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Equestrian event jumps to Ipswich

The Silver Oak Equestrian Center in Hampton Falls, N.H., has lost one equestrian event but will stage another.

The Silver Oak Equestrian Center in Hampton Falls, N.H., has lost one equestrian event but will stage another.

A world-class equestrian event will be held this summer in Ipswich following a dispute between organizers and the owner of its former venue in New Hampshire.

The Jumper Classic, which traditionally attracts Olympic riders to the region, announced it would be moving back to Massachusetts for its 24th year and will be held July 10 through 14 at Maplecroft Farm, where it was held prior to relocating in 2008.

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The event has been held at the Silver Oak Equestrian Center in Hampton Falls, N.H., for the last five years, but a clash between Classic president and CEO Melissa Lovasco and the late David Birdsall, owner of Silver Oak, ended the association last year.

The event has historically drawn thousands of spectators and exhibitors, which organizers and tourism officials say yields a significant economic impact to the region.

Another show, the Silver Oak Jumper Tournament, will be held at the New Hampshire facility Aug. 7 through 10.

The shift that created two shows comes the same year that another local jumping event has ended.

The Boston Equestrian Classic, formerly sponsored by Putnam Investments, was held for the last three years at the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton. The show was created by the late Don Little of Ipswich, who founded The Jumper Classic in 1989 and ran it for many years at Myopia.

The event carried on after Little, 77, died while jumping his horse in February 2012, but is not being held this year.

Word of the controversy in New Hampshire spread when, in an e-mail to riders sent March 21, Lovasco wrote that “many people were sent e-mails and press releases that were defamatory in nature towards the character of the show, and me, personally. I feel that I should be allowed the opportunity to discredit those claims, but I am dispensing with further involvement of any kind with the people who have made it very difficult for The Jumper Classic.”

Lovasco’s dispute with Birdsall included calls to the Hampton Falls Police Department — which enforced a no-trespassing order — and allegations from both sides about missing equipment that each party suspected the other of taking.

“It was one of those circumstances where the parties were trying to get the Police Department to go beyond what was a civil matter,” said Robbie Dirsa, the Hampton Falls police chief. “It ended up where it should have, in the civil courts.”

Birdsall, 58, a Topsfield resident, died Jan. 16 after contracting a bronchial infection. Lovasco said she settled the suits with Birdsall’s widow, Karen.

There also have been allegations that The Jumper Classic had failed to pay its vendors, which Lovasco denied.

She said she traces the problems with Silver Oak to her split with longtime Classic chairman Jeffrey Papows, who will run the Silver Oak event in August.

“Jeff was my chairman for nine years and we ended up having a lot of conflict,” said Lovasco, who said the problems worsened when he learned that she was considering replacing him as chairman.

Papows agreed there is bad blood between him and Lovasco, but said he was not the author of defamatory e-mails or press releases.

“I take great exception to some of the business practices, but it’s her company and her business,” said Papows. “From my point of view, all’s well that ends well, now go to your separate corners, and whoever puts out the better product will get the Olympic riders and win, so to speak.”

Lovasco said she thinks the controversy was one reason that the event lost its title sponsor, Fidelity Investments, which pulled out in December.

“There’s nothing I can say; they were a great sponsor for 14 years,” Lovasco said.

The show has retained its relationship with presenting sponsor Audi and several other sponsors, and as it moves to Ipswich will need to reconnect with others that did not move with the show to New Hampshire.

“People love the event, so we want to keep it a tradition,” Lovasco said.

The Silver Oak show features premium show-jumping facilities, and the United States Equestrian Federation granted it the same weekend as last year’s show, which Papows called “a premium time slot.” According to Lovasco, attendance in Hampton Falls was approximately 10,000 in 2012.

Papows said that the new event has lined up several sponsors, but does not yet have a title sponsor.

E-mail David Rattigan at DRattigan.Globe@gmail.com.
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