The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair is, according to its website, the oldest and biggest outdoor multi-breed competition in the country. The event dates back to 1896. This year, it runs 11 days, beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday.
But the main attractions, the reason the equestrian federation representatives called Doubleday eight months ago, kick off next week.
The show will host a pair of Olympic observation events: the $100,000 Grand Prix next Thursday and the $50,000 Idle Dice Stake on June 2. Both are keys to making the U.S. show jumping team for the Olympic Games in London come late July.
And both bring more attention to Devon, which last hosted an observation in 1996.
"This is huge," he said. "Just the few name-brand riders that it brings has boosted our ticket sales a lot. Those people with Olympic experience are a huge draw. . . . They've showed around the world."
The equestrian federation placed 38 rider-horse combinations on a "long list" for the Olympics. If you want to stay a candidate for the five-person U.S. team (four participants, one alternate), you have to show in at least two of the four observations events, such as the one at Devon.
This year, the show will feature 13 riders on the long list, including three members of the country's gold-medal squad from the 2008 games: Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward.
While Ward has won six times at Devon, Doubleday said Madden and Kraut usually don't attend.
Devon officials are unable to give an exact number of tickets sold. There are two types: reserved tickets for a specific day and general admission for the show's entire 11-day run.
Of the 3,500 one-day tickets, none are left for the Grand Prix. They went on sale April 9 and were gone by the end of the afternoon. That's the fastest they've ever gone, Doubleday said.
And for Idle Dice Stake, about 50 remained Wednesday morning. That show - the last Saturday of the event - has never sold out before.
"All competitors feel it when there is more attention," Madden said. "Devon always draws a crowd, but this will be even more electric. People know this counts."
Madden spoke Wednesday from atop Cortes C, a 10-year-old black Belgian warmblood. Madden, who won team gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Games, doesn't know if she'll bring Cortes C to Devon. The horse is on the equestrian federation's long list, but he's green. Madden started working with him last year.
She can qualify for the U.S. team with two other horses, both of whom are older. Still, next week's events would give Cortes C a chance to grow.
Madden said Olympic observations are always more challenging. At most events, the distance between one fence and the next is divisible by 12 feet - a horse's typical stride. But next week, Madden expects the distances to stretch longer, shorter, anything to throw horses off.
Riders will need to adjust their horses' strides on the fly. This is particularly challenging when the distances between fences are short. Riders barely have time to adjust. So, yeah, Madden said, next week's distances will probably be short.
Then, there are the cups that hold the rails on each fence. Usually, Madden said, the cups are forgiving. They hold the rails tight. But at the Grand Prix and the Idle Dice Stake, the cups won't be so friendly.
The slightest misstep - just the lightest touch - and the rail is on the ground, Madden said. And judges will assess penalties. And riders will fall in the standings. And joining the U.S. team will become more difficult.
Devon Horse Show
When: Thursday to June 3, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Where: Route 30, Devon, between Valley Forge Road and Dorset Road.
What: The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair features hunters, jumpers, three- and five-gaited saddle horses, hackney and fine harness horses and ponies, breeding classes and coaching competitions. The open-jumping competition this year is scheduled to feature 14 riders who are vying for spots on the show-jumping team for the Olympics in London.
The country fair is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. It features boutique shopping, rides, games, food and special events.
General admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under and senior citizens 65 and over. Reserved seating is available ranging from $12 to $55 depending on the performance. For ticket information, call 610-688-2554 Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon.
Tickets may be purchased in advance at the ticket office on the show grounds or online at www.devonhorseshow.net
Contact Tyler Jett at email@example.com.