The Challenges of Showing in the Heart of Washington D.C.

Life at the big city horse show isn’t easy, but it’s doable if you know how. The experts share their thoughts.

#HorsesintheCity. The hashtag sums up the situation, but those who see horses living in stalls on the street at the Washington International Horse Show may wonder how animals who are more at home in a bucolic setting can be managed in such an unaccustomed environment.

But Washington long has been a beloved fixture on the North American Fall Indoor Circuit, and even the difficulties of showing in the Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center) are worth overcoming for the privilege of taking part in the prestigious competition that ends this afternoon.

Swiss rider Beat Mändli won the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington for the historic President’s Cup on Dsarie. Photo copyright 2017 by Nancy Jaffer

The jumping (on much-praised new footing) was as good as it gets, and the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington for the President’s Cup trophy saw a worthy victor in Switzerland’s Beat Mändli, the 2007 winner of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals in Las Vegas.

Eleven of the 26 starters over a route set by Alan Wade (who also designed the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals course in Omaha last April) went on to compete in the jump-off before an enthusiastic audience. Beat (see the video below with him–complete with fake blood dripping from his mouth– after he won the show’s costume class Thursday) put on a display of expertise with his turns and angled fences to finish in 32.07 seconds. McLain Ward, the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals victor, couldn’t quite catch Beat, going through the timers in 32.30 seconds with HH Callas. Young rider Catherine Nicole Tyree, last to compete, did an admirable job to finish third on Enjoy Louis (33.83).

Obviously, the urban situation doesn’t detract from performance. We asked riders who competed in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington how they cope with exercising their horses at very odd hours (from 11 p.m. to 5:45 or 6 a.m.). The horses go back and forth in the shadow of skyscrapers out on the sidewalks, where urban passersby tend to be alternately surprised and charmed to find themselves in step with some pretty fancy equines. Then there’s dealing with the tiny warm-up area bisected by huge pillars. And don’t forget the soundtrack; the scream of sirens (police cars and ambulances).

The unique warm-up area at the Washington International Horse Show. Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy

Here’s what the riders had to say:

  • Hunter Holloway, 2016 WIHS equitation champion and grand prix competitor, who rode VDL Bravo S:

I think the most difficult thing is actually keeping the horses happy and comfortable. I keep the environment calm. I get them out in the morning and let them rest throughout the day. I keep that easy for them since the nightlife is so busy here. I see my horses take a nap a lot during the day.

  • Marilyn Little, grand prix competitor, who rode Clearwater:

The riders who have been here and have attended events such as this choose their horses for these type of events wisely. Clearwater is very well-suited to this arena. He doesn’t require a lot of work. He’s comfortable in a multitude of environments. Lights and noise don’t bother him. That makes him an ideal choice. That’s why I factored this show and Central Park into his fall schedule. The sidewalks certainly are different. They just get used to it, horses are really amazing creatures. He seems to accept part of his job is going to places like this and he knows there’s a paddock on the other end of this, so he’s looking forward to that.

Aaron Vale and Finou over the puissance wall at 6 feet, 7 inches. Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy
  • WIHS puissance winner Aaron Vale, who rode Finou:

You try to do as much preparation coming into the show as you can; to have your horse as ready and trained up as possible, because there’s no opportunity to do any training while you’re here. We jump so late at night. We just get them out for a walk on the street in the afternoon and come down and get on early for the class. I think they kind of enjoy it, people gawking at them (on the sidewalks) and making a fuss over them. The horses like the extra attention to some extent. Horses, if you train them well and consistently, can handle a few days out of routine.

Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam on Main Road. Photo copyright by Nancy Jaffer
  • Irish rider Shane Sweetnam, who rode Main Road and Cobolt:

It’s about the horse being the right fit. I’ve brought horses here and they haven’t jumped well because it’s a different type of environment. The two horses I have here were here last year and did well. They are compact horses and seem to be able to manage the environment. They’re fairly seasoned now. If you have an experienced horse and they’re okay with small spaces, then it’s fine.

Charlie Jacobs and Cassinja S Photo copyright 2017 by Lawrence J. Nagy
  • Charlie Jacobs, who rode Cassinja S:

There are challenges with showing in a venue like this, especially with the limitations on access to the arena. It was almost 15 hours since I flatted my horse. I was on at 5:45 this morning. We snuck down here at the end of a class and did five minutes of flat, just to keep the horses moving. I enjoy the horse show, it’s wonderful to be downtown, but it’s a challenge to compete in a venue like this.

  • Leslie Howard, who rode Donna Speciale:

The biggest thing you have to do for the Washington Horse Show is pick the right horse. The ring is small, so it can’t be a big-strided, slower horse. Here, you’re best suited for a quick little agile horse. It can’t be a horse that needs a lot of preparation within three hours of the class, because you have to ride probably at 5 in the morning if you really want to work him, so if you show at 8 at night, that doesn’t work. You can’t take them out for a handwalk and a graze. But it’s really only four days, so plan ahead, pick the right horse and make it work. Everybody else is in the same boat.

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