Report from the Washington International Horse Show 2018

It was a spectacular 60th anniversary for the Washington International Horse Show, with a fantastic President’s Cup grand prix, a cliffhanger of a puissance and plenty of entertainment for the family.

What would you do if you were in downtown Washington D.C. with a stallion and no place to walk him outdoors but the city sidewalks? Yikes! Could be a nightmare, right? But not for Beezie Madden, who isn’t one to let a few inconveniences interfere with her winning ways.

Her meticulous management of Breitling LS climaxed with victory in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington, otherwise known as the President’s Cup, the highlight of the festive 60th anniversary Washington International Horse Show. The trophy was commissioned by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, making a win in this era as coveted as one during the show’s early days at the National Guard Armory when U.S. presidents were in regular attendance.

Beezie Madden won her third Washington International Horse Show President’s Cup on Breitling. Photo©2018 by Nancy Jaffer

The four-horse jump-off ended with Beezie’s third victory in the class, which has been won over the years by so many of the great riders, including Rodney Jenkins, Melanie Smith, Katie Monahan and McLain Ward, the record holder with four top finishes. Another is the newest inductee in the WIHS Hall of Fame, 1984 Olympic double gold medalist Joe Fargis—who as a youngster sold programs at the show.

Breitling, with his eager eye and confident air, was Beezie’s ride when she won the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in April, and his acumen for agility was evident once again at the Capital One Center during his first indoor show of the year.

To find out how Beezie prepared Breitling in an urban situation just a few minutes’ walk from the White House, click on this video.

Olaf Petersen Jr. laid out the course with consideration for the fact that the horses have only a tiny warm-up area, complete with pillars that must be avoided. So on all his routes, the German designer let them get a bit of a gallop over the first three fences before asking the difficult questions. One of the challenges in the grand prix was the Lindsay Maxwell fence, with a blue insignia in the middle that distracted some of the horses. Olaf took a rail out of the vertical right before the course walk, which added to the degree of difficulty by making it airier.

Lucy Davis, a member of the 2014 World Equestrian Games and 2016 Olympic teams, set a reasonable pace of 33.44 seconds for the tiebreaker on Caracho, a 9-year-old she did not take on the fall circuit in the last two years. “He didn’t get much indoor development, so I was a little nervous bringing him here, knowing that it’s so extreme indoors and tight,” she said.

A determined Katie Dinan bettered Lucy’s time in 32.93 seconds with the charismatic liver chestnut, Dougie Douglas, but Beezie improved on it by more than two seconds. Her secret involved her turns, particularly one that had the crowd gasping as she neatly swiveled the Dutch warmblood toward the next-to-the last fence, heading to the end of the ring and a clocking of 30.74.

“He’s clever, he’s rideable, he’s adjustable, careful and can handle tight places like this” Beezie said in praise of her mount.

Shane Sweetnam, last to go, was making a quick trip with Don’t Touch DuBois, but unfortunately the mare did touch—the final fence—which sent a rail groundward and the crowd groaning.

Katie took her defeat graciously, saying of Beezie, “There’s no one in the world I’d rather be second to.”

The awards ceremony after the class became a celebration of Beezie’s success. She walked out of the ring draped in sashes, presented for the style award, being the Leading International Rider, Leading Lady Rider (that one seems a bit outmoded) and having the Leading Horse, earning a stack of pink boxes containing the cupcakes that are a treasured traditional prize at the show.

Beezie Madden got the traditional cupcake prize and a bunch of sashes for everything from Leading Rider to the Style Award (Photo©2018 by Nancy Jaffer)

In addition to the grand prix, Saturday evening offered constant activity, including a salute to coach Robert Ridland (another former President’s Cup winner) and members of the U.S. gold medal team from the FEI World Equestrian Games.

The U.S. gold medal team from the FEI World Equestrian Games was saluted at Washington: McLain Ward, Laura Kraut, Adrienne Sternlicht, coach Robert Ridland, alternate Beezie Madden and Devin Ryan. Photo©2018 by Lawrence J. Nagy

The night started with the show’s Junior Equitation Championship, which earlier had included a hunter round and a jumper round. For the final, the top 10 switched horses. Going into it, Coco Fath, the winner of the jumper segment, and Elli Yeager were tied at the top with scores of 183.5. Coco rode Elli’s Copperfield, while Elli got aboard Class Action, whose previous riders included Jessica Springsteen and 2008 Washington winner Katherine Newman.

It was hard to pick a winner but one of the four judges, Anne Kursinski, said Coco’s decision not to make an inside turn from the ninth to the tenth fence was the decider that made Elli the champion.

Elli Yeager was switched onto Coco Fath’s Class Action to win the WIHS Junior Equitation Finals (Photo©2018 by Lawrence J. Nagy)

Stacia Madden, who trains both girls with her associates at Beacon Hill Show Stables, explained that while Coco, like her other students, had planned to make the turn, she thought her mount had swapped leads (he actually didn’t) but it distracted the rider and led her to take the long way around.

Elli Yeager high-fived her trainer, Stacia Madden, after winning the Washington International Horse Show Junior Equitation Finals. (Photo©2018 by Nancy Jaffer)

An overjoyed Elli, who has owned Copperfield since she was 10, said, “I didn’t think this was ever going to happen, especially just being 16 (years old), but it happened and I’m just elated it happened here, at my favorite horse show with my favorite horse who’s the best partner I could ask for.”

Washington still offers what likely is the only Puissance left in the Western Hemisphere. How long it will continue is anybody’s guess, since there were only four entries this time around. The $25,000 purse, small by many standards today, and the fact that no one carries a puissance horse around the circuit with them has pared entries. Yet seeing horses clear the great wall remains a crowd-pleaser of an event, and there are a few riders who still love it.

Aaron Vale won the puissance for the third time on Finou 4 (Photo©2018 by Nancy Jaffer)

Aaron Vale is the most successful among them. He always enters the puissance, knowing at the least that “it’s good for gas money,” but he’s done well. He won his third consecutive title at Washington with Finou 4, who is blind in his left eye but unfazed by his lack of sight. In what became a duel with Andy Kocher on Blaze of Glory II, Aaron beat the challenge of the wall when it stood 6-foot, 11 ½-inches, while the blocks slid off in Andy’s final attempt.

What’s it like to ride up to an obstacle that big? Watch this video to hear Aaron explain it. 

Washington has had a special place on the North American Fall Indoor Circuit from its start at the Armory through a 1976 move to the Capital Center in Maryland and then finally back into the District itself in 2000 to regain its status as a unique urban show.

People living and working in the city “do not get a chance to be around horses for the most part. And here they are, they’re right on their commuting path, you can’t miss them,” said show president Vicki Lowell, explaining the appeal of this fixture, where being able to look at the horses stabled on the street is part of the allure for passersby.

“To see their faces light up, that’s the most exciting thing about it,” Vicki added, discussing the show’s appeal in its milestone year.

“So many people have their first experience with a horse at Washington. It’s a show that has many, many good memories for a lot of people and we want to keep creating those memories.”

For complete results, click here.

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