Wednesday, August 30 2023 10:38

Dressage at Devon

Written by Shannon Montgomery
Photos by Phelps Media Group, Emma Miller and Grace Zelewski

Six days of world-class equestrian competition and fun — September 26 to October 1

A dressage rider performing under the lights

At the end of September, seasoned equestrians and enthusiastic spectators make their way to the historic Devon Horse Show Grounds. As fans fill the iconic blue grandstands, dressage riders anticipate their moment in the Dixon Oval for a chance at glory.

For over 40 years, Dressage at Devon has brought world-class competition to the Brandywine Valley. A USEF Heritage Competition, this important show has become a staple of the fall equestrian season, as well as an entertaining event for fans of all ages.

Read on for background and highlights of this year’s Dressage at Devon, from the origins of the sport to the exciting plans for the 2023 event.

A Little Background

New to dressage? Then let’s start with the basics. Dressage is often called “ballet on horseback,” where both horse and rider perform a series of prescribed movements that often look like dancing — especially when set to music, as in the freestyle competition (more on that later).

In dressage, men and women compete against each other

An Olympic sport, dressage requires rigorous training for horses and their riders to complete the precise, complex moves, including the piaffe (an elevated trot in place), passage (similar to piaffe, but with motion) and pirouette (like the ballet turn, where the horse makes a circle in place).

As it turns out, dressage has quite ancient origins. As early as the fourth century B.C., ancient Greeks trained horses for the battlefield, teaching them to perform specific movements to evade or attack enemies — swiftly moving side to side with their riders, changing direction or speed on command. Some of these movements are still used in dressage today.

As technological advancements — including guns, cannons and other weapons of war — made horseback combat obsolete, dressage evolved into an art form. During the Renaissance, European aristocrats put on pageants for their highly trained horses, and in 1572, the Spanish Riding School was founded in Vienna. Techniques taught there laid much of the foundation for modern dressage competition.

Dressage became an Olympic sport in 1912, though only military officers were allowed to compete until 1952. Today, it’s one of the few Olympic sports where men and women compete together. In the 2020 Tokyo Games, the U.S. Dressage Team won a silver medal.

New This Year

There are exciting new events in store for audiences at 2023’s Dressage at Devon. Here are a few of the new offerings you can expect.

Dressage National Champion Alice Tarjan

On Tuesday evening from 5 to 7, take a first look at this year’s Fall Festival at the Vendor Preview Shop, Sip and Stroll event. From equestrian gear to home décor to delicious food and drink, find out firsthand why Dressage at Devon is known as “the best horse show shopping experience” in the country.
For the fashion-forward, there’s the Riders Runway Reception on Friday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Enjoy wine, canapes and the reveal of the exclusive Catherine Haddad Capsule Collection from Uniqcorn Exceptionnel. You’ll have the opportunity to meet FEI World Cup finalist and international Grand Prix rider Catherine Haddad, as well as Uniqcorn Bespoke spokesperson and dressage rider Christian Garweg.

Stay at the grounds on Friday night for the Dressage Dance-Off Contest, a head-to-head breakdancing competition — with horses! Elite Grand Prix Dressage riders and horses will “battle” to live music under the lights, with a panel of celebrity judges providing commentary and determining the winner. A must-see and unique event!

Inside the Ring

Dressage at Devon hosts one of the largest open breed shows in the country

Every day of Dressage at Devon has fierce competition and plenty of entertainment. Here are some of the highlights.

The first three days feature the Breed Division, where horses and foals of all breeds compete in one of the largest open breed shows in the country. Tuesday is dedicated to the individual breed classes, where horses compete within their breeds. The day ends with the Parade of Breeds, with the winners of each class returning to the Dixon Oval to receive special rosettes. Later in the week, the Born in the USA awards recognize and reward sport horse breeders in the United States. The only awards program of its kind, it’s open to horses and ponies conceived and foaled in the U.S.

Returning for its second year is the Dressage at Devon Masterclass on Thursday night. This year’s exclusive masterclass will be led by Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour, two-time Danish Olympian and currently ranked second in the world for dressage. Special tickets are required for this three-hour masterclass, which will not be livestreamed or available online. Afterwards, join Cathrine and the participating riders for cake and prosecco at the Bundts and Bubbles Masterclass Reception.

On Saturday night, come for the Grand Prix Musical Freestyle competition — a highlight of the show every year. In this fan-favorite event, horses and riders perform choreography to music selected by the rider — ranging from classical and Broadway to hip-hop and pop tunes. The audience is encouraged to clap along and root for their favorite competitors. Haven’t seen dressage freestyle before? Check it out on YouTube to see why it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Outside the Ring

In addition to world-class dressage competition, Dressage at Devon is home to lots of fun for the whole family — from worldclass shopping to kids’ activities.

The Fall Festival is open all week, where boutique vendors offer their unique wares — from equestrian apparel and tack to fine art, jewelry, antiques, pottery and, of course, souvenirs.

Hungry? The selection of food vendors who keep the crowds happy have been voted the best on the show circuit by competitors year after year. Taste for yourself with a light snack or a full meal at an outdoor seating area, or stop by The Pub and watch the action on the big screen.

Looking to strut your stuff? Ladies (and gentlemen) are invited to don their “show day” best for Friday’s hat contest. Similar to Ladies’ Day at the Devon Horse Show in May, the competition awards prizes for the best and most creative looks. This year’s theme is “Dancing in the Dixon Oval.”

Family fun at Dressage Explorers Day includes stick-horse racing in the Dixon Oval

And of course, there are special events for the kiddos, including Dressage Explorers Day, Sunday from 10 to 1. Young equestrians can make their own stick horse to ride down the centerline in the Dixon Oval. Or the little ones can win a prize for the selfie scavenger hunt and go on a trick-or-treat adventure through the Vendor Village. There are more special events, including a visit from the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center Vet Truck. New this year, kids will have a chance to Meet the Vet and Vet Tech to learn more about what it’s like to be a veterinarian.

Finally, end the day on Sunday at the plant sale and bring home a beautiful arrangement that adorned the grounds during Dressage at Devon. The perfect memento for this sure-to-be-memorable event.


What: Dressage at Devon

When: September 26 – October 1, 2023

Where: Devon Horse Show Grounds, 23 Dorset Rd., Devon

Tickets: Adults, $15–$50; children (3–12), $10; under 3, free. Reserved seating available online only

Livestream: Available for most events, provided by Horse & Country TV


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