The Dixon Oval started bright and early this morning without a trace of Thursday night's Grand Prix of Devon, despite the fact that the stands had been bursting at the seams barely able to contain the standing room only crowd of over 9,000 spectators less than 10 hours before.
The first class of the day, the Amateur Owner Jumpers-time first jump off was all about the ladies with Lucky Me ridden by Lilly Hahn blasting by Iveena S ridden by Nellie Ann Foosaner with 3 full seconds to spare in the jump off.
Day 1 of the Amateur Owner Hunters saw a different winner in each of the four over fences classes with Saving Grace ridden by Grace Stuntz posting a score of 86 in the first round of the younger division, and Lavari ridden by Traci Scheriff-Muser posting a score of 88 to win the second. In the older division, Bolero and Stacey Arani not only won the class, but were also recognized for the highest scoring first round of the two divisions with an 88. Listen ridden by Jane Gaston did Stacey one better posting a score of 89 to top the field in not only her class but posting the highest score for the day between the two divisions. The overall Amateur Owner Hunter Under Saddle recognition went to Bishonen ridden by Marianna Bishop Wade, an entry from the younger division. Rack On
One of the time honored traditions in the Dixon Oval is the classes highlighting the diversity of the American Saddlebred. The Saddlebred, Roadster, Friesian, Hackney Horse Hackney/Harness pony Divisions at Devon are judged by a single judge, and this year that watchful eye belongs to Kim Cowart of Statesville, North Carolina. Cowart explains the honorable beginnings of the Saddlebreds we see in the ring today, "Originally used on the plantations, these horses would be ridden and driven, and the fancier the better. Some of the great Saddlebred stallions were used in the Civil War (General Robert E. Lee had a Saddlebred named Traveller; Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Stonewall Jackson also rode Saddlebreds).
Fast forward to the classes competing in the Dixon Oval today, Cowart explains what she is looking for in the show ring, "You want to see brilliance, a great expression, an animated horse. You want to see their eyes open wide, their ears up, and their chin on their chest..... a well behaved Saddlebred. I think a good one stands apart, I really do."
Cowart points out the many similarities of "the picture" she's looking for to that of the hunter divisions, "I look for the total picture, the horse that's turned out well and the rider that's turned out well. You should notice the horse first. It should be the horse, but the rider should not take away from the picture. For me a beautiful rider is one that maybe you don't really notice, but is flowing with the horse, an overall picture."
On the subject of motion, "The motion isn't everything, but it's a big part of Saddlebreds. You want them to come up out of their shoulder, forward, and not too open but not so closed that they're hitting their elbows. It's an open motion and it has to be an overall picture. They can have a ton of motion and a straight neck and that's not the ideal."
A horse that really loves his job is essential, "You can tell, they're not fussy in the bridle or flipping their head, you can definitely tell a happy horse. For example, in the last Five-Gaited Pleasure Class you had three of the top pleasure horses in the country (CH Ridgefields Excessive, CH Titleist Right Tonight and Manhattan Whirlwind), so you had three of them right there in the same class. There may not be a ton of Saddlebreds here but you've got some top barns here, with top horses that will probably win at Louisville, our World Championships. There are some nice horses here, very nice."
The world famous Budweiser Clydesdales returned to the Dixon Oval and will perform one more time Saturday night. Burt Westbrook who has traveled with the Clydesdales for 29 years shares his insider's view of everyone's favorite gentle giants. "We do everything. We haul them, feed them, show them, clean them, we do everything."
Budweiser has 4 traveling Clydesdale hitches and 250 horses around the country. The one at Devon being the East Coast hitch based in New Hampshire. Westbrook explains the nuances of the famous hitches, "Most people couldn't tell the difference in the hitches. They are all pulled by bays, and this particular hitch is pulled by Clydesdales that are a little bit darker than the others. We carry 10 and drive 8 and we have 8 more (spares) at home."
When asked what it is about these animals that bring out the kid in everyone, Westbrook responds, "It's the sheer size; the feathers on their legs, people aren't used to seeing that. They are used to Quarter Horses, Hackney Ponies or Saddlebreds and aren't used to seeing horses this size. An average light horse is about 1,000 pounds. A big light horse is about 1,100 pounds, our horses average 2,000 pounds. A regular horse is anywhere from 15.0-16.3 hands, our littlest horses is 17.2 and go all the way up to 19.1. When you put the height with the width, and you feel the ground shake as they come, you can't help but admire them. They are quiet to begin with because of the breed, but we work with them so much, 7 days a week, from 12-15 hours a day. They are just a joy to work with."
About those commercials, do people ask to see the horses by name? "You would not believe how many people remember the names of the horses. If they say a name in the commercial....Hank is the big one. They always want to know where Hank is."
Photos: Bishonen & Marianna Bishop Wade-Overall Amateur Owner Hunter Under Saddle Winner, Some of the Top Saddlebreds in the Country, Three Gaited English Country Pleasure Horse Winner- CH Callaway's Royal Request & Nealia McCracken, Clydesdales return to the Dixon Oval