Devon is simply a delight, a show like no other. From the fans who love every minute of the action, to the variety of the classes, the quaint harmony of the “Devon blue” buildings and the cuisine (tea sandwiches, fudge and lemon sticks), it’s a piece of the past that keeps up with the present. And it’s all done to the accompaniment of bubbly organ music that harks back to a less-complicated era.
You could say that Devon is an anchor, a 122-year-old constant in an inconsistent world. Top exhibitors make a habit of returning, no matter what breed of horse they’re riding or driving. This stop on Philadelphia’s Main Line is a must, and the spectators in the box seats that are handed down through generations cheer for the competitors they’ve recognized over the years.
One man they’ve seen a lot of is Scott Stewart, who began winning the Leading Hunter Rider title in 2003 and has taken it 13 more times since, including this year. But it nearly didn’t happen. Scott decided the day before coming to the show that he would like to sit on a 5-year-old (he wouldn’t reveal its name!) who he hadn’t ridden since the end of the Florida circuit.
“I got a leg up, and he took off right away, bucking and broncking and I went flying off on my left side and cracked two ribs,” he recalled. “It was stupid of me. The first 24 hours was pretty bad,” Scott said of the pain.
Scott wasn’t able to ride until this week, and others got his horses ready. But he is a pro, and a little pain can’t stop him. Not only did he take the Leading Rider title, he also guided Private Life to the show’s grand championship.
“He’s just seven, and he always tries to win,” Scott commented about Private Life. “He was the most straightforward horse from the beginning. He’s the same every day. He’s a blast to ride,” Scott said of his mount who took the Regular Conformation tricolor as well. Scott also had the distinction of earning the hunter high score round of the show, producing a 94 on the consistent Catch Me, who took the High Performance Hunter championship.
“You can really gallop in this ring,” Scott observed and that suits Catch Me’s long stride.
Hunt Tosh was in the hunt (pardon the pun) for the Leading Rider title and was even a little bit ahead until Catch Me started working his magic. But Hunt had decided to sacrifice points and not show his High Performance ride, Flamingo-K, yesterday, in order to save him for today’s $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.
He consulted with the horse’s owners, Kenny and Ceil Wheeler, and they agreed on that course of action. It turned out to be a wise decision. Flamingo came from behind this afternoon to take the Derby, earning an impressive score of 198 for the Handy Round, in which the top 12 of the 31 who started in the initial Classic Round competed. Tori Colvin and Gelato had the same score for the second round, but they were six points back of Hunt and Flamingo in the first round, so that left them as reserve champions with a total score of 373.25, while Hunt had 379.
“It all worked out. It looked like I knew what I was doing,” Hunt said with a grin.
Course designer Allen Rheinheimer did a great job putting a bit of the countryside into the Dixon Oval, with lots of brush and plants to dress up the jumps, arranging for some long gallops to show off the stride of the contenders. In the Handy Round, tight turns and speed are important, so Hunt impressed when he took a shortcut to the first fence. That didn’t turn out so well for the leader to that point, Kelley Farmer on Exceptional, who had the first fence down as a result. Hunt’s strategy had been to put the pressure on the leaders with inside turns, and that paid off.
To find out what Hunt had to say about his strategy, click here to see the video.
“This handy (course) just felt very handy,” said Maggie Jayne, third on 2017 winner, Standing Ovation, with 370 points.
“There were a lot of challenges,” observed Hunt, citing in particular the vertical turning back to the trot jump. “It came up really fast.”
Kelley’s problem wasn’t the only mishap among the favorites. Cuba, Tori’s 2017 International Derby Finals winner in Kentucky, looked askance at the birch fence that was the first part of a double, probably because people were sitting along the rail and that spooked him.
“I was expecting not to jump, and I was expecting to drive by. Then he jumped and I got left behind, and then I have no idea what happened. I was just trying to stay on,” Tori said with chuckle. Hunt noted, “So many things happen at Devon that you don’t expect.”
The horse show is far from a stand-alone. Between the midway and the country fair, something different is always buzzing at the show. That’s never more so than on “Ladies Day,” when there’s a contest to see who can come up with the best hat. (A woman wearing a towering chapeau of straw and feathers who passed me along the rail called this fixture “The Devon Hat Show.” I almost got the impression that she didn’t realize it was also a horse show.
The theme this year was Rosé All Day, and participants were treated to a special drink, vodka and pink grapefruit juice. At least it was the color of rosé… The headgear was, to say the least, inventive as well as beautiful, but for the cuteness quotient, nothing beat Corey Anderson and her dog, Cher, in matching blue fascinators. They would have been right at home in the royal wedding.
If you haven’t ever been to Devon, come. Tonight’s Sapphire Grand Prix is a sellout, but the show runs through Sunday (the breeding classes are that day) so there’s still a chance to visit this 122-year-old Heritage Show.