by Sarah Greenhalgh
I must say I had my doubts when I first learned the Washington International Horse Show was moving to The MCI Center in downtown DC. I am a little biased after seeing it at The DC Armory and the Capital Centre all my life. And after all, I had visited the MCI Center for hockey and basketball games, so I knew there was no space for horses and trailers outside. I was wrong. Well… sort of.
The first day of moving the horses downtown was close to disastrous. The stabling was not ready and the big commercial rigs lined up around Gallery Place and Chinatown waiting to unload their precious cargo. The police and the fire department were arguing about who had jurisdiction and everyone was on edge. Things were looking grim. There wasn’t an adjoining street that didn’t have a rig waiting on it.
Some of the lucky rigs in the heart of Chinatown had food delivered to their cabs while they waited the four hours or more. By midnight most of the horses were all cozy in their stalls. Tuesday morning, things had settled, and it was quite the sight: confused businessmen and women staring through the chain link fence at the hunters as they schooled. Even the panhandlers seemed baffled. Eventually, the locals started bringing their lunches and enjoying the equine spectacle.
The open jumpers and teams had stabling in the MCI Center hold below the arena. Their sections were roomy, with rubber mats down and tack rooms. The rest of the exhibitors, including 35 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, had to deal with the cramped quarters on F Street. We were lucky that October was a dry month. Had we had one of those late tropical storms, we would have had a flooding problem. The tents had gaps in the seams and the street would have definitely collected water.
Because the F Street stabling area was not allowed to have tack room space, was a fire hazard. There would have been no possible way to get 100 horses out of those tents safely if there were a crisis. Tack trunks lined the whole area and doors could only be opened one at a time and certainly not opposite from each other.
The New Arena
Walking into the arena was like walking into a world class event. Mr. Jordan and Mr. Polin have no idea what a favor they did to horse sports by leasing their arena to the horse show. The new location boosted the show’s class three-fold. Yes, the Garden still carries the old prestige, but the MCI is prettier. No longer stuck with the bad lighting, cold climate and the questionable seats of the 25-year-old Capital Centre NS Airways Arena, spectators and exhibitors enjoyed the spanking new high-tech facility. All the competitors raved about the footing in the arena. The open riders loved the way Conrad Homfeld used the ample size and gave them a run for their money. Luckily, the show had wheedled down the hunter entries to only the best of the best.
The over $300,000 in total purses was also a big draw. Friday night had 8,000 spectators; Saturday had a whopping 15,000. The MCI Center only seats about 21,000.
Good selection of vendors, with the only problem being the lack of choice among the food stands. While basketball buffs might like to spend $10 on a beer and a hotdog, horse show people do not. Even movie theater food is better. Luckily, Chinatown was a street away as well as Legal Seafood and Ruby Tuesday’s. But where was my favorite cappuccino vender?!
The Riders Respond
Wendy Ritter was one of the hunter exhibitors caught in the back up of Monday. Though upset about her lack of space and the long unloading wait, the Florida resident still believes it is worth the trip.
“It will probably flow a little better now that they have the stabling up and ready,” Ritter said on day two. “Horse people are pretty adaptable and no one threw up their hands and called it quits. They are all showing today. This place is so much nicer and cleaner than Harrisburg and the Garden. The Washington show has a lot of prestige and the MCI Center gives it a classier ambiance. It makes people want to dress up.”
Mandy Berger couldn’t believe her luck. The Bethesda resident has always wanted to show the indoor circuit. Her horse At Ease, or “Tony,” qualified for the Amateur Hunter Classic division and for Berger this was “the big time.”
“It’s my biggest dream in life to be here,” Berger said. “I am so thrilled. I don’t care if I jump a fence or not. Just to walk in the arena is enough. Tony and I have worked very hard to get here.”
“I took the Metro to get here,” Berger said. “I am only 20 minutes down the line. I carried my saddle, a boot bag and hanging bag. It’s so cool. How many people can say they took the Metro to the show? It really is amazing that they can put on a show on of this size downtown. And to have horse manure on the sidewalk and total strangers watching us warm-up. It’s great.”
