The Washington International Horse Show: An Event That Puts Horses in the Heart of the City

Olympian Laura Kraut finally claims the President’s Cup and the $136,300 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Washington.

It was an evening of dramatic tension at the Washington International Horse Show yesterday, culminating with a gripping two-horse jump-off in the $136,300 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Washington qualifier for the coveted President’s Cup trophy.

The show, presented by MARS Equestrian, wraps up today with pony classes, but a week of competition and exhibitions reached its peak last night when Olympic team gold medalist Laura Kraut, one of the most celebrated riders in the sport, faced off against rising star Andrew Welles after 28 other competitors failed to conquer the demanding first-round course at the Capital One Arena.

Laura Kraut made it through heartbreak alley to win the the $136,300 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Washington and President’s Cup on Fleurette. Nancy Jaffer

The high-stakes route set by Olaf Peterson Jr. served notice that it would be quite a task when the first two riders faltered in the heartbreak alley triple combination that ran down the side of the ring, pointing toward the out-gate. But it was just one of several key tests that had fans wondering whether there would even be a jump-off until the finish markers were crossed by the last horse to go.

That was Fleurette, a long-striding French-bred mare Laura started riding only this summer, and who was imported into the U.S. from Europe just days ago.

Laura was trying to match the achievement of Andrew’s Irish sport horse, Primo Troy, a 10-year-old who is “stepping up” into the higher ranks of the sport. He was seventh in the order, and the first to post a clear round, drawing high-volume cheers. The crowd was hungry to see success, having gotten a little taste of it when Brianne Goutal Marteau, fourth to go, left all the rails in place with Viva Colombia. As she tried to avoid having her horse get flat over the fences, however, a slightly slow start left her with a single time penalty, which would put her in third place.

Olaf told me he was surprised only two were clear, and after hoping for a jump-off, he chuckled, “I think I have much more grey hair.” He noted, “I think there was a chance for many more (to be fault-free).” There were nine who had 4 penalties for dropping a single pole.

“For me,” Olaf observed, “the key was from 7 (the Longines vertical) to 8 (a Chinese red vertical.) If you rushed too much, it got you too much going and in the turn to the Liverpool (the fence before the oxer/vertical/oxer triple), if you have too much speed there, it gets you somehow. I still think it was a fair course. Would I want to have more in the jump-off? Of course,” said the German, who will be designing the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals course in Las Vegas next year.

In the tiebreaker, a determined Andrew started off at a gallop, but had his hopes for victory dashed early when his mount stopped at the second fence and slid into it, sending rails tumbling.“With a rider like Laura behind you, you want to take a bit of a shot,” said Andrew, explaining his mishap. “I tried to do that from one to two, and unfortunately it didn’t work out.”

Noting the President’s Cup was “a class I’ve wanted to win for many, many years (since the late 1980s), Laura commented, “It’s always seemed to elude me.”

She had a bit of a comfort zone after Andrew accumulated 12 faults, but there are many ways to lose a sure thing, so she was thinking, “For God’s sake, don’t fall down.” Laura didn’t, but her trip still wasn’t perfect. Fleurette “jumped well and got to the double and she got a little behind the bit and jumped really high over A and then jumped even higher over B and had it down,” Laura recounted.

“I thought, Don’t mess this up.” And she didn’t, finishing with four faults to win. She came over from Europe especially to try for the Cup, and the show’s leading international rider was heading back to her base in England with Fleurette after the show.

See full results of the $136,300 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Washington here.

The Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Finals

The first class of the night, the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Finals, set the stage for nervous excitement, as the top 10 junior competitors switched horses for their final test after the previous hunter and jumper phases.

It was no surprise to see Sam Walker finish on top, becoming the first Canadian to take the title. The winner of the National Horse Show’s ASPCA Maclay last year, he had the good luck to switch horses with Ava Stearns, who also rides with Missy Clark and John Brennan. He was familiar with her Acer K and she knew his ride, Waldo, both owned by the trainers’ North Run establishment. That was a definite advantage, and they finished 1-2, with third going to Dominic Gibbs. Keep an eye on that 16-year-old, who rides with elegance.

Sam Walker won the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Final. Lawrence J. Nagy

Sam finished tenth in the class last year, and was rewarded for his determination to win this time around in a favorite venue.

“It’s an amazing crowd that comes out to watch. It’s just an honor to ride here,” said Sam, who enjoyed doing “a bunch of touristy things” (including visiting the White House) during his spare time. “Just being a part of it is a real privilege,” he said of the show. “Having it in Washington D.C. is so cool, especially since the hockey team plays here. That’s a professional major sport … and now the show jumpers get to play here as well, which is an Olympic sport.”

