The Sports Sermon: Washington International Horse Show

October 9, 2008

The first words of the equestrian feature on the opposite page are easily the first I’d ever written about horse shows. But now that I’m in the equine spirit, I may as well take it a little further—that’s what happens when someone who has never been within 20 feet of a horse finds himself surrounded by dozens on a Sunday afternoon. Besides, Greg Monroe won’t take his first official shot for over a month, but in just a few weeks the Verizon Center will play host to the 50th Annual Washington International Horse Show.

The show, which runs from October 21-26, is one of the biggest in the country and features some of the best riders from all over the world. While all manner of equestrian competition will be exhibited, the show’s 50th anniversary is highlighted by the return of the American Saddlebreds. If good ol’ homegrown equine eye-candy isn’t enough to bring you out to the show, you should know that Carson Kressley—Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s fashionista and an accomplished Saddlebred rider—will be presenting the colors at the event.

Saddlebred is different from the equitation practiced by the GU Equestrian Team. There are four different types of Saddlebreds: five-gaited, three-gaited, fine harness, and park horse, all of which will be exhibited at the WIHS. Each type is different—five-gaited horses have a flowing mane, while the three-gaited variety are trimmed—and while provides descriptions for each, it took some Youtube investigation for me to have a clue. As best as I can tell, the common denominator for all good Saddlebreds is that the horses’ movements are so smooth that the rider appears perfectly still. There’s also a lot of variation in the horse’s gait—the movements of the five-gaited horses look to me like a cross between a high-stepping Terrell Owens scoring a touchdown and a group of squadristi marching through Fascist Italy. The only one that is easy for the ignorant observer to identify is the fine harness category in which the horse is hitched to a carriage.

Tickets for the show run from $15 to $70 which, if you already know the difference between a five-gaited horse and a three-gaited horse, is probably a steal. Even if you don’t, there are plenty of other interesting events at the show, from the well-intentioned, like the Urban Cowboy Party in support of the D.C. chapter of Autism Speaks, to the downright awesome, like the hands-on Pony Pavilion.

I hesitate to say that the WIHS will be the most exciting show at the Verizon Center this year—what with NCAA finalists Memphis coming to town in December. But with Carson Kressley atop the “peacock of the horse show world,” I can promise you that nothing will be quite as fabulous.

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