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A family's tradition at Devon

Doug King and wife Susie Beale, with deep roots in local horse country, will ride with daughter Gillian.

Oh, dem golden . . . horseshoes?

The Devon Horse Show may be the Mummers Parade of horse people, but fancy footwear? For the horse?

"Gold shoes," said Doug King, owner of Royal Crown Stables in Malvern. "She's got gold shoes with gems."

"She" is Crum Creek, his daughter's mount for the show, which will open Thursday. Gillian King, 14, is the returning reserve champion in the pony jumper category.

"She knows that she is special," Gillian said of the paint pony, named after a local tributary of the Delaware River.

But it's clear that the pony, known around the barn as "Cookie," got her golden slippers because for Doug King, Gillian is special.

She embodies the family traditions of horse breeding, training and showing still found in pockets of the burgeoning suburbs, a tradition in which Devon is the highlight of the year.

Gillian first entered the show at age 2, in the lead-line class, "crying the whole time," her dad said.

"I'm a horseman, and that's what she's learning to be, a real horseman," said King, who is the son of a horse farm owner and also rode at Devon as a child. "Not just a rider. Not just a trainer."

King studied his daughter, seated beside him on the couch in the living room overlooking their 12 acres. She is slender and freckled, a reflection of her father's strawberry blond coloring, and particularly poised for a high school freshman. Loud braying broke the quiet as the miniature donkey, Donkin' Doughnut, demanded to eat.

"They all need something," King said of the animals. "I study them. To really be at the top of your sport, you really need to know your horse."

Gillian, who attends Great Valley High School, counts Cookie as her best friend.

"The horses, they define me," she said. "They are who I am."

That would be tough to dispute. In addition to her father's roots in local horse country, her mother, Susie Beale, hails from prominent horse people in Scotland. Beale, a professional event rider, runs Cairn O' Mount Stables in Phoenixville.

Gillian's grandfather Jeremy Beale is accomplished at dressage, and her late grandmother, for whom she is named, rode on the British Event Team.

"I want to be a professional," Gillian said. "I want to go to college, then have my own barn."

She also aims to ride in the Olympics, and last year got a bittersweet taste of top-tier competition when she rode Kildonan Tug.

The thoroughbred had been bound for the 2004 Olympics in Athens when injury sidelined him. A year ago, Tug's trainer offered him to Gillian. She competed through the 2006 event season, and won a preliminary division at the Radnor Hunt International Three-Day Event and Horse Trials, comprising dressage, cross-country and show-jumping.

Then Tug fell in November while the pair competed at the Virginia Horse Trials in Lexington, and had to be put down.

"I want to go more than ever because I want to stand on that podium with a gold medal around my neck," Gillian said of her Olympic dream, emotion slipping into her voice. "I can say that . . . gold medal is because of him. . . . He was just such an unbelievable horse."

Gillian and her father described Tug as a difficult ride. King gave his daughter credit for the team's short-lived success.

"Gillian is an amazing rider," he said. "She's polished, and her style is unbelievable."

Father and daughter plan to enter the Parent-Child class at Devon, as they have for several years. "Finally, we won last year," Gillian said.

Then Gillian will ride with her grandfather and mother in the Family Class, and in the Hunt Team Class with her father and his sister, Debbie King of Atglen. All of those classes are Saturday night.

The father will ride for the first time in the Open Jumpers, on May 29. The Pony Jumper classes are Saturday and next Sunday.

"Devon is the show that I look forward to every year," Gillian said. "Devon is such a fun show."

"The largest outdoor horse show in the world," Doug King said, stretching to convey the significance of the 11-day competition "in our backyard." "Country," his daughter corrected.

But no denying that this event is on par with the Mummers Parade - and at least one pony is showing up in golden shoes.

A Mini-Guide to the Devon Show

When: The Devon Horse Show and County Fair opens Thursday and runs through Sunday, June 3. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily except Sunday, which is 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Where: Route 30 and Dorset Rd., Devon.

What it costs: General admission is $7 for adults, $3 for children under 12 and $5 for senior citizens over 65. Reserved seating is available.

Tickets: For ticket information, call 610-688-2554 Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the ticket office at the show.

For more information: Go to Parking: Limited parking available in a lot at Rte. 30 & Dorset. Price hasn't been set yet, but it will be at least $10 per vehicle. Several nearby business and residents rent parking spots on their properties at varying rates. On weekends, parking is free at the Devon SEPTA station across from the show grounds. Capacity is limited.

Getting there: If you live near SEPTA's R5 line, that's probably the most painless way of going to the show.

Some highlights of the show's schedule:

Thursday: Opening day features Hunter Pony Breeding Classes and Equitation.

Friday: Daytime session features Pony Hunter, Equitation and Junior Hunters. Evening session features a Junior Jumper Class and Barrel Racing/Pony Jumper Relay.

Saturday: The Junior Jumper Championship followed by the Horse Hunt Teams and Family Class highlight the evening program.

Next Sunday: The Antique Carriage Pleasure Drive, showing restored vehicles, arrives at the Show grounds about 2:00 P.M. A Jumper Class will highlight the evening session as well as Dressage Musical Kur.

Monday, May 28: Memorial Day presents classes from each division. In the morning, new Young Jumper classes will be featured. The afternoon session features an Open Jumper Class and a Scurry Driving Class in which pairs of horses (hitched to four-wheeled vehicles) race through an obstacle course. The evening performance features Adult Jumpers, Coaching as well as Pair Pony Driving.

Tuesday, May 29: Classes are varied and range from Hunters to Driving Horses and a continuation of the Young Jumper classes. The evening has Open Jumpers, Coaching, the annual Police Competition and a Border Collie Herding Demonstration.

Wednesday, May 30: Morning session features Regular, Green Conformation and Green Hunter Stakes and Championship classes. Ladies Side Saddle opens the afternoon session. Evening session features Coaching competition, Open Jumpers, a variety of driving and gaited classes as well as a Border Collie Herding Demonstration.

Thursday, May 31: Breeding classes both morning and afternoon. The Devon Grand Prix in the evening offers $75,000 in prize monies. The finest jumping horses and riders compete in this event. Evening also features a Border Collie Herding Demonstration.

Friday, June 1: Championships of various divisions are awarded throughout the day – Hackney Pony, Coaching, American Saddlebred, Friesian and Fine Harness. Evening session features Carriage Racing and the final class will feature Open Jumper-Gamblers' Choice.

Saturday, June 2: Local and Amateur/ Owner Hunters, Roadsters, Single Hackneys and American Saddlebred competitions are featured. The evening session includes a $50,000 Open Jumper Stake, the Leading Open Jumper Rider Award and Carriage Racing.

Sunday, June 3: Local Hunter classes highlight the final day.