byNina Fedrizzi| May 25, 2017
It’s been more than 120 years since the first horse show was held in the town of Devon, in the lush, rolling hills of Chester County Pennsylvania. A century later, the day-long event—which began as a practical and social get together for local country gentlemen—has turned into a nearly two-week-long affair (May 25 – June 4, 2017) offering one of the largest varieties of classes anywhere in the country, a Grand Prix, and a cherished country fair.
Devon is also one of a select group of horse shows in the country to receive the Heritage Competition designation from US Equestrian. To qualify, a show must not only have been established for a long period of time, it also has to have made a substantial contribution toward the development and promotion of equestrian sport.
Over the years, Devon has become so popular, in fact, that for several of its divisions—including hunters, jumpers, ponies and equitation—exhibitors must actually qualify to compete based on their performance at 15 of their best shows of the season. As a rider, it’s an honor just to be selected. But attending Devon is a treat unto itself, and even if you’re just there to watch a few classes and take in the sights, it truly is an Amercian equestrian experience unlike any other.
So, whether you’re a horse show veteran or a first-time attendee, here are the eight essential experiences every Devon visitor should have.
1. Watch a class you’ve never seen before.
One of the best things about Devon is its ability to bring together top competitors from around the country in such a vast array of disciplines. For example, have you ever watched a hackney pony—the “Aristocrat of the show ring”—strut its stuff? What about a historic, four-in-hand Coaching class first brought to America by 19th-century British nobles? Surely you haven’t witnessed an actual ‘Open Unicorn’ class (really!) where driving horses are judged on their quality, uniformity, and manners? At Devon, you can watch them all! Additionally, this year, on Sunday, May 28th, the show will also offer a brand new competition: the $50,000 Arena Eventing class, created with help from Olympians Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin, with course design by Captain Mark Phillips.
2. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel.
Is there anything that says “a day at the country fair” like a couple of turns on the Ferris wheel? Devon’s own was added during the 1950s, during a period when many of its bobby-sock wearing visitors were more focused on the rides and midway games than they were the events going on inside the Dixon Oval. No matter. Today guests can enjoy the best of both worlds, with panoramic views over the show grounds, Country Fair Village, and Chester County beyond.
3. Go all-out for Ladies’ Day.
Save the Kentucky Derby, women don’t have many opportunities on this side of the Pond to dress up in their Sunday finest while sporting their favorite showstopping hat or fascinator. Over the years, the Devon Ladies’ Day has not only drawn its fair share of fruited, floral, and feathered creations, it’s become a beloved tradition, offering prizes for the best-dressed ladies in six categories. (Register in advance for this year’s event on Wednesday, May 31st).
4. Watch McLain Ward double down on that winning streak.
Devon always draws a number of the country’s most elite show jumpers (think: Laura Chapot, Laura Kraut, and Beezie Madden) but this year is an especially big one for 2016 Olympic silver medalist and 2017 FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final Champion, McLain Ward. In addition to jumping in the Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon (on June 1st)—named in honor of his legendary, two-time gold medal winning Olympic mount—McLain will also be defending his title as the 2016 Devon Leading Open Jumper Rider. Will he prevail?
5. Enjoy sweet tea and sandwiches at the Devon Tea Cart.
The Devon Tea Cart is a nearly 100-year-old institution and the Country Fair’s oldest booth, once serving afternoon refreshment to horse show guests courtesy of the wives of Devon’s organizers. Although tea is no longer served in silver urns over lace table cloths, you can still order the specially blended iced tea version while snacking on pastries and the horse show’s famously elegant tea sandwiches.
6. Go to the Dog Show.
There’s no question that horse show people are almost always dog people, too, and the Devon Horse Show is capitalizing on that symbiosis by hosting a dog show of their own. But just don’t expect any coiffed poodles or stiff upper lips: there’s nothing fussy about this fun-for-all exhibition (May 25th) which offers a leadline costume parade, ‘speed weave’ class, jumpers, trick competitions, and more.
7. Kiss a Clydesdale.
Each spring, the Devon Horse Show brings in a range of special entertainment offerings for horse lovers and non-horsey visitors alike. This year, the famous Budweiser Clydesdales will be on hand once again to dazzle spectators with a parade procession inside the Dixon Oval, complete with their red Studebaker beer delivery wagon, dalmation, and sparkling brass harnesses (June 2-3).
8. Indulge your sweet tooth!
They don’t call it a Country Fair for nothing, and no trip to the carnival would be complete without a couple sweet treats for the road. Frequent horse show attendees know to head to the ice cream booth on a hot day, but if you’re looking for a truly authentic Devon experience, look no further than the fair’s lemon sticks—a 100-year-old tradition—and a taste of the famous Devon fudge, 1,500 pounds of which is sold each year!
-All images courtesy of the Devon Horse Show/ US Equestrian.