There’s something special about Devon. Maybe it’s the elegant, sky-blue grandstands or the smattering of fancy hats and high heels juxtaposed against a sea of baseball caps, breeches, and quilted vests. Or maybe it’s because the sense of tradition and community is so strong it’s almost tangible.
As a Pennsylvania native growing up in Devon’s backyard, I was raised on the Devon Horse Show and have been attending for more than a decade. Not only is the show an important icon in the horse world, it’s steeped in the rich history of the community it’s settled in, a community that I grew up in and love. Horses have been a huge part of the “Main Line,” the towns along the railroad line that brought the wealthy inhabitants of Philadelphia out to the countryside, for over a hundred years. (If you grew up around here, you know it’s still called the Main Line.) And in 1896, a group of men decided to hold a show in Devon because they wanted to work on improving the horses they used to pull their vehicles, and thus the tradition of the Devon Horse Show was born. By 1914, the Devon Horse Show became the largest outdoor horse show in the country, and it still holds that title today, with all proceeds going to benefit the Bryn Mawr hospital (as they have since 1919).
The best part is that when you go to the Devon, even as a spectator, you feel like you’re a part of something special. You get to be part of the proud tradition, and you feel the camaraderie of the local community, the horse community, and the local horse community.
As fun as the entire 11-day show is, Grand Prix night is especially electric. You can feel the excitement and anticipation as people pack into the grandstands and the boxes (many of which are passed down in families from generation to generation). The anticipation builds as the night starts off with a handful of fun exhibitions before the competition gets underway. This year’s exhibitors included renowned Australian Horseman Guy McClean, who delighted the crowds with charisma, his impressive Australian Stock Horse named Nugget (now a Breyer horse!), and his incredibly willing and obedient team. As a girl who wore out the Man from Snowy River VHS (still my all-time favorite horse movie, and yes, I’m old enough that I watched it on VHS) I was in heaven, and now I officially want an Australian Stock Horse someday—what clever, athletic horses!
Then just before the action started, the spectators got a visit from the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. I got to see the Clydesdales just a few months ago when they visited Plymouth for the America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Festival, but somehow they look even more impressive in the Dixon Oval. Plus, I have a recently developed soft spot for Clydesdales since I just became the proud owner of a Clydesdale cross named Rory, and every day I fall more in love with the gentle, intelligent Clydesdale breed.
The $100,00 Grand Prix competition was fierce in a field of 31 entries, all gunning for gain and glory. Entrants ranged from 16-year-old junior riders to Olympic Gold Medalist McClain Ward and SmartPak Sponsored Rider Laura Chapot, who won two of the open jumper classes at Devon earlier in the week.
This group of incredible talented riders showcased some really spectacular horses in a competition that was packed with lots of thrills (and thankfully very few spills—just one fall on the LAST horse at the LAST fence). Most of the faults were time faults with a rail here and there. Laura Chapot took the early lead with the first clear round of the night on ISHD Dual Star. She rode a great ride, but when she came out on her next mount, Quointreau un Prince, it was clear that she was in it to win it with this horse. She rode with such determination, speed, and grace to put in an excellent clear round on him as well. Also to go clean was Kevin Babington and Mark Q, McClain Ward and Rothchild, Paul O’Shea and Primo de Revel, Todd Minikus and Quality Girl, McClain Ward and HH Ashley, and Kevin Babington and Shorapur. In total, nine horses piloted by five riders (four of them having two horses apiece) went clear to make it to the jump-off.
If I thought the horses were incredible during the first round, it was nothing compared to the athleticism displayed in the jump-off. I was blown away by the bravery of these horses as they literally FLEW over the fences. The crowd gasped, cheered, held it’s breath, and breathed a sigh of relief after each clear fence. Everyone was literally on the edge of their seat for what proved to be an exciting competition that came right down to the wire. Paul O’Shea and River Dance Semilly were the first to go clear (after almost jumping the wrong fence!) with a time of 43 seconds. McClain and Rothchild were next and set the time to beat with 40 seconds. Chapot and Prince also went clean with a time of 41.953. Up next was a stunning ride by Paul O’Shea and Primo de Revel, who ended with a clear round and the winning time of 38.951. They were followed by Todd Minikus and Quality Girl who went clean with a time of 39.633 to secure second place, just a mere 7/10 of a second slower than O’Shea and Primo de Revel. Talk about tough competition!
As exciting as it was to watch these accomplished riders battle it out for the blue, what I found most impressive and inspiring about the Grand Prix was the number of young riders who competed, all of whom rode incredibly well. In fact, aside from the nine horses that made it to the jump-off, the other three horses to make the top 12 were ridden by riders ages 21 and younger! The youngest riders in the field were 16-year-olds Hunter Holloway and Devon leading junior rider, Victoria Colvin.
One of the next youngest was 17-year-old Lillie Keenan riding Pumped Up Kicks, a big, beautiful dapple grey, who finished the night in eleventh place. Lillie’s mom was sitting just in front of me in the grandstands, and Lillie came and sat with her, all dressed in her show gear and ready to go, as she watched the first few riders. After her ride, she rejoined her mother in the stands to watch the remainder of the competition just like everyone else. I caught a glimpse of the background on her phone (a picture of Pumped Up Kicks) as she responded to text messages and checked social media just like your average teenager—though her ride proved she was far from average. I asked her how long she’s been coming to Devon: 10 years, as she showed her first pony here when she was just seven years old. She was mature beyond her years, both as a person and as a rider and competitor—what an inspiration.
I guess if you had to sum up the night in one word, it would have to be “inspiring.” All the years of training, all the hours in the saddle, all the hard work, and all the ups and downs culminated in just a short 76 seconds for 31 spectacular riders in the world-famous Dixon Oval. The display of athleticism, determination, fearlessness, and sheer talent from both the horses and riders at this year’s 2014 Devon Grand Prix was unmatched. It made me want to rededicate myself to working harder in the saddle and bring a little more determination and a little less fear into each of my rides.