Written by Emily Pollard
A Simply Amazing Week of Competition, Philanthropy and Social Sophistication
There’s an aura of excitement and enthusiasm that is incredibly infectious when people talk about the Menlo Charity Horse Show (known in the horse show world as ‘Menlo’).
The level of fervor peaks even higher when the conversation turns to the spirit of the volunteers that chair the annual event in northern California. It is obvious that this volunteer team of 100-130 members is a close-knit group that cares passionately about horses, philanthropy, and each other. They each have an affinity for “wearing a different hat” in order to help the committee where needed. Working with this team, a trial lawyer by day becomes the MCHS Public Relations representative and website manager by night and weekend. Together, this diverse group of lawyers, doctors, stay at home moms and more, works diligently for a year to host one of the most prestigious and charitable horse shows on the West Coast.
Since its beginning forty-five years ago, Menlo has become one of the nation’s boutique one-week equestrian events. Its mark in horse show history is noted by the United States Equestrian Federation’s USEF Heritage Competition designation, in recognition of Menlo’s longevity and contribution to equestrian sport and to the community.
This year Menlo will welcome up to 600 horses competing for over $150,000 in prize money in a wide range of divisions from lead line and ponies to a derby and a grand prix. Decorated equestrians such as Olympians Will Simpson, Guy Thomas, and Peter Breakwell will bring an international quality to the jumper ring, whereas equally decorated hunter riders such as John French, Jenny Karazissis and Hope Glynn will highlight the style and finesse of a hunter.
True to its roots as a charitable event, each year Menlo raises close to half a million dollars for a local charity. The benefits go to the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a tri-county organization that assists those suffering vision loss. This charity provides support to individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds in transitioning to home based living environments. While often less recognized than Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Vista Center helps people take the incredibly important step on the road to independent living, the one before a dog is paired with a client.
One of the original founders of Menlo, Betsy Glikbarg, created a liaison with this charity in 1973. Since that association developed, Menlo has donated over $6 million to the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Hand in hand with the goal of producing an excellent competition, Menlo’s philanthropic mission is equally important. Co-chair Suzanne Rischman and her team stated “Menlo exists for two reasons; first to support our charity, and second to produce a horse show that is worthy of our Heritage recognition.”
The Menlo Atmosphere – A Superb Social Setting and Sweet Shopping
Since the first show in 1970, the Menlo Circus Club grounds have hosted this uniquely equestrian week. An exclusive private club in Atherton, CA, MCC has a rich history focused on polo, family and philanthropy. Every year the Club generously opens its doors to the public for this week-long event that includes a warm up day Monday and a bustling show that runs from Tuesday to Sunday.
Laura Gerst, a northern California based trainer who has competed at Menlo for over 20 years, describes the atmosphere. “Clients feel they are welcomed by both the country club and horse show. From the show office, to the back gate, to the volunteers, everyone makes us feel like they are happy to have us there!”
Considering the wineries, dinners, and events that make up the Menlo evening itinerary, the social aspect is as amazing as the competition and the philanthropy. With a sponsored dinner following a high stakes class each evening, the schedule includes a $20,000 Hunter Derby followed by Schezwan Noodles on the Field on Thursday evening and the $40,000 Bentley Grand Prix, followed by the Bayhill Equine BBQ, plus the popular fashion show with horse show trainers as models, makes for a fun and fashionable Saturday evening. The jewel social event occurs on Friday night with the Menlo Charity Horse Show Auction and Gala entitled “Sapphires and Ice.” Guests are encouraged to wear sparkling sapphire jewelry and everyone comes dressed to the nines. Getting gussied up while mingling out on the grass is a highlight for all involved.
Over 30 businesses participate in the unique Vendor Row at Menlo, offering competitors and spectators alike an incredible on-site shopping experience. Apparel, jewelry, equestrian lifestyle and horse related products often not seen elsewhere make an appearance at Menlo.
Those Who Make it Possible
Menlo and all its splendor wouldn’t be possible without the generous donations from over 100 sponsors, including some of the world’s finest luxury brands to small, locally owned businesses. Bentley of San Francisco and Bentley of San Jose is not only sponsoring the $40,000 Grand Prix but will be providing Bentley test drives on the show grounds. Steve and Silver Fine Jewelry are the underwriters for the “Sapphires and Ice” dinner, while Rhys Vineyards sponsors the wine for the Friday night Gala. These sponsors and many more are a driving force behind Menlo’s success and ability to give significant charitable donations.
Trainer John Charlebois summed it by saying, “My clients feel that contributing, competing and being part of such a worthy charity makes Menlo one of our favorite shows. The show has a positive, sophisticated, and exhibitor friendly energy and atmosphere.”
Looking Forward to Another 45 Years
The Menlo committee maintains three, five and ten year goals for the show, most of which revolve around what they believe are the two most important aspects: the competitors and the philanthropic mission.
Their ability to organically weave together solid competition, a must-attend social calendar, gifts for exhibitors, splendid sponsors and an event that is talked about year-round is the reason Menlo continues to be one of the most celebrated horse shows on the West Coast.
Featured Image: Karrie Rufer and Thor, photo © Alden Corrigan Media