By George Williams
There is little doubt that dressage is steeped in deep tradition. Surprisingly, however, there are very few dressage shows that have been recognized by US Equestrian as “Heritage Competitions.” While there are admittedly few of these, one that I am personally fond of—and is perhaps the most famous— is nestled in the town of Devon, Pennsylvania. Since July 2, 1896, horse shows have been held on those grounds. That is 126 years of horse shows! This year, Dressage at Devon runs from September 27 through October 2.
Some may call the shows quaint and small. I prefer to think of them as charming and intimate. Dressage at Devon, a veritable newcomer at just under half a century, has been in existence for over 45 years (since 1975). The crowds on Saturday night for the freestyles are a mix of local residents looking for entertainment and horse enthusiasts from different parts of the country as well as sometimes from overseas. This diversity contributes to the creation of an electric atmosphere, making competing in the Dixon Oval even more fun and rewarding. Over the years (or shall I say decades?), Devon has become a destination where friends from afar meet to catch up with each other while strolling under the trees among the many distinctive vendors on the grounds, shopping, grabbing a bite to eat or just enjoying a beer or glass of local wine in the beer garden … all the while sharing a love of dressage and horses.
Shows like Devon are not only special, but they are also crucial to our sport. They provide a unique opportunity for the public to become more acquainted with dressage in an inviting atmosphere that is pure enjoyment. In many ways, these shows also become an inspiration to the newly initiated and to the children who come with their Pony Clubs and barns for the activities offered.
I saw this happen with the North American Young Rider Championships when it was held for a number of years at Tempel Farms. Not only did it inspire younger riders in the area around Chicago, it generated interest throughout all of Region 2, ultimately helping Region 2 field very competitive Young Rider teams. I believe the CDI2* in Katy, Texas, has had a similar positive impact on the regional dressage scene. There’s no question that the Dressage4Kids Youth Dressage Festival in Saugerties, New York, has helped bring young people from quite a wide geographical swath into dressage. It’s my understanding that part of the vision of the organizers of the 2023 FEI World Cup Final in Omaha is to create a more permanent interest in dressage and jumping throughout the Midwest. These may not yet be Heritage Competitions, but let’s hope they stay around long enough to one day earn the title.
How many have dreamed of having the opportunity to compete in the Dixon Oval? To see their name in lights on the scoreboard next to the archway that proclaims “Devon Horse Show: Where Champions Meet”? These shows can motivate the local equestrian community, not just as competitors, but as spectators, volunteers and as supporters of our sport. They can draw the interest of the non-equestrian community as well—especially one like Devon, which is situated with over a dozen colleges just down the road from it along the Philadelphia Main Line in the middle of a highly populated area. It’s within walking distance of a hotel and restaurants aplenty in the neighborhood.
We’ve all heard it said that dressage is Eurocentric. It should be our goal to make certain that within our country it does not become Florida- or California-centric. It would be wonderful if we could have more shows like Devon spread around the 50 states. But let me be clear, in my mind there is only one Devon and we need to do what we can to ensure that this Heritage Competition will be here for a long time to come so that it continues to put horses and riders’ names in lights Where Champions Meet.
The Devon archway that proclaims, “Devon Horse Show: Where Champions Meet.”
Photo by Lisa Davis Engel