Horse Show's Close May Be the End of Its Tenure in D.C.

By Ryan Mink
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 30, 2006

The Washington International Horse Show's six-day stay in Verizon Center officially came to an end yesterday and its 48-year tenure in Washington could be over as well.

The show, which was in the final year of a five-year contract with Verizon Center, has struggled financially and faces a change in the date of next year's show. In addition, hosting a show in the middle of the city is becoming increasingly difficult.

All of those factors have led the WIHS board of directors to begin negotiations with about 10 other area venues, with the 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore as the most viable option.

"My heart and soul is in this, and I'm going to do everything in my power to keep this going," said Jorge Carnicero, the WIHS executive board chairman. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

In 30 to 60 days, once the bills come and earnings are counted, Carnicero will see if the WIHS breaks even. If it does, he said he believes the committee will have enough money to stay in the expensive Verizon Center. But Carnicero said that he feels lucky each year if the show offsets its costs.

"From the perspective of the horse show, it was a tremendous success," Executive Director Susie Webb said. "Financially, we're not sure about that yet."

The board of directors must pick a venue quickly because others are being booked. They are looking to secure something by week's end.

Carnicero said that in the past they have usually had sponsors, many of whom request anonymity, who pay the difference. This year, he said, the show hasn't had as many contributions as in the past.

Another problem is that the United States Equestrian Federation is pushing the season back a week. But the Wizards kick off their home schedule at the start of November. So before signing a contract, the board of directors must first settle with the USEF on a date.

The city's growth around Verizon Center has also made shutting down two busy streets to construct necessary temporary stables increasingly complicated. The WIHS must go through many government agencies, including the police and transportation authority. Verizon Center isn't large enough to house all of the horses so they are brought in from Prince George's Equestrian Center for two-day intervals as their events approach.

Owners and riders complain that they can't prepare their horses as well in the limited space and that some of their horses must stay outside in the cold.

"It's horrifically inconvenient," said Don Stewart, who owned four horses and trained 20 at the event. "I'd be interested in seeing what Baltimore is like."

But the current venue also attracts many with its downtown location, prestige and history. The WIHS began in the D.C. Armory in 1958, moved to the U.S. Airways Arena in 1972 and to Verizon Center in 2000. It is the only big-city horse show left on the fall circuit after the National Horse Show left Madison Square Garden in 2000 because of financial problems.

"They had some of the same problems we do and they're not here anymore," show manager Hugh Kincannon said.

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