See full results of the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Final here.

More Washington International Horse Show Highlights

The competition is only part of the story at this unique show, which also offered barrel racing with guest appearances by several show jumpers, a dressage exhibition by Jim Koford on the eye-catching pinto Friesian mare Adiah, Shetland pony “steeplechasing” and an amusing costume class that even included an orange-skinned Donald Trump lookalike in the person of Australian rider Rowan Willis. The spectators loved every minute of it, including North America’s only puissance (power jumping class) that ended in a tie between Aaron Vale (Finou) and Schuyler Riley (Very Chic du Tillard) when the blocks on the great wall came down after it reached a height of 6-foot-11. Although being in the city isn’t easy from the organizing side, everything runs like clockwork under the tireless management of David Distler and his staff.

U.S. show jumping coach Robert Ridland was installed in the show’s hall of fame during a ceremony in which all the riders on the grounds who had been on the team came out to stand with him. Not only is Robert an Olympian who has had success guiding the American squads, he also enjoyed a long history with the show.

It started when he was 16, riding a first-year-green conformation hunter in the equitation final at the show’s first home, the National Guard Armory. His first experience competing on the U.S. Equestrian Team came three years later at the show.

“I’ve been involved in so many different ways over the years with Washington,” said Robert, who served as a course designer and also as co-manager of the show at one time.

U.S. show jumping coach Robert Ridland is inducted into the Washington International Horse Show Hall of Fame by manager David Distler and president Vicki Lowell. Lawrence J. Nagy

Even though Washington’s hometown baseball team, the Nationals, was playing in the World Series this week, and the city’s Redskins faced off against the arch-rival Minnesota Vikings in Thursday night football, attendance was impressive and enthusiastic.

The show’s president, Vicki Lowell, admitted “we were a little worried,” when the Nats made the series. But “there were a ton of people here and a lot of buzz. It shows how much DC loves equestrian sport.”

The beauty of having a show in the nation’s capital, just a few blocks from the White House, means those who otherwise would never have an opportunity to be exposed to horses get to see them live, whether they buy a seat or just look at them through the chain link fence surrounding their tent stables on the street.

The show is a go at the arena for 2020, but the future after its lease ends is being discussed. The problem is that the Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals hockey team wants to be at its home rink for the beginning of its season, which coincides with the show’s dates.

“The arena is working to accommodate the hockey team,” said Vicki. “We’re working on numerous options to make it work. It’s a lot of moving parts, but our goal would be to be back here at the Capital One Arena, and they’re working with us.”

While the show was based in Landover, Md., for years before coming to the arena, the city vibe makes it special. “It’s very important for us to stay in Washington,” commented Vicki.

Jim Koford gave a well-received dressage exhibition on Adiah BP. Lawrence J. Nagy

For exhibitors, there’s nothing like WIHS. “It’s amazing, it’s just unbelievable,” said Natalie Wasson, a 15-year-old Virginia resident who rode her Oldenburg mare, Lily, at the show for the first time and also volunteered for Kids’ Day, an opportunity for children to meet ponies out on the street a block from the arena. “The most fun part isn’t even showing, it’s getting to be here and riding in that ring,” said Natalie. “The stalls are right on the street, so there are always people walking by, waving and taking photos.”

There’s some talk about the Prince Georges equestrian center in suburban Maryland being a possible alternate venue, but the focus now is on remaining in Washington.

Brianne, a longtime WIHS exhibitor, noted, “It’s my favorite of all the indoors. I love being in the city. My wish would be that they keep it here. If we lose this one, it’s a real loss for the sport. Management is strong enough that I think they can make anywhere else work also, but it would be a real pity to lose it.”

Maryland resident George Cole was one of those on hand to cheer, as he has been every year since the show began in 1958 when he was eight years old. The retired geneticist, proudly sporting a Washington International baseball cap, recalled watching President Eisenhower handing out ribbons to the first competitors. He has special fondness for his memories of President John Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, at the show. “That made the show `the thing,’“ he said.

George Cole has been to every Washington International Horse Show since it began in 1958. Lawrence J. Nagy

He added, “I think it’s important to have a show in a city, because some of these kids have never seen a horse. This is the only time they’re exposed to it.” He was soaking up every minute of last night’s performance, with a great vantagepoint from his seat in the handicapped section. There’s no doubt he’ll be back in 2020. “Every year after it’s over,” he said, “I’m determined to live another year so I can see another show.” 

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