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...the Washington International Horse Show co-exists with a challenging urban landscape.
People coming up from the Metro subway stop find themselves practically face-to-face with horses housed in tents on the street, as roadways around the Verizon Center are closed from October 25–30 to make a virtual equine island set against a landscape of skyscrapers and traffic lights.
Inside, the arena, decorated by models of such landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian museum, has only a tiny warm-up area punctuated by pillars. The inconvenience is offset for riders, however, by the opportunity to appear before thousands of spectators in a facility that normally hosts basketball and hockey games.
“Any time that we're in a nice city, that’s always a plus,” said Todd Minikus, a two-time winner of the President’s Cup, the show’s most famous trophy.
Todd will be joined at Washington by a bevy of top international riders, including Georgina Bloomberg and Jessica Springsteen of the U.S.; Jos Verlooy from Belgium, last year's leading rider; Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam and Harrie Smolders of the Netherlands.
Becoming part of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League last year added lustre to Washington’s already well-burnished reputation, while manager David Distler noted the extra prize money that came with the designation also was welcome.
There's a party every night in the Acela Club, high above the arena, where well-dressed patrons mingle with uniformed military members and diplomats enjoying a sumptuous buffet and a unique view of the action.
The Washington International introduces many people at all levels of society to a sport they may never knew existed, making new fans and attracting those who already know the joys of horse sport.
Kids’ Day, held on the Saturday of the show in the street a block away, makes many new converts with such attractions for eager children as pony rides and the opportunity to touch, brush and even kiss an equine for the first time.
“This is not an elite experience. We let kids and families in all day Saturday for free,” said Vicki Lowell, the show’s president, noting it attracts a very diverse crowd.
She added, “I think it's very important to have a show like Washington, where you bring the sport to where the people are. So many of the shows in North America are spread out and most of them are not where people are actually going to just happen upon them in their day-to-day life. They tend to be in more rural, off-the-beaten path areas.
“Washington puts the horses where people are; they can’t miss them. It stops people in their tracks. Once they see the horses, they are so engaged and excited.”
By Nancy Jaffer