What Drives People to Devon?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Make an Entrance

One of the most iconic images associated with the Devon Horse Show is that of the coachman in full regalia, blowing what is referred to in coaching circles as the "Yard of Tin".  In fact, Devon has a particularly sentimental attachment to its coaching horn acquired in 1923, as Clarence (Honey) Craven used it to usher Devon competitors in to the original Wannamaker and now the Dixon Oval for decades beginning in 1930.....A tradition which is still observed today.
Coaching and Devon have been synonymous since day one. The Devon Horse Show was a place where "a mixture of farmers, horse breeders, and horsemen with their horses, ponies, carriages and wagons came to compete for recognition and prize money" on the lawn of the Devon Inn.  One hundred and fourteen years later, Devon is one of only two shows left in the United States that still holds Coaching competitions.    

Long time Devon exhibitor and Executive Committee member Jamie O'Rourke explains the origin of the Coaching competition which dates back to the turn of the century when the coach was the traditional vehicle for the Coaching clubs.  "Originally patterned after the mail coaches that ran in England in the early 1800's, the coach became more of a sporting vehicle that wealthy individuals who belonged to coaching clubs in many cities like New York and Philadelphia would use to compete against each other in long distance coaching runs. The vehicles we see at Devon are largely antiques with the exception of one or two reproductions. Devon is actually one of only two Coaching competitions left in the United States."

O'Rourke talks about one of his favorite events, the Devon Pleasure Carriage Drive "The Pleasure Drive starts at St. David's Church and runs on most of the same course it has for the past 40 years, down around Leopard Lake and back to the Devon Horse Show Grounds where everyone goes into the Dixon Oval for the final judging.  It's one of the longest running pleasure competitions in the country for this type of driving.  It all started with a drive from the Radnor Hunt Club that the Robinson's did in the early 60's, then it moved to Blackburn Farm which unfortunately got developed, and now it's at St. David's Church where it's been for the last 10 years."

O'Rourke goes on to explain the actual competition which begins at 12:00 noon on Sunday May 30th at St. David's Church on South Valley Forge Road and ends with an awards presentation in the Dixon Oval at approximately 2:00 pm.  "The carriages are inspected by the judges at St. David's.  They check each carriage's appointments, look for items like spares (in case you breakdown), as well as equipment for the horses.  The judges will be looking for the proper type of harness and correct type of horse for actual carriage that you have. 

Carriages have a lot of different purposes...within the regular divisions there are formal carriages, sporting carriages, and country carriages and they all have their own sets of appointments, so it's a rather complicated judging format. We have two judges, one for the horses and one for the ponies and each of those is broken into Single, Pair and Four-In-Hand."