At the age of 12, on her thoroughbred Watch Me, current Gates Mills Mayor Karen Schneider would begin a lifelong love of the horse show.
“This show is ingrained in my heart,” Mayor Schneider, 73, said. “I call it my passion project.”
Not only has Mayor Schneider’s involvement in the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic over the decades spanned numerous roles, including current board member, but her mother was the head of hospitality for the horse show at the Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field as far back as the 1960s, working on the box seats and seating for special events.
Mayor Schneider has continued that history of family involvement, with her son, Eric, president of Schneider Saddlery, an integral part of the show, as is her husband Stan, who helps with sponsorship. Her granddaughter, Anna Schneider, is now riding, too, carrying the tradition into a fourth generation.
“We have everybody working on it,” Mayor Schneider said. “This is the only major horse show left in Northeast Ohio.”
Mayor Schneider remains committed to its survival.
So much so that she has, for the past three years, hosted the time-honored event.
Her Chagrin Valley Farms in Bainbridge Township, which she and her husband purchased in 2018, will serve as the location for this year’s Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic. It will run July 7, 8 and 9 for the unrated/local show and July 11 to 16 for the national A-rated horse show.
The A-rated week will have a full roster of divisions including a $9,999 1.20m Jumper Classic and the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby.
The Classic, formerly held at the Polo Field in Moreland Hills among other locations, and now in its third year at Chagrin Valley Farms, is considered the highlight of the equestrian calendar for many. The show’s roots date back to 1948, and in 1965, the nation’s first show jumping grand prix, the Cleveland Grand Prix, was introduced.
The nonprofit Chagrin Valley Professional Horseman’s Association is the organizer of the annual hunter jumper horse show, now referred to as the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic. It has drawn dignitaries in its heyday and has served as the top attraction for exhibitors and spectators for decades.
“I don’t want this horse show to die,” Mayor Schneider, who has served on the board of the show since 1974, said. “We can change the faces who put it on, but we need to have this show go forward.”
Mayor Schneider said it is “totally surreal” to now be presenting the show at her own farm after her decades of involvement.
“We are giving it a home,” she said, “and helping it survive.”
Over the past two years, her family has added much to the farm in the area of upgrades both for their own use and to accommodate the horse show, making major investments. Improvements include state-of-the art footing, which has become a standard at top shows across the country, as well as the addition of a 30-by-60-foot ringside pavilion for spectators and entertainment, among others.
Prior to July’s show, plans to further beautify the area include expanding the warm-up ring footing and add permanent fencing, a new lunging area, improving the driveways and parking lots as well as disabled parking area and adding new public seating for spectators.
Mayor Schneider is currently doing major outreach to barns from all over to let them know of the improvements and personally invite them back to the horse show.
Work is also being done to solicit sponsors and compile a prize list and exhibitor information, among other tasks.
Mayor Schneider noted that the horse show is one of 30 in the entire country that is a Heritage Horse Show. She applied for that recognition in 2016.
“That’s a big deal,” she said. “There are not many old boutique shows left in the country.”
Mayor Schneider said her family has always been in the horse business. She married into Schneider Saddlery in the early 1970s and she showed throughout the 1970s, pausing to raise her three children.
She has been on the horse show board since 1974 and working on it ever since. She was co-chair of the show prior to becoming mayor, and is now in her eighth year in office.
“I love the history of things, especially this horse show,” she said.
“We want to promote new people coming to horse shows,” Mayor Schneider continued, adding that they purchased the farm so it would not turn into a housing development.
She also works to grow riding in the area, with her full horse farm offering riding camps during the holidays and summer, as well as private or group lessons.
Mayor Schneider said the show is intrinsic to the fabric of the community.
“The loss of equestrian competition in Northeast Ohio threatens the unique heritage of the Chagrin Valley that at one time was also home to polo matches, horse racing, fox hunting, carriage driving, and horse shows of every discipline,” said Mayor Schneider.
“The beautiful landscapes in Northeast Ohio have been shaped by the equestrian industry, with much of the land originally used for horse properties,” she added. “Preserving this heritage is crucial in enhancing the quality of life for those who call northeast Ohio home, as it celebrates our history and the unique character of our communities.”
As part of this year’s show, the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic will continue its tradition of hosting the Riders With Disabilities Horse Show in partnership with Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Bainbridge on July 10. This partnership dates back to 1990.
Helping the show carry on the traditions and survive has remained her life’s work, Mayor Schneider said.
“That’s what is in my heart,” she said. “I want the show to succeed, somewhere, somehow.
“It doesn’t have to be the same,” she said. “It just needs to keep going.”
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