Washington International Horse Show Has a Special Allure for Amateurs


In its 60 years, the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) has seen top competition from International Jumpers, Working Hunters, Side Saddle horses, Hackney and Harness Ponies, Quarter Horses, Arabians and even Appaloosas. All of the exhibitors who have walked into the WIHS ring carry indelible memories of their time showing at one of the country’s most prestigious shows. But for amateur riders, the time is even more special. This year, amateurs will once again step into the Capital One Arena on October 23-28.

Betty Oare has been showing at WIHS since the very first year, when in 1958 she won the Virginia Horse Show Association Medal Final to much acclaim. Oare, who hails from nearby Warrenton, VA, has competed at WIHS as a junior, professional, and amateur in her decades of showing. But, her most memorable WIHS came as an amateur rider.

As a young professional, Betty Oare rode Forty Winks to the Green Working Hunter Championship in 1965. Photo © Budd.

Oare was just 17 at the inaugural WIHS, showing under her maiden name of Reynolds. She rode the mare Can Do to win the VHSA Medal Finals, a class judged by legendary horseman and former U.S. show jumping chef d’equipe Bertalan deNémethy. Her accomplishment was recognized in the “Pat On The Back” section of Sports Illustrated. At that time, the show was held at the D.C. National Guard Armory.

“The Armory was huge and the ring was quite large,” Oare recalled. “But they had bleachers set up at one end for people to sit in, and the schooling area was tiny behind that. While you were riding in the ring, you could hear the horses schooling and the Open Jumpers trying to hit the jumps. But it was a good ring to ride in. It was interesting, and it was a new horse show, so there were lots of spectators and celebrities that came out.”

Betty Oare’s victory in the 1958 Virginia Horse Show Association Medal Final at the first WIHS earned her a mention in the “Pat on the Back” section of Sports Illustrated.

Oare picked up her share of wins during WIHS’ early days, earning the Junior Hunter Championship in 1959 riding Colonymas in her last junior year.

After her junior years were over, Oare transitioned to riding as a professional for her father, famed trainer J. Arthur Reynolds. She kept winning at WIHS, topping the Green Working Hunter division in 1965 with Forty Winks and the Green Conformation Hunter title in 1979 riding Gabriel. Her famous working hunter Navy Commander also won quite a few WIHS classes.

Her riding usually kept her too busy to pull on an evening gown and white gloves for the glamorous social scene that accompanied the WIHS competition, but Oare always made sure to find a seat in the stands for the International Jumpers, especially the President’s Cup and the Nations Cup. “They did some glamorous things and had some good horses. It had a good flavor to it,” she said.

“Those were exciting days. There are so many horse shows now, but back then, those fall indoor shows felt so special,” Oare recalled. “It was fantastic. When you talk about the history of people like Frank Chapot, Kathy Kusner, and Billy Steinkraus, I pinch myself that I saw them ride every year. It was like watching Hollywood stars. I could probably tell you more about the horses that were on the team back then than I can about the ones now.”

A Hard-Fought WIHS Win

When the show switched locations from the Armory to the Capital Centre/USAir Arena in 1975, Oare enjoyed the spaciousness of the new venue. And in 1981, she left her professional status behind and started competing at WIHS and other shows as an amateur rider. It didn’t take her long to start winning in that capacity, too. Aboard Spirit of Song, she earned Amateur Owner Hunter Championships in 1983 and 1984.

Betty Oare rode Spirit of Song to the Amateur Owner Championship at WIHS in 1983 and ‘84. Photo © Pennington Galleries.

Oare distinctly remembers the year WIHS returned to its downtown roots at the Capital One Arena, known as the Verizon Center in 2000 when the show switched venues. “I remember the first time we took the horses there and they were stabled on the street,” she said. “[Her brother and trainer] Bucky Reynolds was helping us and we stayed in a hotel just down the street. He insisted on having a room that had a window that overlooked the tents because he wanted to be sure that Estrella was alright.”

It was just two years later in 2002 that Oare made her favorite WIHS memory. Her elegant mare Estrella was in excellent form all year and they were in the running for a U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year title in the Amateur Owner 36 and Over division. But it all came to a screeching halt in August when a tough fall broke Oare’s shoulder and ankle. Her first thought was to wonder how she would get to show at WIHS with Estrella.

