Visiting The Devon Horse Show & Country FairPhotos by Brenda Carpenter
You don’t need to love horses to love this great Spring tradition.
If you’ve lived in this area for more than a year or so, you’re likely familiar with the excitement that happens behind the long blue wall along Lancaster Avenue every year in late May. The Devon Horse Show is approaching 125 years of world-class equestrian excellence, and it’s not to be missed! (The big anniversary is in 2021.)
In fact, this year Devon was recognized as Horse Show of the Year by both the National Show Hunters Hall of Fame and the United Professional Horsemen’s Association. It’s no wonder equestrian fans—from tenderfoot to Olympic rider—are drawn to the action in the Dixon Oval and Wheeler Ring.
After covering the Horse Show for over 40 years, we’re taking a different perspective for 2019. Let’s look at the fun you can have without horses and outside the ring. Because there’s plenty!
Riders in the ring range from munchkins in Lead Line events to experienced hands on the reins for carriage driving, and spectators at the Devon Horse Show reflect that same broad span of ages.
Babes in arms and in strollers join gaggles of teens and pairs of parents relaxing in the stands and roaming the Country Fair grounds during the 11 days of the show, with bigger crowds on designated Family Days. That focus on families is clear throughout the schedule (see the handy 1-page, tear-out schedule at the end of this article).
The Horse Show starts and ends with families. May 23, the first full day of the show, is called Community Day, with family-favorite specials on midway rides, souvenirs and food. That evening, with free admission after 5 p.m., brings area high school booster clubs and the popular Devon Dog Contest. Featuring four canine classes, this doggie-oriented contest highlights our four-legged friends. New this year are Halo awards for service dogs.
Even more family fun ensues on May 25 at another new event, the Children’s Tea Party, and on two Family Days, May 28 and June 2 (the last day of the Show), with loads of family-friendly specials.
The final Sunday of the show offers special activities just for kids, including decorating cupcakes, planting flowers in tea cups, and joining the Itty Bitty Hat party and parade—all as adorable as they sound.
The old-school midway, with its beautiful carousel, mighty Ferris wheel (lit at night) and games of chance and skill, holds hours of fun and a chance to stretch your legs. It’s open every day and night during the show.
Country Fair Food
Food stands offer kid-friendly options—burgers, fries, pizza, ice cream—along Food Alley, along with funnel cake and fried Oreos at the midway, and a candy booth with Devon fudge, plus roaming volunteers selling traditional lemon sticks.
And yes, there are salads and wraps available somewhere, plus a new option of quiche, along with soups, sandwiches and entrees at the Garden Café.
Parents find plenty to love, too, while taking a break from preparing meals. Tea sandwiches and lobster rolls always appeal, and adult beverages are available. Sip wine under the sycamores or back in the spectators’ stands and private boxes. For music and beer, try Clydesdales Corner Pub by Anniversary Square, next to the practice ring. There’s always a lively crowd.
Picnics & Ladies Day
Private boxes are where families have entertained for generations, with an elevated style befitting a horse show with over a hundred years of tradition. Back this year is the “Grandest of the Grandstands” contest on May 31, when boxholders bring their finest food, flowers, props (often sterling silver) and attire to vie for Devon blue ribbons awarded for Best Food and Best Theme. No horses required!
There’s more tailgating competition outside the ring, but this one is near horses—carriage horses. On Sunday May 26, before the carriage pleasure drive heads out through the streets of Devon, carriage owners and spectators assemble once again to picnic in the historic St. David’s Church grounds near the cemetery. (After a hiatus, this location is again the starting point.) Judges choose the winners, who will be announced in the Dixon Oval.
It’s not quite the scene at Royal Ascot or the Kentucky Derby, yet Ladies Hat Day at Devon turns out a bevy of beautiful hats to give those races a run for their money. Another well-loved tradition on the first Wednesday of the Horse Show, Ladies Day dates from the early 1900s and is held on the day of the Ladies Side Saddle competition in the ring.
There’s free admission for ladies wearing elegant hats and a ticket for the Enchanted Garden-themed reception gets you some bubbly, nibbles, gift bags and a chance to compete in many categories—Best in Show, Best Hat to Toe, Best Group—before celebrity and local judges.
So pop on your most fascinating fascinator (yes, that’s a category, too) to win prizes from local boutiques and join the fun. Check the website for news of a lunch and VIP opportunities.
Art Galleries & Boutique Vendors
Scattered throughout the grounds are charming clapboard cottages housing an array of shops and services. Some serve food to ravenous riders who have completed their turn in the ring and to hungry families circling to find the right choice for each member.
One cottage under the sycamores is home to the Art Gallery at Devon, selling equestrian art, the official Devon poster and more as it raises funds for Bryn Mawr Hospital, the horse show’s beneficiary. Read more about this oasis of calm in “Gallery RoundUp” in this issue.
Other shops range from long-time exhibitor B&D Builders to newcomer Valley Forge Flowers. You’ll find the latest fashions from Polka Dots and Tish boutiques plus equestrian supplies from Malvern Saddlery and Dubarry of Ireland.
The Souvenir Booth is worth visiting each year to check out the new merch and buy your annual Devon pin.
Feeling lucky? Then buy a ticket for the Devon Derby to support a great cause and take a chance to win a prize, including a lease on a new 2019 Buick Encore SUV, Phillies tickets or gift certificate from Walter J. Cook Jeweler!
And when the action in the ring is over, the Devon Plant Sale takes place inside the main gate, where plants from the grounds are available at amazing prices. A perfect souvenir.
As you leave, you may notice some of the 2000 volunteers who make this event happen. Give them a “thank you!”
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