Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay County Grand Prix Draws Fans to 'New' Sport

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay County Grand Prix Draws Fans to 'New' Sport

Article excerpt

Football may be the favorite sport of many people in the South. But a lot of Northeast Florida residents headed to the Clay County Fairgrounds Sunday to watch horses and riders exhibit their skills.

The event was the $25,000 Clay County Grand Prix, one of two highlights of a Winter Series horse show sponsored by the North Florida Hunter-Jumper Association for four weeks in January and early February.

"We figured we had about 2,000 people there," Tony Weight, association president, said Monday. "We had so many people who had never seen a horse show who loved it and wanted more information.

By the end of the four-week show, he said, approximately 1,750 riders and horses from throughout North America will have performed for ribbons and accolades in numerous events from beginners to experts.

"We have facilities here for 500 horses on the grounds," Weight said. "During the four different weeks, they come and go."

But many people stay during the entire show at the fairgrounds just west of Green Cove Springs, including vendors such as David Mielenz, who travels on the horse show circuit selling equipment and riding apparel to competitors.

Mielenz, owner of Judy's Tack Shop in Germantown, Tenn., pulled a 35-foot-long trailer to the fairgrounds and set it up in the middle of all the activity. Inside his trailer were hundreds of saddles, riding pants, shirts, boots, helmets and other paraphernalia.

"I've been down here quite a few times," Mielenz said. "I go to between 36 and 40 shows a year up and down the East Coast and in the Midwest."

He said that since the event moved to Clay County from a site in Mandarin, it has been better organized and is able to accommodate more competitors and spectators.

"It's bigger here and the grounds people do a much better job here," he said.

Melanie Galloway, of Altoona, Pa., works for Mielenz, but she's also going to be competing in one of the jumper events this weekend. She said there is a definite difference between horses trained as jumpers and those trained as hunters, which typically jump hurdles from 2 1/2 to 4 feet in height. …

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