Ackerson Field, Ross’s Corner. This show became an annual event for several years before moving to the William L. Bass Farm on Old Newton Road in 1926. At this new location they charged 25 cents for admission and offered ribbons and trophies to exhibitors.
There was a long break however due to the Great Depression where the shows were not held again till October 7, 1933. That show was called the Branchville Community Horse Meet. The show was held at the grounds of the Selected Risks Insurance Company(Selective Insurance Group, Inc.) in Branchville, NJ. The horse show would be held at this location for the next 43 years. The Founder of Selective Risk Insurance, D.L.B. Smith invited the show and being a horseman, participated in the show as well.
The show in 1933 was a success and made $280.43 which was donated to the Sussex County Tuberculosis League. There were 15 classes with 51 participants that year. In light of the success of this show, the Sussex County Horse Show Association was formed. Augustus S. Whitmore was elected President, W.R Decker, Secretary and Lydia Bale as Treasurer.
Numbers for the shows in 1934 and 1935 doubled with more than 1000 spectators! During the 1935 show, the first “queen of the fair”competition took place.
In 1936 The Sussex County Horse Show was officially incorporated. Horse Team Pulling was the big event this year with Mike and Ike pulling a record of 9,840 pounds. This team was owned by William H. Sanford and Son of Sparta Township. The record stood for almost 20 years when Bill and Rock pulled 10,695 pounds in 1955! This team owned by Harold Daniels of Newark Valley, New York.
In 1938, the show was the biggest outdoor show with 3,000 spectators in the eastern US. Only one show was bigger than the Sussex County Horse Show which was the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden.
In 1940 the representative of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Francis Morrow, suggested that the horse show merge with a few of the other agricultural groups to form the Sussex County Farm & Horse Show. This was a non-profit organization with 18 people signing the incorporation papers on April 26, 1940. The show would now offer a horse show as well as agricultural events and competitions. The goal was to create and “old fashioned fair”. The new show would have their first 3 day show August 8,9,10, 1940. The new show included 42 classes, 104 horses in the main show ring, 75 cattle in the dairy ring and 14 draft teams and country fair.
After the annual Sussex County Horse Show in 1941 the show was cancelled for the duration of WWII till 1945. In 1946 the show returned and at their first meeting voted in Dr. George Yeaton as the President. He served until 1965. In 1947 it grew to a 4 ring show and had 10,000 tickets sold to spectators!
In 1947 Dr Robert Rost joined the horse show committee. 1949 was the year a talented teenage trick rider by the name of Joan Chambers from Montgomery, NY did an exhibition that was a huge success. This talented rider eventually became Mrs. Robert Rost. In 1951 Dr. Robert Rost recommended joining the AHSA (American Horse Show Association) which would make the show a recognized show.
By the year 1948, the show included hunters, jumpers, stock horses, divisions for 4-H and local horses as well and three and five gaited and harness horses. There were also draft horse classes and team pulling. The team pulling contest was supervised by Condit Compton, Dr. William Yeaton and Lester (Leicester) Sweeley. The show was officially opened by the one and only rooster crow of Jules Marron, the Horse Show’s announcer.
In 1955, the same year that the record was broken for the team pulling, the show had 800 horses entered and looked to be a great show until hurricane Connie hit. The winds and rain were so bad they shredded canvas and the grandstand tents collapsed. All of the animals needed to be rescued and brought to higher ground. The Horse Show officials had an emergency meeting and ended the 1955 show early. The show only closed one day early but they lost money for the first time and were unable to donate to local charities. Hurricane Diane came 5 days later and several local dams failed and there was a huge amount of property damage. Even losing the final day of the show in 1955, they had reached 50,000 admissions for the first time!
It was in 1958 that the AHSA named the Sussex Farm and Horse Show an “honor show”. They received this title for 3 years! This show had grown by leaps and bounds and many of the top horses and riders in the country were coming to compete. 1960 saw 1500 entries and a complete junior division and more rings were added bringing the total to 3 in 1963. The air also grew to a six-day and night event. Attendance in 1965 grew to 2400 exhibitors and more than 65,000 spectators. Over a 30 year span, famous riders such as Frank and Mary Mairs Chapot, Ronnie Mutch, Rodney Jenkins, Michelle McEvoy, Dave Kelley, Johnny Bell, Joe Greene and also up and coming riders in the jr ranks such as Leslie Burr, Greg Best, Armand, Peter and Mark Leone, Wendy Chapot, Nona Garson and Robin Rost (now Fairclough). Famous horses included Gem Twist, Tom Boy, San Lucas, Grey Aero, Idle Dice and Snowman. Trainers such as George Morris, Victor Hugo Vidal and Gordon Wright also worked with riders at many of these shows over the years. Sullivan Davis and Knox Kreeger were saddle horses trainers and in driving was the World Pairs Driving Champion Jimmy Fairclough.
