At Devon Horse Show, elegance, ribbons, calories — and racing Shetlands, too

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     Kids racing Shetland ponies, a first at the Devon Horse Show, Monday, May 26. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.)

    Kids racing Shetland ponies, a first at the Devon Horse Show, Monday, May 26. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.)

    The Devon Horse Show has been around nearly 120 years. It’s both a prestigious equestrian competition and a “Country Fair,” with lots of goofy games and fattening foods.

    At the Devon Horse Show, a lot is always going on.

    At the fence line of the main ring, riders in blazers and helmets are waiting to see who won.

    “This is a very big deal,” said Hayley Barnhill of Collierville, Tenn. “We qualify all year to show here, so it’s a very prestigious horse show. It’s a lot of history to it and it means a lot if you win here.”

    Barnhill won here in 2010 in the junior division. She competed in the pro ranks Monday in what’s called “hunter over fences.”

    Her counterpart, Brady Mitchell of New York, says the event is “the figure skating of showjumping,” where horses get scored on how elegantly they jump, not just how fast they go.

    “My horse went well today; I’m getting a good ribbon,” he said.

    Chris Braeutigam of Michigan has been to Devon before, but she says it’s a first for her 7-year-old horse, Chicago.

    “It’s the horse show of champions. And it’s all breeds,” she said. “You can watch other horses and you meet other people and it’s great. And we’re really fortunate to be here.”

    One of those breeds is the sturdy, ornery, little Shetland pony.

    In a first for the Devon Horse Show, Monday afternoon featured racing Shetland ponies — ridden by young jockeys-in-training.

    So, yes, that was six little ponies racing around in a circle with little kids on them?

    “Yes, as fast as lightning,” said Bridget Love Meehan, executive director of the Washington International Horse Show. “They go really fast.”

    Meehan was the first to bring Shetland racing to the U.S., just last fall. She says to think of it like peewee football during an NFL halftime. 

    “It’s a really popular sport in Europe,” she said. “Some of us had seen how fun it looked on YouTube and we thought, Why don’t we try to create our own?” 

    Of course, there’s also plenty of non-horse stuff do to at the Devon Horse Show.

    “You can come here and not see a horse, if you want to,” said Helen Corkhill, a co-chair of the Country Fair. “I think a lot of people enjoy the horses, but they also want to go on the rides, they want to shop, they want to eat. It’s both.”

    There’s a ladies hat competition Wednesday, May 28, and the fair, with rides and games, is also around until June 1. The net proceeds are donated to Bryn Mawr Hospital. Last year it raised $402,500.

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