Open rider Jimmy Torano and his wife Danielle of Florida said the week was toughest on his staff.
“It’s like anything you start in the first year,” he said. “There are going to be kinks. The stabling was my biggest concern. We had to switch stalls. It’s tough on our grooms. It’s a lot of work for them. As for the warm-up, you better be prepared before you get here and having quiet horses helps.”
Hunt Night was the only big hitch. Having it on the last Sunday, traditionally the worst attended day, didn’t help.Having the Foxhunter’s Championship Series conclude the week before at WIHS Local Days at the RG. Equestrian was a really bad move. The Series used to climax at Washington, giving it panache. Deciding the Series at P.G. is rather anti-climatic for the riders, who have just come from Harrisburg, and is certainly a disappointment. WIHS did allow demonstration of five good hunt teams and competitors to strut their stuff in the short time allowed, 50 minutes. Only 150 people saw the performance. Gone were the hundreds of seats cheering hunt members. Gone were the Master’s and the crowded hack classes. Gone were the hunting locals. Something has to be done about Hunt Night. It’s one of the true local links. It can’t die with the Capital Centre.
Logistically, it will be a challenge. You can’t have 50 Hunt Night competitors’ trailers in downtown D.C. because the trailers can not be left on the street. There has to be a way to bring it back and have it on a night with good attendance or have it before The Nations’ Cup. Perhaps the number of competitors will have to be narrowed to the top 21 people. But the whole series has to be revamped so it ends at MCI not PG.
With the exception of Hunt Night, the show was a success. Horses got in, were stabled and got out. It was amusing to see people tracking horse manure into the Metro System and n the concourse. It was amusing to see horse people on the metro and the occasional illegal Jack Russell.
Sarah’s Washington Wish List:
1) Tackroom stalls must be provided to be shared by three to four competitors. Please get those trunks out of the narrow aisles.
2) Larger warm up area on F Street and in the hold. It was too tight in the arena and there were numerous close encounters. Outside needs to have a schedule and riders should be given more opportunities to school on the flat inside the big arena when the show is not on.
3) Increase marketing of the show to Washingtonians. Bring in new kinds of spectators and educate them. CNN was involved this year. That’s a start. The Singles Night was a success, with over 150 people attending the singles party.
4) Get DC mayor Anthony Williams on board next year. Get him to give out an award or make a speech he brings with him a gaggle of reporters and he loves “at risk” programs. If the WIHS had an educational program for kids that have never seen a horse up close they could generate even more interest. Hey- what about Mike? Get Michael Jordan to make a guest appearance too!
5) More local sponsors are needed. D.C., Virginia, and Maryland are overflowing with internet and software corporations and there are lots of publishing houses, so get them on board. The barrel racing was great and really got the audience involved, so why not have it every night? What about some Pony Club Games? The “Mounties” were also great, bring them back too!
6) Somehow get some sort of short time parking for local trailers or some place they can safely unload and leave their trailers for hunt night. It can be done if it is worked on now with the city- not two months before the show.
FAIR HILL International 2000: The Three Day Event
By Barb Strang
Our regular correspondent, Mike Hillman, couldn’t make this year’s FHl, as he decided his horse deserved another Preliminary before the season concluded. Mike and Riker came home from the CDCTA which he refers to as the “hardest prelim course in all our Area II) with a well earned: second after dressage, cruised cross country and dropped only one rail in stadium. In the meantime, intermediate rider, Barb Strong, filled in us cub reporter.
Sunday, October 29th was the picture perfect fall day: sunny, cool, and blustery: great for galloping and jumping! I arrived at Fair Hill just in time to watch Bruce Davidson arrive off phase A (roads and tracks) and start phase B (steeplechase) on tie first of three horses, Little Tricky.
Little Tricky galloped around the steeplechase course fresh and full of energy. Next in the start box was Phillip Dutton and his first of three, Rough Cut, looking fresh and ready to roll. Both horses made the steeplechase course look like a stroll in park.
