In Awe of Devon
Style My Ride's Lindsey Uhl recently attended the Devon Horse show for the first time and was overcome by the majesty and tradition.
When you’re a local equestrian, plans for Devon start early. You can buy your tickets for events online and plan which ones you must watch on live feed. You arrange carpooling with your barn friends and whomever else, and it’s just accepted that of course you’ll try and get to the Grand Prix, it’s Devon!
When you grew up elsewhere and are new to the area, Devon is still this sort of mystical magical wonderland where champion horses and riders show and in your dream of dreams, maybe some day you’d get there too, even just to watch.
I grew up outside Boston, MA, and rode at a hunter jumper stable a little ways from my home. I never had the money to be a big show rider or own my own horse, but I had a devoted trainer who taught me how to ride anything. I enviously watched my peers head off to the big shows, and of course heard names like Devon and Ocala casually thrown around, but they meant nothing to me, really, as the world I lived in was one with snarky school ponies that had lessons to teach me. As I went through school and moved from formal horse riding lessons to casual, “if it is a horse I like it and will ride it,” I encountered many more equestrians from numerous disciplines, across more than a half dozen American states, and all over the UK. Devon remained a name that everyone knew and talked about. It seemed to be used as a standard by which to measure oneself and one’s horse, or a trainer, or a breeder, or a horse for sale. It was not the only standard, to be sure, but the more involved with horses that I became, the more Devon grew in my mind.
This is my twenty second year of riding and training horses, and this spring was my first Devon.
It’s a difficult thing to approach wonderland when it’s been built up so much over a lifetime. I’ve achieved the dream of my life already recently, as I purchased my first horse in the fall, and moved her out from her breeder’s farm to my city this spring. She’s a yearling now - and Devon became a topic of discussion with some of my professional horse friends. Such a great show, and so close, of course I had to go, at least to the Breeder’s Day, to see what the rest of the local young stock was looking like, and to see if maybe there’d be a place for my filly in the two-year-old lineup in a year! I felt apprehensive, like approaching someone famous and asking for their autograph, almost afraid that if I went, the bubble would burst and Devon would be just another place, but I couldn’t deny the clear logic my friends presented.
I planned my day at Devon with a young equestrienne from my stable who I’m mentoring. As a young rider with a lot of natural talent and who works very hard for everything she has but who had also never been to Devon, I wanted to share the experience with her - after all, it is a great standard to strive for! We packed up our sunscreen and water bottles for the hot Pennsylvania day, both very excited but also uncertain at how the dream would unfold in reality. Half an hour drive from our stable, and we were there. As much as there is the fair and the vendors as well as the horses, we agreed that we had to see the horses first.
The grounds are simple and stunning. The stabling rows, brown with blue and white trim and the Devon Hackney horse seal above every entry, are beautiful, well maintained and clean, with potted flowers at entrances. The Ferris wheel peeks above the rooflines and vendor tents, reminding the crowds that there is fun to be had beyond the show ring. And then, of course, there is the Dixon Oval.
In my real life, I am an entry-level architect specializing in historic structures who has just completed her formal education. In my heart of hearts, I would love to work primarily on equestrian facilities, but of course, as an amateur horse rider and owner, pigeon holing myself that much just isn’t practical for feeding my filly. The Dixon Oval is a historic structure taken from my own dreams. Its early 20th century grandstands remind me of Churchill Downs, only for a riding arena instead of a racetrack, and painted a stunning blue with white and black that feels almost like something out of Mary Poppins. You can of course tell that over time it has been expanded and the like, but its essence is perfect: this is where Champions meet.
My friend and I found a place on the fence line to stand and watch, as we were too excited to sit. We positioned ourselves between the warm-up ring and the main arena, so we could see all the action. Breeder’s Day is fun, because while the jumps have been put away, there’s both in-hand and riding classes, with horses as young as yearlings. We had such fun, watching the babies prance around with their handlers, picking our favorites and admiring the exceptional grooming and braiding that had been done. There were some stunning youngsters, some clearly needing to grow into themselves a bit more, but even when gangly and long-legged, just gorgeous. Neither of us had seen in-hand classes before, and it was very interesting to learn about the process and what makes a difference for the judges’ scores.
Between the in-hand classes and the hunter under saddle, we decided to peruse the shops and the fair. Some of the vendors had already packed up to head home, but many were still open. We challenged the Dubarry stand about how waterproof their boots really were, and the gentleman there stepped in a bin of water and splashed around happily, explaining that it is their lining that is waterproof, and you must condition the leather as you would the leather of your saddle, but he’d had his boots for over a year and they were just as good as new. We admired the F.O.A.L. Competition Jacket by Arista Equestrian, made of such breathable and lightweight material that we’d be comfortable in a hot show ring in a Pennsylvania summer. Of course, we each purchased some Devon official gear to celebrate our first Devon experience!
Our experience with the shops was made perfect by two ladies who took the time to really chat with us like friends: Piper of The Plaid Horse Magazine, and Vicki of Bizi Bee Boutique! Piper took the time to tell us all about the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge, which The Plaid Horse is presenting this summer. It’s an online program to enrich a stable’s horsemanship knowledge beyond just riding, through quizzes that gain each contestant’s stable points over a thirty day period. Each stable has the opportunity to win cool prizes, and we got really pumped to introduce our stable community to this challenge. Vicki, who came out from the Kansas City area, was equally warm and friendly. A graduate of University of Kansas myself, we chat about the area and the horse communities out in the midwest, and she introduced us to her fun boutique. We love her French horse t-shirts, they’re just so cute! It’s great people like these that make the horse community such a wonderful group to be with.
We topped off our Devon day by watching the hunter under saddle class. It was a large group, who filled the huge oval space completely, dominated by bays but with a couple greys, blacks, and chestnuts thrown in for color. It was hard to watch all of the horses and we wondered how the judges would be able to pick the best out of the crowd! I had a definite favorite, whose rider kept him a little to the inside of the rail and in a wonderful frame the whole time. I was so pleased when he placed fourth! It was fascinating for us to watch the motion of the class: walk, trot, canter, pulling some horses to the center, reversing and watching the gaits again, excusing some of the class, then asking them to walk and trot in hand. It’s been a few years since I did any showing, and I forgot how complicated it could get! It was beautiful, such well-made and well prepared horses with riders equally well prepared for the class.
As we walked slowly to the gate, past horses being cooled and groomed and vendors packing up their wares, my friend and I talked about the horses we had liked best, which ones we would like to take home, and which trainers we thought we might like to someday work with. One dream made reality, it was easy to let the rest start to form in our heads. Maybe someday soon we will return with horses of our own to take around the Dixon Oval, and help other girls to begin their own dreams.
For more information about Devon, visit their website at www.devonhorseshow.net
If you’re interested in joining the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge presented by The Plaid Horse, check out the www.ushja.org/StableChallenge