By T. Rees Shapiro
The streets of Washington near Verizon Center echo with the usual din of the city — the honks of bus horns and the squeals of car brakes. For a few days this week, there will also be the occasional whinny.
The Washington International Horse Show begins its 53rd year of events today at the downtown arena, and about 500 horses are expected to perform in the competition, show officials said. More than $350,000 in purses will be given to the top riders.
Early Monday morning, dump trucks piled about 1,300 tons of “footing,” a sand mixture, onto the Verizon Center floor, show manager David Distler said in an interview.
Distler, who is now in his fourth year as show manager, first worked at Washington in the early 1970s as a member of the jump crew. Although Distler grew up riding horses in Westchester County, N.Y., his family has an enduring connection to Washington. Distler’s grandfather, Walter Distler, served as an executive with the George A. Fuller construction company that built the Lincoln Memorial.
Distler said F Street between Fifth and Seventh, and Sixth Street between F and G will be closed for the week to house temporary stalls for horses.
There will be two disciplines of horseback riding on display during this week’s show, which ends on Sunday.
In Hunter classes, riders and their mounts are judged on their poise and precision over a series of fences that are designed to mimic the obstacles found while fox hunting.
Jumper classes test the horse and rider’s physical stamina and speed over a course with taller jumps, including some almost five feet high.
The highlights of this week’s competition are Friday night’s $25,000 Puissance class and Saturday night’s $100,000 President’s Cup grand prix.
Puissance, which is French for power, is high jump for horses. The American indoor record was set in Washington in 1983 by Anthony D’ Ambrosio and his gray thoroughbred, Sweet ’N’ Low, who cleared a 7-foot 71 / 2-inch vertical wall.
The President’s Cup is considered a premier jumping event on the horse show calendar. Many top riders will not compete in the class, however, because this week’s competition coincides with the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Among those who will be missing this week include U.S. equestrian team member McLain Ward, who won last year’s President’s Cup; Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa, a gold medal Olympian; and Pablo Barrios, a Venezuelan rider who won last year’s Puissance class.
Note: The Washington International Horse Show is open to the public; children 12 and under receive free admission during the day. Daytime events generally end around 5 p.m. Children’s tickets are $10 in the evening, except for Friday and Saturday nights when tickets are $20. Adults tickets are $15 during the day and $20 in the evening, except for Friday and Saturday nights, when admission is $40.
For those who wish to watch the events remotely, the show’s Web site will feature more than 70 hours of live-streaming video.