“I was down in the dumps about breaking these two bones and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. So, I healed and then did the physical therapy religiously,” she said. “Bucky kept the horses fit. My doctor released me two weeks before Washington, and I ran home and rode every horse in the barn I could get my leg over to get myself fitter.”

Winning the Grand Amateur Owner Hunter Championship with Estrella at the 2002 WIHS was a career highlight for Betty Oare. Photo © Teresa Ramsay.

Estrella didn’t disappoint, helping Oare claim the Grand Amateur Owner Hunter Championship as well as the Amateur Owner 36 and Over title. “That meant a lot to me. I’d had some other good shows at Washington along the way before she came along, but that is a special memory. And Stolen Moment won a class that year, too.

“I have a lot of feeling for the Washington International Horse Show,” Oare continued. “Some of those trophies have been around for decades. I think there’s one still being awarded that I won in the ‘50s on a mare named Sis. She probably wouldn’t win today, but she liked to run to the jumps. She was very brave. Some of those great trophies that mean a lot to that horse show are still being won.”

A Childhood WIHS Dream Come True

Virginia Fout has similar sentiments about the show. Her early WIHS years were spent competing in the Hunt Night festivities, and in 1984 she teamed up with her mother, Eve, and sister, Nina, to win the Hunt Team class.

Virginia Fout (center) and her sister Nina (left) and mother Eve were frequent competitors at WIHS Hunt Night. Photo © Al Cook.

“As a kid, my mom and dad didn’t let me do the big ‘horse showing’ showing,” Virginia said. “We went into Washington and did Hunt Night. It was so fun as a kid and it’s something we really looked forward to. For me, talk about a deer in the headlights as a kid—it was definitely like, ‘Wow, this is so cool!’”

In 1961, Eve Fout rode Jacqueline Kennedy’s Sardar in the WIHS Sidesaddle classes. Photo courtesy of WIHS.

“It was all so foreign to me, the high-level hunter and jumper competition. For years as a kid, that was a real special treat. We got out of school early that day and we got to trailer the horses into the show and braid them there and ride,” Virginia recalled.

But after she moved from the Middleburg, VA, family home to California at age 19, Virginia left her WIHS ambitions behind for 20 years, focusing on building a career and family.

Then, in 2007, she came back to Washington with an Amateur Owner hunter, Classified. “Both my parents showed at Washington for a large part of their lives, which also makes it meaningful for me. Mom and Dad did that a lot, especially in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” she said. Virginia’s parents, Paul and Eve Fout, had both started out their careers as horsemen in the show ring before transitioning to racehorses and foxhunting. In 1961, Eve rode Jacqueline Kennedy’s Sardar in the Ladies Side Saddle class as Kennedy watched from their box.

Though Virginia’s WIHS experiences as a junior had been limited to Hunt Night, she was eager to follow in her parents’ footsteps by showing in the WIHS hunter divisions. “I really appreciate it as an adult, that I’m really getting to do it in a way that I didn”t get to do as a kid. I think that makes it really fun,” she said. “It’s a little bit old home week for me because a lot of my family will come watch me and I get to go home and stay there and keep my horses there in between. All that makes it really special for me.

“It’s one of the most challenging horse shows we have. You really have to go in the ring and ride,” Virginia said. “I like the challenge.”

Showing at WIHS as an amateur has special meaning for Virginia Fout, and she earned the 3’3″ Amateur Owner Hunter Grand Championship in 2016. Photo © Alden Corrigan Media.

In 2016, one of Virginia’s dreams finally came true as she claimed the Grand Low Amateur Owner Hunter Championship and the Low Amateur Owner 36 and Over tricolor on Carma. It was 22 years since her last blue ribbon at WIHS with her family in the Hunt Teams.

Every year, Virginia makes it a priority to qualify for and travel east for WIHS. “You’re in the middle of the city! It’s so uncommon. It’s not one of your week-in, week-out horse shows,” she said. “You can walk two blocks from your city hotel to hack your horse. Or, if you want to give your horse carrots at 11 o’clock at night, you can. That’s what’s makes it so fun and exciting and challenging. I just like that it’s so different. It’s not the norm and it feels really unique.”

The 60th annual Washington International Horse Show returns to the heart of Washington, D.C. from October 23-28, 2018. The event attracts more than 26,000 spectators annually as riders compete for prize money totaling more than half a million dollars. For a complete schedule of events and more information, please visit www.wihs.org.

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