Equestrian lovers should take note that the oldest horse show in the country, the 146th Upperville Colt and Horse Show, takes place this week. The show started Monday and runs through Sunday, with the show's grand finale the $50,000 Jumper Classic.
The Jumper Classic is always an exciting event to watch, with the colorful jumps and finely tuned animals. But across the street from the grand prix ring, underneath the oak trees, there is a different kind of class to observe. The breeding classes, in which lines of horses and ponies of different ages parade in hand for the judges, begin at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Local horseman Steve Timko has become an expert at showing horses on the line. He describes the breeding divisions as a beauty pageant for equines; the judges are looking for the best overall conformation, quality, substance and suitability of the animals to become or produce hunters. Four to eight horses or ponies usually participate in each highly competitive class. The breeding divisions do not require any qualifying trials, and everyone who believes that he or she has an outstandingly correct animal can enter that equine in the division.
Three divisions make up the breeding section of the show -- thoroughbred, non-thoroughbred and pony. Each section has different classes, including those for broodmares, foals, yearlings, 2- and 3-year-olds. At the end of every division, the winners of each class are judged against one another to find an overall best young horse or pony champion.
The broodmare classes require the horses to stand for the judges, then walk in a straight line. The other classes require the animals to stand, walk and jog for the judges, and good behavior is taken into account. Most of the foals have never been off the farms where they were born, so confusion and chaos are often part of the show. The young horses get excited, and handlers desperately hold on to the end of the reins.
"The problem is, you can practice all you want at home, but you get to the show, and there are all the people, other horses and noise -- there is no way to prepare the youngsters for that," Timko said.
Individual judges have their own opinions of conformation qualities and problems. There is no such thing as the perfect beast, and the horses that won at the prestigious Devon horse show in Pennsylvania last week might not necessarily do as well at Upperville. Personal taste makes the breeding classes highly subjective, adding even more suspense to the outcome.
The pony division has two distinct classes for the "get," or offspring, of a particular mare or stallion. In these classes, two ponies of any age or sex, born of the same mare or by the same stallion, compete against other such pairings.
The handlers in the breeding classes are nearly as important to the competition as the conformation of the horses. A smart outfit that includes ties and jackets for men and skirts for women adds to the overall picture. The handler is responsible for standing the horse squarely, enticing the proper head and neck carriage with ears pricked forward, and staying out of the way.
"A good handler is aware of their horse or pony, but also keeps an eye on the judge so as not to block the view of the animal," Timko said.
The Upperville Colt and Horse Show is a spectator and competitor friendly show, especially for local horse owners and lovers. The breeding divisions are a peaceful beginning to an exciting day of showing Sunday. The events begin at 8 a.m. and end with the Jumper Classic at 2:30 p.m.
CAPTION: Horse Show Continues Record Stretch: Considered the oldest horse competition in the country, beginning in 1853, the week-long Upperville Colt and Horse Show will culminate Sunday with the Pedigree Country Fair -- featuring demonstrations, craft vendors and pony rides -- and the $50,000 Budweiser-Upperville Jumper Classic. Show President Kathy Doyle-Newman, above, runs Confederate Hall through his paces. Lindfort, 10, below, stands in one of the tent stalls set up for the hundreds of visiting horses.