I typically don’t get to go the “fun” show locations with work, like Dressage At Devon or the USDF Finals. However, I was sent to the desert last weekend for the inaugural Dressage at Santa Fe show, held at HIPICO Santa Fe.
HIPICO has an interesting history. The 137-acre facility began life as a polo ground, then eventually became the Santa Fe Equestrian Center. It hosted a variety of events- polo matches, hunter shows, and the prestigious Grand Prix de Santa Fe. The venue was put up for sale when funding dwindled and was purchased by the founders of the Grand Prix de Santa Fe and owners of Rancho Corazon, the nation’s leading Holsteiner breeding farm.
The venue is absolutely stunning. It’s nestled in a large valley just outside the city; the sparse desert landscape is a striking contrast against the lush green derby and grand prix fields in the facility. Mountains can be seen in the distance, making for beautiful competition photos. There are bridle paths for hacking, several rings for schooling, and lots of stabling. The VIP lounge is a large breezy tent with comfortable seating and unparalleled views of the grand prix field and hunter ring. There’s even a very large art exhibition tent on site, filled with gorgeous paintings and bronze sculptures available for purchase.
HIPICO is a work in progress, which was evident while I was there. From Friday to Monday, I saw crews installing and maintaining landscaping, setting statues at the main gate, and constructing temporary stabling. The industrious activity never ended. As riders were performing their tests, a man was fixing railroad ties along a driveway border. Someone in a Bobcat was pushing gravel screenings to another location. A crew appeared to be constructing some Hickstead Derby Bank-like feature in a field.
The venue staff were unfailingly nice, which was an added bonus. Some venues see vendors as an nuisance, and treat them accordingly. Every single person at HIPICO was friendly, helpful, and seemed genuinely glad to have us there.
But more bizarre than the staff’s incredibly nice demeanor was the staff’s demographics: almost everyone working at the place appeared to be a millennial hipster. This wasn’t a bad thing at all, but after a lifetime of seeing redneck and Latino men working at show grounds, it was extraordinary to see tattooed, pierced, skinny-jeans wearing young men and women dragging the rings, moving the jumps, and radioing each other about the status of the generators providing electricity to the vendor area.
HIPICO is just beautiful, and it’s a place I’d be happy to spend two months. The weather in Santa Fe was perfect- under 100 degrees every day, cool and breezy in the mornings, and completely tolerable in the shade. I’m apparently not the only one who’d gladly escape my state’s humidity and heat for the high desert; the venue manager told me they’re expecting 1200 horses every week at the hunter/jumper series that started this month. Twelve hundred! That’s incredible.
Even though it’s still under some construction, it’s easy to see that it will be an amazing facility once complete. It’s thoughtfully designed and completely unique. If you have the chance to go, I’d certainly recommend it!