Ten Tips for Attending the Massachusetts Equine Affaire

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From a team penning clinic at Equine Affaire/Photo by Rhonda Lane
From a team penning clinic at Equine Affaire/Photo by Rhonda Lane

Equine Affaire, the big traveling regional equine trade show, is this upcoming weekend in West Springfield, Massachusetts, about an hour away from my house.

The show is so big that you need to go in with a plan. Over the years, I’ve seen various articles about how to navigate Equine Affaire, including this one from the event organizers. Of course, I have some tips, specific to the venue, that you won’t usually see.

Of course, the usual disclaimers apply. Anything I mention is subject to possible change (like the Young Building snack booth went from candied nuts to fudge.) So, your mileage may vary.

Anyway, here we go. Ten ways to enjoy your visit to the Massachusetts Equine Affaire.

1. Make a plan

Decide what you’re most interested in seeing. Or just peruse the Equine Affaire website, click on Massachusetts, and determine what looks like fun.

2. Wear comfortable shoes

All those exhibit halls. The big barn by the Coliseum. Multiple arenas for clinicians and demos. And that doesn’t include the walk from the parking lot.

3. What’s where?

As soon as you arrive at the event site, the Eastern States Exposition grounds, aka “The Big E,” get a program book. This handy reference has maps and locations of all of the booths.

But here’s a “big chunks” condensed version of what’s where:

a. Horses and farm displays? C-Barn and, to a limited extent, the Stroh Building.

b. Breed booths? Stroh Building. You’ll also be able to see some horses at the breed booths.

c. Shopping? The Better Living Center, the Young Building, the Mallary Complex and to some extent, at the breed booths in the Stroh Building.

d. Clinics and programs? Each building, except for the C-Barn, has a stage or arena for clinics. The Mallary Complex has two.

4. Youth stuff? Not the Young Building. Ha, ha. I know, but don’’t let that confuse you, even though young people are welcome at all clinics. The Mallary Complex tends to host the youth activities.

5. Where can I eat?

The Program Guide will list dining options, but you don’t want to leave the grounds. If I recall, there are sit-down, totally indoor restaurants in the Young Building and the Better Living Center. Every time I’ve walked past them, though, they’ve been packed with customers.

There’s also a mini food court outside the Better Living Center toward the Young Building. If it’s chilly, you’ll really dig the clam chowder in a bread bowl. After all, this is the New England Equine Affaire, and you can’t get more New England than clam chowder in a bread bowl.  Near this outdoor food court is a big white tent with picnic tables so you can sit down to eat.

Yes, that tent can be a bit chilly. So you might have to eat while wearing your coat.

**Secret Exclusive Tip **- I’ll be sorry, but I’m going to mention this little secret of mine. Just inside the Young Building doorway toward the Stroh Building is a scattering of indoor picnic tables. That’s right. Indoors. In the warmth. You can even eat with your jacket off. The picnic tables are near a little snack booth. For a while, that booth sold candied nuts. One year, it sold fudge.

Just do me a favor, please. Now that I’ve blabbed about my special secret place, if you read this blog and are sitting at those Young Building picnic tables and see me coming, please scooch over and make room for me. Okay? 😉 (My photo is in one of those columns to the left.)

6. Shopping tips

Check out my previous article about Equine Affaire. This is the place to shop for the horse crazy.

You can get good deals on boots at Equine Affaire. After all, the tack shop booths compete against each other, and not just for boots. I’ve seen, as I’ve walked onto the grounds, people leaving and carrying saddles to the parking lot.

Several equine booksellers have booths that are often packed, as well as signings by particular authors. Just think about this: most bookstores have a shelf, at the most, of horse material. Imagine a booth larger enough to walk around in full of horse books. Even better than the Lexington, KY, Joseph-Beth Bookseller, and I don’t say that lightly. As of this writing, Joseph-Beth’s has a display of Kentucky and horse books at the front of the story. Any bookseller booth at Equine Affaire has the equivalent of what’s in the Bluegrass Joseph-Beths and more.

7. Thursday is the quietest day

The weekends are packed, especially Saturday. Things slow down on Sunday with fewer clinics and, frankly, all the exhibitors look (and probably are) exhausted. Friday is a bit busier but really picks up in the mid afternoon as schools dismiss.

If crowds bother you or you’d like to seriously shop, then I recommend Thursday. And try to time your arrival for mid to late morning because some of the booths have freebies to the first X-amount of visitors. But if you want to avoid the freebie rush, time your arrival.

8. Bring a tote bag

Granted, some breed booths have plastic bags for toting the pamphlets and brochures you pick up. Also, you can buy horse-themed tote bags, even rolling totes, there. But bring your own. That way, you’ll have that extra dough to spend on other goodies.

9. Dress for the weather, but a little lighter.

The first year I attended Equine Affaire, we had snow. Other years have been sunny and mild. Either way, keep in mind that you’ll be doing a lot of walking indoors in your outerwear, so you don’t want to be dripping sweat after a while. Or carrying your coat. (Been there, done both.)

10. Scoring last-minute Pfizer Fantasia tickets

Don’t depend on this, but I’ve often been to the trade show and heard announcements over the loudspeaker about tickets being available for that night’s performance. Less so on the weekend, but if you’d like to be spontaneous about the performance and happen to be there on a weekday, you might get lucky.

Bonus tip:

Here’s a little something extra, a bonus tip.

11. Watch out with the Rotary

As you return to I-91, especially if you’re heading south, take that very first turn off the traffic rotary. (In Washington, DC, they’re called “traffic circles.”) Same thing, only different – but no heavy city traffic.

Still, when you’re heading home, south on I-91, be sure to take that first turn off the rotary. The exit comes quickly, and you’ll think it’s too soon to be correct. So, that means you will spend perhaps half the time on the rotary as you did on the way in.

Otherwise, you can end up in Springfield and trying to find how to get on I-91. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I’ve “been there, done that,” too.

If you can think of anything to add to these tips, please feel free to add them in the comments section below.

Oh yeah, Tip #12? Have a great time.

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  • fran
    November 10, 2009

    Great tips, Rhonda. What about parking? Where do you park? And do you buy tix in advance or at the gate? Is there more than one gate?

    • rhond7
      November 10, 2009

      Thanks, Fran. Leave it to me to forget some key points. Like, oh, how to get into the joint? 😉

      I park in the main lot that the cops direct everyone into. It costs about $5 to park each day. I wish I had a better tip than that. You can’t buy parking in advance.

      So, anyone reading this … got any tips about parking? How to hack the parking sitch at the Mass Equine Affaire? Internet glory will be your reward. 🙂

      Buying admission tickets in advance for Thursday isn’t that crucial, IMO. I do it, but I’ve never had to stand in much of a line. However, Saturday might be a different story, so an advance ticket might be a good idea. (Might be too late for that for this year, though.)

      Advance ticket holders arrive at the ticket booths at the grounds entrance and exchange the tickets for a wristband. The year that I attended for all four days, I received a bracelet I had to wear for all four days. I couldn’t cut it off until the trade show was over. Yup, I slept in and showered with it. And had flashbacks to hospital stays, too. Only the food is better at Equine Affaire. 😉