The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, the tradition-rich event that's been a spring fixture on the Main Line since 1896, might appear to be as decorous and genteel as most of its stately equine competitors. But with hundreds of horses, riders, and owners to mollify, thousands of spectators to serve, an army of volunteers to manage, traditions to maintain, and far too many cars, vans, and trailers to accommodate in its space-challenged Lancaster Avenue setting, the show requires someone with ample horsepower and horse sense to organize things. Peter Doubleday, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., who got the horse-show bug watching and listening as his broadcaster father served as the public-address announcer at many of them, has been managing the Devon show and others for more than two decades. Inquirer staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick spoke with Doubleday about this year's show, which runs through June 5.
Peter Doubleday, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., who got the horse-show bug watching and listening as his broadcaster father served as the public-address announcer at many of them, has been managing the Devon show and others for more than two decades.
Inquirer staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick spoke with Doubleday about this year's show, which runs through June 5.
Question: So, assuming you don't spend all your time mucking out the stables, what's the job description for the manager of a horse show as large and historic as Devon's?
Doubleday: Well, you've got to help organize the event and take care of all the logistics, from getting all the officials lined up, stabling, making sure the footing is in good shape, helping coordinate the grounds with the people who are here all year long. We do a lot of planning with the sponsors. Basically it's all done from afar. I live in North Carolina and I come up here in April for two, three days a week and help get the committee organized, work on the trophies, the motels, the parking lots, and all sorts of things that go along with organizing an event of this stature.
Q: I suspect there have been some unique challenges though the years.
Doubleday: Well, one year we had an overzealous water-truck driver. He turned on the wrong switch as he was watering the showing arena and the jets threw some water up into the stands. It was during a dinner break and a family that had just spent $25 for dinner at the horse show got sprayed. She was obviously all upset and soaking wet, so I had to dip into my pocket and give her her $25 back. I said, "Dinner's on us. I hope you enjoy tonight's show. We're sorry. He didn't mean to do it."
Q: So this is your business? You're a traveling horse-show manager?
Doubleday: Yes, I've been doing this since 1987. I manage this show, the Pennsylvania National in Harrisburg, and the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. I'm also the announcer here and at a lot of these competitions.
Q: What makes Devon different?
Doubleday: First of all, Devon has a permanent facility. The other events use places like hockey arenas that we turn into horse shows. And the history behind this show is just unbelievable. The show grounds here are historic. The biggest challenge we have every year is finding places for people to park their cars and vans and trailers. But other than that, once you're inside it's a great spot.
Q: How has Devon managed to survive since 1896 when so many other horse shows and similar events have not?
Doubleday: It survives because it has such a huge volunteer base. It's such a community effort. And it has permanent show grounds that they've stuck so much money back into. It's a magnificent facility now. I think for this whole community and for all of Philadelphia and actually for all of the horse show world, Devon is an extremely important place to come to watch, to compete, and to enjoy the atmosphere. It's the third-oldest horse show in the country. We maintain traditions here with a lot of nice things - trophies, award presentations, the various ceremonies, the types of competition we offer. We still offer things that are part of the new trend of the horse-show world. So we stay up with the Joneses, but we still maintain all the great traditions here. I think so many people appreciate that.
Q: I think people have a certain view of "the horsey crowd," that they're a breed apart. What's it like dealing with them?
Doubleday: There's a great group of people involved in showing horses. The people that come to Devon are people who travel a circuit. Everybody has a goal in mind, whether it's to become a better rider, win a lot of money, be famous, or become an Olympic star. So they all have goals and aspirations. It's a great family sport, and I get a lot of chances to see a lot of my friends with their kids coming up and be extremely successful. By and large, everybody gets along very well. There are a few who are always trying to get the edge. They try to rattle your chain a little bit. But as the show manager, all you can do is try to be fair and equal to everybody in making decisions.
Q: For those of us who come to Devon but aren't familiar with a world of horses that doesn't involve $2 bets, what should we look for?
Doubleday: The most exciting events and the easiest to understand are all the jump classes. These are horses that jump over very colorful jumps. Style doesn't count. It's just whether or not they get over and whoever is fastest to the finish. It's an easy concept for people to understand. If they have a knockdown, they get a penalty. If they're clear and they're fast, they're going to win the competition. So I think the spectators love that.
Our Grand Prix, on June 2, showcases a lot of Olympic performers. We have a two-time Olympic champion, McLain Ward [who won team-jumping gold medals in Athens and Beijing] coming to defend his title. Another thing I think people enjoy watching are the driving classes with the four-in-hands and the antique coaches. They were the vehicles of yesteryear. They were the station wagons and the buses. It really takes you back. This is such a beautiful setting, and it's elegant.