The Hampton Classic Is ‘Home for Me’

Liz Soroka has been involved in the show from age 13
Liz Soroka, the Hampton Classic’s event coordinator, spends much of her time on the road at horse shows up and down the East Coast. Durell Godfrey

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Liz Soroka practically grew up at the Hampton Classic Horse Show. 

Shortly after moving from New Jersey to Springs at the age of 13, her mother, who sold ads for the horse show’s program and oversaw the children’s tent for a decade, took her and her sister, Kate, along with her to the Classic. For the teenager, the sting of moving was eased by the chance to hang around the children’s exhibition tent and serve on the Hampton Classic’s junior committee. 

The girls had a menagerie of their own in Springs, and later Sag Harbor, and looked after the nonequine animals at the Classic like the llamas and goats. 

“Coming here was the best thing that ever happened,” Liz Soroka told a visitor this week of her family’s long ago move to the South Fork. Her sister is the Hampton Classic’s assistant site manager, helping to oversee the landscaping with a crew of three or four who take only January and February off. Maintenance of the property is a year-round deal. 

Liz Soroka is now the Hamp­ton Classic’s event coordinator. “Horse shows are my career now,” she said, but she wears many hats, so her title doesn’t adequately describe the actual nuts and bolts of the job.

What she does sounds more like a director or stage manager. She is in charge of the jump order, which is the list of who is competing and in what order. Since 1997, when she graduated from East Hampton High School, Liz Soroka has been with the international horse show circuit, Fédération Equestre Internationale (F.E.I.). She travels all over, mostly on the East Coast, for much of the year with her partner, Craig Bergmann, the other event coordinator at the Classic, in their R.V. The two met at the Classic. “We kind of call ourselves carnies,” she joked. “It’s a learn-as-you-go job.” 

He handles the logistical things: 80-plus vendors, 12 food vendors, including the grooms kitchen. “We take down our city and put it up at the next place,” she said, of the tent people, the horse show staff, and the in-gate staff, announcers, and judges, who are the crew traveling on the East Coast circuit. The F.E.I., which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is the international governing body of the sport, and, while independent, works congruently with the United States Equestrian Federation, the U.S. governing body.

She spends 14 weeks in the exhibitors office at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., then at the Global Champions Tour in Miami, the Lake Placid Horse Shows, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pa., the National Horse Show in Kentucky, and the Las Vegas National Horse Show. In her downtime, she works for Stephens Designs, designing and building jumps that are rented to shows all over the country, including the Classic.

Of the 1,300 horses at the Classic, only about 100 are part of the F.E.I. They are, she said, “the top level of horses here.”

“It is an elite club” for which she does a lot of organizing and paperwork, “getting them where they’re supposed to go.” She has a protective attitude toward the horses. With the F.E.I. there are a lot of rules wherever its horses are competing, among them a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to animals competing with any medications in their bodies. They are kept in a secure stabling area, with strict rules about who comes and goes — and anyone entering must show photo ID. 

“I have a bit of a babysitter reputation. People come to me . . . someone says, ‘I don’t know,’ they say, ‘Go ask Liz. She’ll figure it out.’ “ 

She comes home from Florida in early May, starts to design and build jumps, goes to Lake Placid, is back by mid-July, and is here with the Classic for the five-week setup and until October. It takes the crew 10 days from the Monday after the show to get the whole 65 acres “pretty flat,” she said. 

“Life on the road is not for everyone,” she said, but “I like every part of my life, actually. This show is home for me.”