Junior weekend starts latest Devon Horse Show

Staff photo by Tom Kelly IV Gabriella Hurtado rides Chrystalle in the Small Junior Hunter Stake, 16 and 17, on Saturday during the 117th year of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair.

EASTTOWN The 117th edition of the Devon Horse Show began its 11-day run Thursday with junior weekend.

The first days of the event focus on young riders, who come from all across the country to get their chance to shine at the largest and oldest outdoor horse show in the country.

Junior riders with their horses and ponies perform over fences and on the flat, hoping to earn a Devon blue ribbon. For the youngest competitors, a pale blue participation ribbon and a lollypop are guaranteed to all who can make it through the lead line classes for children age 3 and under, and for 4- and 5-year-olds.

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A surprisingly small percentage of the tiny riders entered in the lead line classes come from local stables. Among the entries in the two classes were children from as far as North Carolina and Georgia who traveled the distance with their ponies for just this one short class.

We love this horse show. Weve been coming here forever, said Olivia Golden of Reading, who was leading daughter Vivian on pony Highlight. We love everything about Devon.

In the lead line classes, the ponies often have more experience in the show ring than their riders. Brother and sister Sara and Bernie Segebade both entered lead line, switching places between classes as they shared the same pony. My wife road here when she was a kid, explained Bernie Segebade. Im learning the ropes of being a horse show dad. You never realize all the preparation work that goes on.

The lead line classes are a starting point for child riders who join a family tradition of competing at Devon. Four-year-old Graham Kennedy was in the ring on Tootsie Roll, with mother Jill leading the pony and dad Ryan Kennedy as support person. Its Devon. Its prestigious. Its fun. Its something you want to do your whole life, Jill Kennedy said.

For others, the chance to enter a child in lead line answers a dream for both the rider and the leader. This is our first year, said Kelly Horner, who was leading daughter Sophia. My mom always wanted to do it with me, but we never did.

Local riders who never got the chance to ride at Devon when they were young make sure their children dont miss that opportunity.

I rode all my life and came to Devon every year, but I never rode here, Devon Weaver said, as she made last adjustments for her daughter Lilyana while father Robert Weaver prepared to lead her into the ring. The family enters local horse shows nearly every week but the trip to Devon is special. This is like a dream come true.

Being a success at the lead line class depends on practice that develops a confident young rider, but a perfect pony and a savvy leader are also important. Parents pay attention to all the details. Ponies are carefully groomed with braids in their mane and tail. Little girls often tend toward braided hair as well with imitation Devon ribbons sometimes tying their pigtails. Leaders match the color scheme in tailored attire, usually including a hat fit for a Mainline Tea. There is even a YouTube video dedicated to How To Do Devon Lead Line.

For this years Devon lead line a few fathers were successfully recruited to lead entries, including Navy Lieutenant Ryan Cowan, appropriately in uniform for Memorial Day weekend. Mom Brooke Cowan breeds hunter ponies and hopes to have her son Barrett Easton Cowans appearance in lead line is just the first of many visits to Devon. Its been wonderful. It seems like they have so much history here, Brooke Cowan said.

The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair continues through June 2. Due to inclement weather during the week, the starting point for Sundays Carriage Pleasure Drive has been moved to the Dixon Oval about 11:45 a.m.

After preliminary judging, the carriages will take to the roads returning to the show grounds for final judging and presentation of awards in the Dixon Oval as scheduled beginning about 2 p.m.

For more information visit www.devonhorseshow.org.

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