A Look Back
For 50 years the Washington International Horse Show has been a place for professionals to make their marks, amateurs to get their start, the famous to socialize and kids to watch in awe. Some of our country’s top riders, and some from other countries as well, have competed at WIHS in preparation for further international success. Presidents and first ladies have mingled with spectators from around the Washington, D.C. area and beyond. There have been high moments and low moments and changes of location, but through it all, WIHS has remained one of the country’s major metropolitan indoor shows and the pinnacle of the equestrian calendar.
The inaugural show was held at the D.C. Armory in 1958 with Major General W.H. Adendroth serving as the first WIHS president. After the first year, WIHS actually skipped a year and resumed in 1960. In 1964, WIHS took another break because the Olympics took many top riders out of the country. Austin Kiplinger became a WIHS board member (and then president from 1967 to 1970) the following year and has been involved with the show ever since (see “The Man Behind the Scenes” in this article).
The show remained at the Armory until 1975 when it moved to the Capital Center in Landover. At that point, the Metro system was just getting started and a subway station was being built right next to the Armory. “The construction equipment was all over the place… they took our parking lot for construction equipment. We were just evicted in a sense and had to go someplace,” said Kiplinger.
Many on the WIHS board and those who rode at the show would have loved to stay at the Capital Centre but when the city moved both the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) basketball and the Washington Capitals hockey teams to downtown D.C., the Capital Centre was scheduled to be torn down. So, the horse show followed the sports teams and since 2000 has called the Verizon Center home.
The Man Behind the Scenes: An interview with Austin Kiplinger
– provided by Phelps Media Group
Austin Kiplinger has been an influential member of the WIHS team since 1965. He has had horses in his life since he was young, and he has lived in the Washington D.C. area for decades. He served as the president and chairman of the board of the WIHS, and he is still on the board of directors. Mr. Kiplinger lives on his farm near Seneca and he still keeps an office in Washington, D.C. He still rides horses for pleasure and enjoys his time at the WIHS every year.
How did you get involved with horses?
This was during the great drought years of the 30s and the Depression years. I was in my teens and my father was an editor here in Washington. He thought I ought to get out of Washington and get some experience and learn what goes on in the rest of the country. He sent me out to Mr. Graham’s ranch in Oklahoma. [Mr. Graham] was a veterinarian and raised Hereford cattle. I did farm work and I rode for cattle work. We had to drive the cattle to watering ponds because there was no rain. We had to drive them a number of miles to get them to water. I did that work for two summers. I became interested in that sort of thing and in horses. I didn’t ride again for many years after that.
[Later] I bought a farm here in Maryland. I was talking to a neighbor and he said, ‘Have you ever tried fox hunting?’ and I said no. He said I should go cubbing in the early weeks of the hunting season and said it was kind of like a ride in the park. That was his description. I said sure and we went out. He gave me a horse that had been a whip’s horse out in Rappahannock. He was a very experienced and steady horse. All of a sudden, the hounds got onto a fox and we’re off. We were running at full tilt, and I was presented with a fence! All of a sudden, I found that this horse knew what to do. He jumped it, and that was my first experience with jumping. I survived that day and I was hooked.
Have you lived your whole life in Washington?
No, I went to college in Ithaca at Cornell, and then at Harvard. I was a reporter in San Francisco and then I was in the United States Navy. I flew airplanes in World War II off of carriers in the Pacific. Then I came back and worked in Washington. Then I worked in Chicago for eight years. I wrote a column for the Chicago Journal of Commerce and then I was a news broadcaster on ABC and NBC. I broke in with a lot of other unknowns, like David Brinkley, Jeff Huntley, Walter Cronkite. Then I came back to Washington in 1956 and I’ve been here ever since.
How does being in the heart of the nation’s capital affect the show?
We used to get White House involvement. The first lady has [usually] been an honorary chairman, from the very beginning. Some of them were horse people and some of them were not. Jackie Kennedy, of course, was very much interested. Her horse competed in the show with Eve Fout, her friend in Middleburg, VA. Some of the presidents have horse interest, of course. Ronald Reagan did. On the other hand, some of the first ladies were very unhorsey, [like] Mrs. Nixon. We took carriages to the White House. Our friend Fairclough from Delaware and Pennsylvania brought carriages down. We drove them down Pennsylvania Avenue – a four horse team. We went to the White House in 1962. We took Mrs. Nixon for a ride around her own park!
How have things changed since then?
In those days, of course, you could do that. I remember in 1976 when we were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and we had a lot of horses involved in the Fourth of July parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. I rode in that with the Potomac Hunt. Things have changed so much. Traffic has gotten so heavy and security concerns are so great that those things don’t happen anymore. You can’t get within two blocks of the White House with a vehicle anymore. But, we used to just take horses right up to the White House, through the gate, and around the South Lawn.
