Carson grew up near Devon outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and has always had Saddlebred horses in his life. And quite frankly wouldn't have it any other way. "I was really fortunate my family was in the Hackney Pony business. My Grandparents started in the 50's and my grandmother bought my dad a pony because he wanted one...but he really didn't want one, she wanted one. Then by the 70's the whole big pony boom they had about 200 ponies and production sales."
Carson remembers his grandparents showing many of those ponies at Devon. As a young child he would beg his parents for a Saddlebred to no avail. This scenario played out over and over again until at age 16, Carson had saved $2,500, enough money to purchase his own horse. "We showed here at Devon and all the little shows in Pennsylvania, and I have been doing it ever since. I have been showing at Devon since 1986."
Unlike many other disciplines that compete in the Dixon Oval over the 11-day Devon Horse Show, the Saddlebred and Hackney divisions are breed-specific. This can be a bit daunting, as in Kressley's opinion, "We've become so Kentucky-centric, we don't want it to become a regional curiosity...this strange horse that people only see in Kentucky. Multi-breed shows like Devonare so crucial because they promote cross-pollination between Hunter people and Hackney people and Jumper people. It's just great exposure. The more people see our breed the more their curiosity is piqued and they think, that looks kind of fun, I'd like to try that.
It used to be back in the day that Hunter people would have a Saddlebred. I used to sit in the Committee Stand with the Show Chairman Leonard King's wife who would talk about showing her Saddlebreds at night and her hunters during the day. She would tell great stories about how learning to ride a Saddlebred would give you the best hands ever because they're so responsive and it make you a better Hunter rider."
To Carson, there's no place like Devon. "There is so much tradition here. There is no other place that has the ambience that Devon has. You can go shopping, there's a big crowd, it's the charm of the Main Line, the blue and white.....we don't have another horse show that's like this.
Devon is one of the few shows where we have thousands of people in the stands, and I'm such a believer that our horse is such a great show horse that you need to show it doing what it does best, which is being out there competing in the ring."
Carson calls these wonderful animals "the Supermodels of the show ring."
About 5 years ago it became apparent that the Saddlebred and Hackney divisions at Devon were waning. A group of dedicated horse people, Kressley included, issued a call to arms to their community. "A bunch of us, Minna Mintz who lives in Horsham, myself, Janet Hicks and several other people who have a long association with Devon tried to reach out to our community and say we can't lose this show. What can we do to make it better? The horse show is fantastic, Karin Maynard who is one of the Chairpersons said, 'We love having you here, its diversity, its our logo, it makes the show interesting. Wade McDevitt (President of the Devon Horse Show) has been fantastic in a cautiously optimistic way. He wants us to fill the classes, instead of having one or two horse classes, so we really worked. We launched a PR campaign, we greeted exhibitors with chocolates and fresh strawberries, we asked if we could help them with their stabling and their loading in and out, I would write post cards at the Holidays saying Merry Christmas, see you at Devon, and it worked.
We had one of the most spectacular fine harness classes that I've ever seen here or anywhere the other night with 6 horses including the World Grand Champion was in there, it's a horse that Misdee Wrigley Miller owns, the Wheelers came back to support it with 10 horses, New England has been fantastic. Not every barn can bring 10, but they can bring 2 or 3, and that makes a difference.
When that Show Pleasure Class was in the Dixon Oval with 15 or 16 in it all lined up and the stands were full, it made me feel really fantastic."
Carson encourages anyone from 70 to 7 to get out and drive a pleasure pony. "It's simple, it's fun and anybody can do it. That's the great thing about our breeds."