It was in the 1960’s that the Sussex Farm and Horse Show decided to form a committee to look for a new site to host this growing horse show and fair. The site was found in Augusta, NJ and consisted of 126 acres which the directors purchased for $55,000. This land was bought from Bill McDanold on August 14, 1963. It would be a number of years before the show would move to this location however.
In 1966 Elizabeth “Epics”Yetter became President of the Horse Show. The show itself was doing well and growing and the plans were being made on how to develop the new showgrounds. Between 1972 and 1973, construction started with several access roads and the formation of a pond. In 1973 the Fair Association acquired a mortgage to begin property improvements including a well, bathrooms, a show ring and more roads. The show moved to the new grounds in 1976. The new location was named the Sussex County Fairgrounds. The first year at the new facility did not go very smoothly however. Instead of collecting admittance fees at the gate, they were collected at roadway points from attendees in their cars. The traffic jam is legendary as the worst in Sussex County history.
The Western Division of Quarter Horse Show became separate from the rest of the show. The QH show used to be held on the last Saturday but moved to the first weekend of the fair instead. The Tanis family from Augusta were involved early on with draft horses and Jersey cows (Ideal Farms) eventually to the Quarter Horse Show as it is known today. The whole family was involved, including Jacob Sr, Dr. John and his family and Jake Jr. and his family. Dr. Tanis was key to getting the Budweiser Clydesdales to come to the fair.
1979 was the year Dr Jean Buist, a veterinarian and member of the Horse Show since childhood became President. Dr Buist also personally organized and announced the Team Pulling Contest which she took over for Lester Sweeley. Dr Buist remained President for 10 years being followed by Mrs. Lois Pellow. Mrs Pellow was the President to introduce Corporate Sponsorship to the horse show helping raise many many dollars. She was written about by journalist Nancy Jaffer in the 1990 issue of Horse Show, the AHSA magazine where her efforts were lauded. It was sponsorship that made possible a $10,000 Mini Prix that was won by Olympic Medalist Greg Best on Santos in 1989. In 1990 the Prix was raised to $25,000.
1987 Raymond Hecht, President of Newton Trust Company was the initiator of Driving Day. The Newton Trust Company sponsored the event for many years.
It was after this that the permanent building began to be constructed starting with the Walter Richards building. The livestock pavilion, horse show office and other stables were built. The Snook Museum and Fair Administration Building as well. The Shotwell 4-H building was opened in 2007 in honor of Phoebe and Ralph Shotwell, big supporters of 4-H in Sussex County. The Coors Entertainment Area was created to move the tractor pulls out of the horse show rings.
George “Shorty”Van Atta was President for a time and was replaced by Aldo Sayre since George wished to retire. Martin Struble was the grounds foreman. Harold Pellow, a local civil engineer developed a master plan for the fair and has been very involved with the grounds committee among other projects ever since. In 1982 with the Horse Show was approved to establish a building fund. This was to help fund projects to make the facility useful for other organizations to lease for their events. Many fundraisers were held and the first barn was constructed with 50 stalls and a mangers office. Two more barns have been funded and built as well. In 1989 there was a Show Administration Office was constructed and dedicated to long-time committee member Leicester Sweeley. The special ceremony was held on July 30, 1989. The pavilion next to the office was built in 1991.
There was another special ceremony held in the main ring on August 8, 1991 for Robert Rost. “Doc”was honored for managing the show for 40 years! “Doc” did get surprised and presented with a special citation and gift by the President of the AHSA, Jane F Clark. Robert Rost was show manager until 1994 after which Michael Rheinheimer became the new show manager.
1994 saw two co-Presidents elected, Mary Lou McCutcheon and Gail Phoebus. They served together for one year, then Mary served in 1995 herself. In 1996 Susan L Gerber was elected starting off the 60th Anniversary year of the Sussex County Horse Show.
In 1999 the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show acquired the name NJ State Fair. The new name became New Jersey State Fair/Sussex County Farm and Horse Show.
In 2009 Beverly and Bruce Gordon contributed funds towards The Conservatory. This building houses the flower show during the fair as well as weddings etc throughout the year.
The Sussex County Farm and Horse Show has a series of horse shows held between April and October that help raise funds to do maintenance to the facility and offer new scholarships to area students. Our shows are growing and we are constantly looking for new members to help make the shows in the future the best ever.
Contact our current President Ralph Anthony for information on joining our committee at RAnthony@njstatefair.org