WILLIAMSBURG -- Rachel Reid watched Horse Shows By The Bay steadily grow since she participated in the competition's first year at age 10.
Reid, now 15, takes part in nearly a dozen shows around the country each year with her horses Blossom and Nice Boy when she isn't busy training the animals near her family's summer cottage in Leelanau County. But for the next three weeks, she'll be just a short drive from one of the most prestigious horse shows in the Midwest.
"The Horse Shows By The Bay (is) getting a name for itself and a lot of big trainers and barns are going to it, so the competition is getting tougher," Reid said. "I look forward to all of it, but I am looking forward to low junior jumpers with my horse Blossom because we just moved up to that division and I really like it so far."
The ever-growing equestrian festival starts Wednesday and runs through Aug. 3. Reid is among an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 participants from across the U.S. and beyond that will head to the Flintfields Horse Park off Bates Road in Acme Township for the next three weeks to compete for more than $360,000 in total prize money.
This year's event features a new Team Elmer's Grand Prix Ring with seating for about 4,000 spectators -- the largest of its kind in the state -- an added polo exhibition, a high performance hunter classic, a local rider day and dozens of more stalls.
The 2008 show marks the biggest turnout yet since the event debuted in 2004 with about 250 riders, said show President Alexandra Rheinheimer.
"When you look at who's attending, it's more and more of the cream of the crop in the horse show industry. We have some of the best riders in the country," Rheinheimer said.
Community support for the show also swelled as it gained momentum in recent years.
"I believe that when we built our own ... horse park the community realized we are making a more concerted effort to establish roots. There is a significant economic impact due to the number of days the festival runs over and our guests haven't been as influenced by the economic downturn," Rheinheimer said.
The event's economic impact is "significant," Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau President Brad Van Dommelen said. Show visitors venture out to sample the region's products and activities, he said, and many of them stay for extended periods.
"Some of them are here for two or three weeks at a time," he said. "It not only brings that business over the weekend, it brings that business over the mid-week period as well."
Karen House, general manager of Mabel's Restaurant in Traverse City, said her staff busily prepared for the show Monday. HSBB officials "fell in love" with Mabel's last year, House said, and the restaurant was tapped to run a full-service restaurant at this year's show.
"It's a great opportunity for us, we're really excited," House said. "We've never done anything like this before."
Cherry Capital Airport Director Stephen Cassens said the airport experienced increased traffic during last year's show, and officials expect the same this year.
"Traffic in the summertime is always higher anyway, but for this show, there's a lot of people coming in and out," he said.
Many of the aircraft that come in are larger business-class planes and jets, Cassens said. The show and other events like the Traverse City Film Festival generate revenue when pilots purchase fuel here and passengers frequent local businesses, Cassens said.
"All of these things are good for the economy," he said.
Traverse City-based construction and engineering company Team Elmer's built the 80-acre horse park, and is a major sponsor of the event. Vice President Tonya Wildfong said the company is proud to offer its support.
"It's just wonderful to be a part of something that's going to help Traverse City," she said.
On the web at www.horseshowsbythebay.com