A Trip to Devon

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ICONIC: Riders dream of competing in the famed Dixon Oval. Canadian Olympian Jacqueline Brooks rides Stone Hill Equestrian Ltd.’s Hanoverian gelding, Westwood 5 (by Wolkenstein II), in the Grand Prix Special CDI-W at Dressage at Devon 2019.

For many dressage enthusiasts, the storied Dressage at Devon show is a can’t-miss event. Come behind the scenes of the 2019 competition and find out why.

Story and photographs by Jennifer O. Bryant

There aren’t too many dressage shows whose names are recognized throughout North America or even beyond. Dressage at Devon is one of them.

The show’s prestige isn’t because of its size. No multi-ring circus like many competitions, DAD, as many call it, is a mere two-ring affair. It couldn’t grow if organizers wanted it to: The site, the modest 21-acre Devon Horse Show grounds, is hemmed in on all sides by commercial and residential development.

Yet since its establishment in 1975 by the USDF group-member organization (GMO) the Delaware Valley Combined Training Association, DAD has evolved into a major dressage competition: a nearly week-long affair combining a CDI (FEI-recognized dressage competition) with several divisions, a nationally (US Equestrian/USDF) licensed competition at Fourth Level and above; and a dressage sport-horse breeding (DSHB) competition featuring a huge array of breeds—not just warmbloods—being shown in hand and under saddle, including the USDF Breeders Championship Series East Coast Series Championship Finals.

Now owned and operated by its own nonprofit corporation, Dressage at Devon continually attracts some of North America’s top horses and riders, who come for what they call a uniquely European-style equestrian competition atmosphere and a top international panel of judges.

Elverson, Pennsylvania,-based dressage instructor/trainer Angelia Bean, who’s competed in the DAD breed show, the national-level performance show, and the CDI (FEI-recognized dressage competition), cites Dressage at Devon’s “prestige, and the history, and the big-show atmosphere that you don’t get at a lot of the smaller dressage shows” as among her reasons for wanting to show there.

Proximity to Dressage at Devon is “one of the reasons I moved to this area,” she says.

If you want to enjoy watching top-class dressage, learning from experts, shopping at one of the best collections of vendors you’ll find at any show, eating and drinking to your heart’s content, and being entertained by a variety of special exhibitions, then put Dressage at Devon on your calendar. Read on for a look at some of the highlights of the show’s 2019 edition.

History

ORIGINS: Ringside plaque depicts the Dixon Oval in 1914

Dressage at Devon is a US Equestrian Heritage Competition, a designation bestowed on long-established shows that have contributed to the development of equestrian sport. But its legacy is eclipsed by the show for which the grounds are named, the two-week Devon Horse Show. The springtime hunter/jumper/driving/saddle seat (and more) competition dates back to 1896, making it the oldest and largest outdoor multi-breed equestrian competition in the US.

Competition Highlights

PROUD LEGACY: Dressage at Devon show-office banner proclaims the show’s status as a US Equestrian Heritage Competition

DAD is essentially two separate competitions held under one event umbrella. At the 2019 edition, days 1 through 3 (September 24-26) were the breed show. Some of the country’s best-known sport-horse breeders, as well as individual owners, exhibited their breeding stock and young horses in hand and under saddle. Sport-horse judges evaluate conformation, gaits and movement, dressage suitability, and other attributes. It’s fun to watch the young horses walk and trot in hand and to try to spot tomorrow’s stars among the entrants. Special “Born in the USA” awards recognize the efforts of American breeders to produce outstanding domestic sport horses.

LAST-MINUTE POLISH: A groom (left) puts last-minute touches on a breed-show entry before the handler (right) takes him into the ring for an in-hand class

As the breed show winds down, the performance show starts up. The 2019 DAD performance show ran for four days (September 26-29) and featured FEI and national-level competition for young horses; children, juniors, and young riders; and adult amateurs and open riders.

FREESTYLE NIGHT: DAD boxholders and general-admission spectators look on as JJ Tate and Pam Liddell’s Connemara gelding, Kynynmont Gunsmoke’s Gideon (by Gun Smoke), perform their Grand Prix Freestyle

The undisputed social and competitive highlight of the entire DAD run is the Saturday-evening Grand Prix Freestyle. Assigned-seat tickets usually sell out, owners of the coveted grandstand boxes and their friends crowd into stiff upright chairs to enjoy wine and picnic dinners, and unless you can snag a bench it’s standing room only for the rest of the crowd. The musical freestyles are fun to watch even if you know little or nothing about dressage, and during the arena break there’s always an equestrian exhibition to keep the audience entertained.

“Dressage with the Experts” is a popular educational element. Students of dressage can subscribe for access to live commentary by experienced judges during the competition.

INTERMISSION ENTERTAINMENT: Members of Fleur de Lis Vaulting from Kentucky impress DAD spectators during the break in Saturday night’s Grand Prix Freestyle

Just for Fun

DAD Festival Shop vendors offer everything from the latest dressage apparel and equipment, to art and jewelry, to gifts and delicious treats for both horses and humans. When you get hungry, you can find “horse show food,” gourmet meals, and an attractive outdoor pub where you can quench your thirst. At the 2019 show, attendees also enjoyed bidding on lessons from top trainers, stallion services, meals from local restaurants, and plenty of equestrian goodies at the popular silent auction.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at one of our country’s oldest and most prestigious dressage competitions. The highlights I’ve presented don’t include all that Dressage at Devon has to offer. Learn more at dressageatdevon.org.

Jennifer Bryant is the editor of USDF Connection. She has competed at Dressage at Devon and considers herself fortunate to live a short distance from the Devon show grounds.

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