So you’re visiting the Royal Winter Fair! For Ontario-residing equestrians, the Royal is the best ten days of the year. It’s the pinnacle of the national hunter/jumper show circuit with some really fun international competition across disciplines featured as well. And not only are there horses, horses and more horses, there are cows, pigs, chickens, and goats – an animal lover’s dream. And obviously we can’t talk about the Royal without talking about the shopping. The Enercare Centre is filled with vendors of every type – from all your horsey needs, such as tack, trailers, clothing, and stalls & horse fencing options, to handcrafted sweaters, locally made tarts and baked goods, jewelry, art… the list goes on! Not only is it great personal retail therapy, it’s close enough to Christmas that you may be able to cross a good number of people off your list all in one go.
Your first consideration should be what kind of performance you’re going to watch. General admission tickets will get you into the weekday day-time horse show classes, which typically include the Amateur divisions of the hunter/jumper circuit, as well as in-hand classes and cart and driving classes for all types of horse and pony. Nighttime performance tickets will cost more, but the bang you get for your buck is totally worth it – indoor eventing, RCMP Musical Ride, K-9 Equine Relay, and a ton of other specials peppered with show jumping championships will make it a night worth staying up past your bedtime for. Alternately, Sunday’s matinee performance is the Rodeo, which is one of the most popular shows, so get your tickets ASAP!
Things to bring with you when you’ve bought your tickets and you’re ready to go:
- Reusable shopping bags/backpack
- Bottle of water
- Comfortable shoes (tradeshow floors are hard on the feet!)
- Christmas shopping list
- Tack shopping list
- A jacket or sweatshirt, unless you plan on buying some Royal swag there – the warmup ring in the horse palace can get chilly!
There’s lots of (pay) parking on site, or of course you can always take the Go and exit at Exhibition station. The first thing you need to do is plan your food breaks. The second thing is choose one of those foods and cross it off the list at your first break!
- Food to plan to eat
- Breakfast sandwich
- Rosti & pumpkin pie
- Apple dumpling, with caramel sauce and ice cream of course!
- Cinnamon bun
- Giant pickle on a stick
- Some tums
After you’ve got your first food of the day, it’s probably time to check out some vendors. Many of them will have things on sale or have Royal “deals.” Now’s the time to start checking off people from your Christmas list. New this year is Made By Me Artisan Pavilion – a whole section dedicated to local artisans who hand-make their wares. This should prove to be a great addition to the vendor area!
Misc things to buy:
- A stuffed unicorn
- Art – horsey and other wise
- Clothes from the Royal swag shop
- Horse Christmas ornaments
- Alpaca sweaters
- A new belt
- Something locally crafted from the Made By Me Artisan Pavilion – buy local!
Now you’ve had your fill of shopping for other people, it’s time for a break. Consult your food list for something you haven’t had yet, get it, and then go hang out and watch either the cow show in the Semex Ring Of Excellence, see if you’re in time for the SuperDogs show, or head over to the horse palace to watch whatever’s going on in the ring. When you’ve rested and recuperated, now might be a good time to do some shopping for yourself. Or your horse.
Horse things to plan to buy:
- A saddle
- Riding clothes
- High-end ergonomic stirrup irons
- Custom tall boots
- Saddle pads
Tack shops take up a lot of square footage at the Royal. Manufacturers of items tend to have booths as well, so stuff that you can normally only get at tack shops or might even have to special order is available. You might be introduced to your new favourite brand of something, or find things that you’ll never see in a tack shop – take for example a star-studded Animo show jacket! Phew. All that shopping done, time for another break. It’s always fun to check out the Hitching Ring, a restaurant with pretty good food and a view into the warm-up ring for the Coca Cola Coliseum, or you can just pop in for a drink. After, you may want to peruse the many food vendors for take-home treats.
Food to plan to buy:
- Cured meats
- A variety of different types of tarts
- Amazing cheeses (save this until you’re about to go, unless you’ve REALLY prepared yourself and brought a small cooler or ice pack!)
- Sweet and savoury shortbreads
If you get shopped out early or aren’t planning to get too wild with the expenditures, the cool thing is there’s just so much other stuff to do! The petting zoo is a big hit, with lots of different farm animals to admire. The butter sculpture contest is awesome, with super talented art students taking massive blocks of butter and carving them into any number of things – my personal favourite from years past was a bust of Elvis. There are also giant vegetables to admire, a Square Dancing competition (on the Final Friday only), Amber Marshall meet n greets, and various animal shows in the President’s Choice Animal Theatre. If you’re looking to learn more about agriculture, the University of Guelph has informational displays, and you can basically walk down any aisle where the cows, sheep or goats are housed and talk to a farmer about what they do. Heritage Court will also be the host space for some fun live entertainment that’s worth checking out. If you’re in the market for big ticket items, there are also a variety of vendors on site for things like horse trailers and fencing and stall solutions, often with “Royal Deals” to be taken advantage of. Your day at the Royal is what you make it, so have a good time and take advantage of everything on offer!