Myopia Hunt Club: Horses, Hounds and Heritage
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Don Little riding at Myopia in the late 1940s, as a teenager.
When Donald Little enters the kennels at Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, the club’s dozens of hounds leap and bark at the gate, enthusiastically greeting their master. As he pushes in, the animals swarm, tails wagging while Little pats them like pets, though in fact he is master of the hounds at Myopia, the latest in a long line of masters that dates back to Hugh A. Allan in 1882.
Little has spent his life riding, playing polo (he started riding at Myopia at age three and was captain of its team from 1968 until 1981) and competing in horse shows. For the past 10 years, he has served as Myopia’s master. He also owns a sizeable racehorse stable in Belmont Park, New York, that has produced winners of the Belmont Stakes and The 2008 Breeders’ Cup. “I was riding before I was born,” he says with wry wit, adding that his mother began foxhunting and show jumping at Myopia in the 1920s.
|Don Little riding at Myopia in 2004|
Last year, Little founded the Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic, which will hold its second edition at the club from September 8 to 11. After the Fidelity Investments Jumper Classic moved to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, in 2008, he decided Boston once again needed an Olympicstyle jumping show. With the support of Putnam Investments, Jaguar, the Taj Boston and other sponsors, he expects to attract as many as 700 horses competing in 85 classes this year. “To get the best riders from across the country, you have to offer a fair amount of prize money,” says Little, explaining why the Grand Prix purse was increased this year to $50,000. “We’ve had to get a bit commercial. People used to be happy to compete for a ribbon, but today, at this level, they’re mostly professionals who ride for owners, so prize money is an important aspect of show jumping.” This year’s participants include former Olympic gold medalists Peter Wylde, Leslie Howard and Christopher Kappler.
“The commercial side takes a little fun out of it, but it also makes it more professional,” continues Little, who will compete in the older adult division of the Putnam Classic. “The caliber of the sport has improved as more money has come into it.” Philanthropy is also important in the current equestrian culture, and a portion of proceeds from this year’s event will benefit Fisher House Boston, an organization that provides local housing for the families of wounded servicemen and women while they receive medical care.
As many as 1,000 people are expected to attend the Champagne luncheon to close the Classic on Sunday, September 11. In addition to the equestrian entertainment, which includes show jumping and jousting, there will be sky divers and, of course, plenty of bubbly to sip and fancy hats to admire. “You could call it a social event with equestrian entertainment,” Little quips. “Everyone is there to party, and if they want to, they can look out and see the horse competition.”
That may be true for many of the spectators, but Charlie Jacobs, co-owner of the Boston Bruins and a lifelong rider, has no interest in Champagne lunches. He will be there to compete in the Grand Prix show jumping event, in which about 40 riders jump a course with 15 obstacles measuring up to five feet high and five feet wide within a specified time. Those who are successful in cleanly completing the course enter a jump-off where they run a shortened course of six to eight obstacles against the clock, making it a fast and furious contest.