Throughout the years, was there anyone that you were ever starstruck to meet?
Well, there was Zsa Zsa Gabor! She rode in the show. She rode a horse, but didn’t jump. We had her as a celebrity guest. We’ve had a lot of celebrity guests. On a more serious note, we had Christopher Reeve a few years ago. We would have had President Reagan, except the Secret Service wouldn’t let him come. They’re very careful about presidents.
What effect do you think WIHS has on the local community in Washington?
I wish it had more effect. I think that the interest in horses – the larger a city becomes, the more distant the horse becomes. Generally speaking, I think the great metropolitan areas are losing their understanding of agriculture, farm life and animal life. I think [the show is] an education for the children. We try to bring schoolchildren in, and we do bring a lot of them in as guests to show them what life was like in years gone by and also where their food comes from, from farms and agriculture.
What do you hope for the future of the WIHS?
I hope that we can keep it going in the center of the city and give city people a look at life between mankind and their animal friends. Recently, in the past 10 years, the world’s population has crossed over so that more than half of the people in the world today live in a metropolitan area. That pendulum has swung and that’s worldwide. I think that horse shows and horse sport remind people of their affiliation with the animal world. I think that’s very, very important for us to have a balanced view of life. That is one of the missions that horse shows have, to remind people of their connection with the natural world.
– photo by Country Loft
– photo by Gary Fine
– photo by Al Cook
– photo by Jack Clark
– photo by Al Cook
Washington International Horse Show Launches a Thousand Careers
Edna Lytle competed in the inaugural WIHS on Gypsy Jinx. Her husband, Bert, and John Ammerman had built some jumps for Meadowbrook Stables, where WIHS founder and president Col. Stoddard stabled his horses. Col. Stoddard liked the jumps, borrowed them for WIHS, and thus launched Ammerman’s and Lytle’s careers. Today, John continues to have strong ties to the horse show world as a show manager and judge and Bert still designs and builds jumps for WIHS. Edna has gone on to be one of Maryland’s foremost hunter experts, a breeder, judge and trainer.
Kenny Krome rode Royal Gunner to several ribbons in the Junior Hunter classes in 1978. Today, Kenny designs “A” circuit hunter and jumper courses all over the country, spending most of his time away from his K-2 Show Stables in Westminster. Kenny recently designed the grand prix and jumper courses at Kentucky, Vermont and Pebble Beach, all in a matter of a few months. His courses can also be seen at past Devon Horse Shows. Kenny is also an active judge.
Mary Lisa Nicholson Leffler was only 9 years old when she rode Kelly in 1976. For several years in the mid ‘70s, Mary Lisa dominated the ladies’ sidesaddle classes at Washington, Devon and in the International Sidesaddle Association point standings. The current rules no longer allow ponies in ladies’ sidesaddle. Today, Mary Lisa is an international grand prix rider and trainer based at her family farm, Rolling Acres in Brookeville.
Bob Crandall first rode at WIHS in the early 80s. His first time at the show was aboard Spout About in the Second Year Greens. Since then, Bob has returned to WIHS at least 10 times as a competitor and even more as a trainer and coach. Now based out of REC Farm, LLC in Baltimore, Bob travels the country as a judge, trainer and competitor, returning to WIHS regularly.
Tracey Weinberg was the Junior Working Hunter Champion of Section A in 1977 aboard Escadrille. “She was the love of my life!” said Tracey of the mare who she also successfully showed at Upperville that year. The win came after several other attempts at making it to the top of the WIHS score board on a variarty of ponies starting in 1974, and was achieved while riding with a broken tailbone! With determination and commitment, Tracey’s third showing at WIHS placed her third in the Maryland (MHSA) Finals. George Morris, who was judging the class, was so impressed with her riding that he invited her to train with him. The rest is history, as Tracey developed into the successful grand prix rider that she is today. Outside the ring, she is the founder and president of Weinberg, Harris & Associates, which is based out of Baltimore. She has also served as a WIHS board member and has helped keep the show alive through fundraising efforts.
Bobbie Gardner Stedding (now Gibbon) rode Secret Agent, owned by Charlie Hursky, in 1965. They competed in theGreen Jumper division. Bobbie began competing at the age of 3, competed in the old National Horse Show when she was 6 and qualified two ponies for the first-ever competition between the U.S. and Great Britain. She was the only rider to qualify two ponies for what later became the Pony Finals. After having received the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Pegasus Medal of Honor in 2004 for a lifetime of service to the sport, Bobbie can now be found doing whatever works for that horse, including barrel racing! Bobby and her husband Toby Gibbon own and train out of Trickstar Stables in Mt. Airy.
In 1969, Potomac’s Eve Thompson rode AM Nightie Night to championships in several classes including English Pleasure, Western Pleasure and Halter classes. In addition to Western riding, she was also an avid foxhunter. Eve later became an executive director of WIHS. In the early 1990s, Eve and her husband Dick Thompson sold their Potomac farm (through The Equiery!) and retired to Wellington, Florida where she lives just steps from the showgrounds.