All horses entered a five minute hold after completing phase B. Originally a ten minute hold was instituted at the Radnor 3-day event this year, eventually to be mandatory at all 3-days. However, the length of the hold is apparently determined by the ground jury, so Jack LeGoff cut the hold to five minutes this weekend due to the cooler weather.
According to attending vet, Dr. Maria Lewis, the horses seemed to be the better for it. They seemed to recover from steeplechase quickly, arriving in good shape to the vet box.
The second and third water complexes are always good viewing spots, as you can see several obstacles at one time. The second water, fence 17, was preceded by one of the couple of new fences on the course designed by Derek DiGrazia, a combination of tables. Most riders took the fast option of riding straight through, which put them on a more direct line to the brush in front of water, fence 17.
Both Bruce and Phillip made short work of those fences and their horses galloped off in fine form. David O’Connor was not so fortunate later in the afternoon, as his horse, Silent Partner chested fence 17 in what looked like a half-hearted attempt to negotiate that obstacle. David must have felt that Silent Partner was just not on his game, and he judiciously chose to retire.
Turning around, we watched Bruce, then Philip, come through the Chesapeake water complex, fences 30 and 31, again both teams flawlessly negotiating the obstacles, at least to this amateur’s eye. Bruce went on the finish the course with only .8 time penalties and no jumping penalties. Unfortunately Phillip and Rough Cut had acquired jumping penalties as well as time penalties.
Later came Maryland’s Gayle Molander and Sir Nicholas, showing fine form through fences 15,16 and 17. They came back through fences 30 and 31 looking just as fresh, and finishing up with no jumping penalties, but incurring some time penalties. Gayle had placed first after dressage the day before, but unfortunately those time penalties dropped her down to 3rd for stadium.
It was quite impressive to watch Phillip Dutton and Drizzle gallop through the Chesapeake water complex. Despite the fact that Drizzle was his third ride of the day, their’s was the only ride with no jumping and no time penalties.
Meanwhile, fence 5, the first water complex, seemed to be the nemesis of a lot of riders. This complex was a very large, short bounce with a drop into water that needed to be ridden aggressively. Those who rode into it too slow couldn’t get through it, and those who rode into it too fast on a flat stride ran into trouble as well. The fact that it was so early in the course didn’t help matters either.
I was unable to return for the show jumping phase on Monday, but did walk the course to see what it would be like. My first impression was that although it was big, it was also an open rolling course. However, after galloping and jumping as many miles as they did the day before, a big open course was not going to be forgiving. This apparently was the case, as rails apparently were dropping right and left.
Phillip Dutton and Drizzle were the stars, winning with a clean round. Gayle Molander and Sir Nicholas finished second with 5 jump penalties. Bruce Davidson, although he put in such a great cross country ride on Little Tricky, pulled 3 rails and finished 7th. Kim Vinoski unfortunately dropped from second place after cross country to 4th place with 10 jump penalties. Phillip placed 3rd on his second ride, Simply Red, with 5 jump penalties, and in 16th place on Rough Cut, with 5 jump and 3 time penalties.
Although I’m happy for all the competitors who did well and sad for those who didn’t, I think I have to feel especially happy for Gayle Molander and Sir Nicholas, Like many other riders in Maryland, I’ve ridden with Gayle in cross country schools a couple of times and, even though we may not know her well on a personal level, we do know that she has worked very hard, particularly with this horse, to get to that second place finish in a CCI***, and to win the Gladstone Trophy for being the highest placed US. rider. I’ve watched this pair run several times before and it always seems that there’s been some hiccup to stop them up. This time, however; they got to where they deserve to be-in the lime light. What a great example they set for all of those young riders and amateurs who look to the upper level riders for guidance. Patience, perseverance and good old fashioned hard work does pay off!
As usual, the entire country fair atmosphere of FHI is a treat. The requisite hot chocolate (loaded with whipped cream of course), crab cakes, checking out the dog agility trials, and, of course, shopping, all make for a great weekend outing.