No Car and in D.C.? No Problem. The Washington International Horse Show is right downtown.

Above: The Capital One Arena, Tuesday, October 24. Photo by Emily Hayes.

By Emily Hayes

Horse farms are in abundance in my home state of Connecticut, from backyard, makeshift stalls to large indoor arenas with heated viewing areas. When I moved to Washington, D.C. this past June, I anticipated the claustrophobia I would feel living in a city without a car, as historically magnificent and park-strewn as it is. Virginia horse country immediately to the south is constantly taunting me.

However, if you love horses but don’t have one, or the proper transportation to get to the well-known rolling hills of Virginia, for this week in October you can still be a part of the action with the Washington International Horse Show, one of the most renowned equestrian events in North America. According to the event’s website, over 500 horses and riders came to D.C. from all over the world to compete. The Adult Hunter Championship on the first night of the five-day event gave me the horse fix I needed – five blocks from the Metro Center stop.

Outside of Capitol One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center), F Street and 6th Street are shut down and converted into a temporary horse hotel, complete with bedded-down stalls inside a large white tent and a padded rubber walkway running along the sidewalk that is nice and soft on the horses’ hooves.

Washingtonians meandering through Chinatown and tourists exiting the International Spy Museum were surprised to see dozens of horses with gleaming coats and braided tails casually coming and going. The smell of horses, hay, and, let’s face it, horse poop, were comforting smells of happiness as I caught a glimpse of the competitors in their stalls.

For a general admission price of only $20, I saw these horses and riders compete for the Adult Hunter Championship Tuesday night, and a prize of $10,000. No matter where you choose to sit in the venue, you are close enough and high enough to enjoy a perfect view of each round. Ten three-foot fences were beautifully crafted to look like brick walls and towers, with bright red flowers and ferns sprouting around the sides. Freshly raked arena footing filled the air with nostalgic smells of indoor childhood lessons during the cold winter months. The bright lights, excited crowd, and music made such an upbeat atmosphere that I was impressed with how well the riders were able to concentrate on their courses.

Twenty-nine horse and rider combinations qualified for the Adult Hunter Championship based on points accrued at other shows throughout the season in classes approved by the Washington International Horse Show. Sitting in the audience for the first time, it struck me how easy these riders made it look to careen around the corners of the ring over the heavily decorated, wide fences. The rider feels she is moving much faster, counting in her head the rhythm of powerful hooves to make the perfect take off spot and keep a steady stride in between a double combination. One jump at a time, she urges her horse forward with the leg or leans slightly back in the seat to hold the horse steady and calm for the next fence. Cameras captured on the large mega screen the quiet reserve and then triumphant smiles on riders’ faces before and after each round.

Mega Screen in Capital One Arena. Photo by Emily Hayes.

Twenty-nine horse and rider combinations qualified for the Adult Hunter Championship based on points accrued at other shows throughout the season in classes approved by the Washington International Horse Show. Sitting in the audience for the first time, it struck me how easy these riders made it look to careen around the corners of the ring over the heavily decorated, wide fences. The rider feels she is moving much faster, counting in her head the rhythm of powerful hooves to make the perfect take off spot and keep a steady stride in between a double combination. One jump at a time, she urges her horse forward with the leg or leans slightly back in the seat to hold the horse steady and calm for the next fence. Cameras captured on the large mega screen the quiet reserve and then triumphant smiles on riders’ faces before and after each round.

Sitting still in the audience is difficult for riders during high stakes horse shows. Unconsciously, I would cluck for a horse that eyed a jump wearily or move my hands forward when a rider needed to give more with the hand over a jump. I felt the pain of the rider who slid to the ground when her horse awkwardly refused the first jump of the course (been there, done that), and admired the riders whose horses refused the first time, but could confidently guide them over the jump the next time around. This first jump became an unpopular one for the horses, most likely because the paint on the wood blended with the footing.

One horse with a tendency to slowly lower his head and stubbornly hold it there reminded me of a horse I used to work with a lot at home. My arms automatically molded into 90 degree angles that moved with the horse, and my legs squeezed him forward, up, and under, lengthening and contracting strides like an accordion, as my instructor always advised.

However, the winning ride of the night was well deserved by Jef Lauwers on Sutherland, an Oldenburg gelding owned by Peter Pletcher. As the last participant in the first round, Lauwers came in first with a high score of 86. The top twelve riders returned in reverse order for a second round, and Lauwers and Sutherland came in first again with a score of 87, and a total score of 173. Lauwers also received the Diana Wade Memorial Award for his win.

Jef Lauwers on Sutherland is presented with the Diana Wade Memorial Award. Photo by Emily Hayes.

Anna Kubiak, 16, won the Children’s Hunter Championship on Memorable, owned by Over Fences Farm LLC, earlier in the day. The pair earned 86 points in the first round and 76.5 in the second round, with a total score of 162.5.

For anyone interested in horses or looking for a night of excitement in the D.C. metropolitan area, the Washington International Horse Show is an essential place to be through Saturday, October 29.

Taylor St Jacques on her horse Di Samorano, earning a high score of 88 in the first class on Tuesday night. Photo by Emily Hayes.

For more information on the Washington International Horse Show or to buy tickets, visit the site at http://www.wihs.org/.

For more information on the results of the Adult Hunter Championship Tuesday night, find the listing on http://wihs.showmanagementsystem.com/results/division_list/17.