Sheila Graham (now Heider) rode Linky’s Thorn, which she bought from the Lytles, at the inaugural WIHS. The pair finished third in Green Working Hunters and was the only one of the division to jump the 3’9’’ course. All others opted to jump the 3’6’’ course. Sheila married Al Heider and moved to Leesburg, Virginia where they established Heider Nurseries, which supplied the arena flowers for WIHS for several decades. After raising five daughters in the horse world and retiring from the nursery business, Sheila and Al breed and sell ponies from their Meadow Fox Farm.
At the age of 23, Pam Nicholson Saul competed in the field hunter classes in 1983 aboard her good whipper-in horse Corner Whim. Pam is now the business manager for the family farm, Rolling Acres, which includes not only the show stables but a traditional crop operations and a boarding facility. Pam is also a financial consultant for Breslin & Young, specializing in equine and agricultural operations and serves on the Montgomery County Farm Bureau and the Maryland Farm Bureau (representing the Maryland Horse Council).
“Cindy would ride anything with four legs!” said mom Edna Lytle. In 1974, Cindy Lytle rode Jeffery, the wheel horse for the BudWiser hitch, as part of a “pony” class. Cindy went on to work for WIHS from 1986 through 1989.
Washington International Horse Show Reader Memories
“I believe it was 1972, and the horse show was still being held at the D.C. Armory. Our group decided to do the three-person hunt team on Hunt Night, which was interesting since our fox hunters had never been ridden indoors. We scraped the mud off from Saturday’s hunt and they cleaned up really well for Wednesday night. As you can see, we ended up jumping abreast and it was a great night.
The real highlight was outside in the parking lot, where we parked our trailers. There was a prison break from the D.C. jail next door. They had helicopters flying low with search lights, the horses were freaking out and we did not exactly have [a] warm feeling.”
— Bob Vechery
“My first memory of the Washington International Horse Show is attending as a spectator back in 1978 or thereabout. It took my breath away! It still does.”
– Carole Alcoba
“My earliest WIHS memories were attending the show with my fellow Junior Equitation School students, since the school’s owner, the legendary Jane Dillon, always booked a block of seats for us. In one of those years, I watched Rodney Jenkins ride the great Idle Dice in the President’s Cup. As a teenager and an adult, I had the privilege of being judged by Rodney on several occasions. Good times.”
– Laurel Scott
“The two dressage photos are from 1976, which I believe was the first time dressage was introduced at Washington. Anyway, I remember it well. Linda Zang was leading the quadrille on Fellow Traveler. Linda Zang & Fellow Traveler were just beginning their triumphant dressage career. I [am] SO excited to have found [the photos] and remember becoming enthralled with dressage after seeing the quadrille. I have treasured that memory for 32-years now, especially since my Dad had died in August 1976 shortly before I took that picture.
The Puissance wall photo is from 1982 and it is of the winning jump if I remember correctly. The horse is Goandor Akai ridden by Mr. Jan VandenBerg.”
– Barbara Kirchner Magrogan
“My first memory of WIHS is of Linda Zang riding Fellow Traveler in the musical exhibition to the 80’s song “Eye of the Tiger!” It caused me to become totally hooked on dressage! I had never seen anything like this before and was just blown away!”
– Naomi Parry
“My first memories are about going and watching the horse show and thinking how great it would be to ride there. My favorite exhibitions were the Budweiser Clydesdale team and the Jack Russell terrier races.
My first trip to WIHS was in about 1984, in the local competition on my small pony, Silver Penny. I have to laugh about the experience now, but when I went, I was so excited to be there. We entered the ring, had two beautiful jumps, and then she stopped dead and would not move. She was TERRIFIED of the running horse silhouette across the in/out gate. The ringmaster had to come in and lead us out! How embarrassing.
My next trip was in 1986 on my green medium pony, Glenmore Twilight. I trained with Pam Baker of Hillcrest Farm at the time. This was a much more pleasant experience, we ended up reserve champion overall and won the flat phase. In 1989, we returned in the Regular Medium Pony Hunter division. We ended up taking home the champion and I was named Best Child Rider on a pony.”
– Amy Boyle-Keller
“I am a native Washingtonian and I remember going to the WIHS (as a spectator) at its different venues. At the D.C. Armory, I saw Robert Kennedy’s kids competing in the early or mid 1960’s. I recall a more informal setting there, in which it was possible to lean against the arena barrier and observe “ringside.” At the Capital Centre, “warm-up” rings were set up outdoors and it was exciting to see competitors warming up.”
– Marjorie Rothschild
Pictured left to right: Jim Ligon, Ron Purdum and Bob Vechery.
Photo by Al Cook
Photo by Al Cook