Horses stride majestically around Capital Centre's dirt laden arena, coats shining and braided tails swinging with the rhythm of their hooves. The riders are dressed in the traditional top hats and tails as they guide the horses carefully around the ring, all hoping to win the Women's Hunter Hack Competition at the Washington International Horse Show.
The soft organ music changes as the horses change direction and stride. As the horses switch from a canter to a gallop, a funky new beat, "What a Feeling," the theme from the movie "Flashdance," sounds.
This is one example of what horse show officials say is a movement in this sport to make the event more appealing to the general public. The way to do that, they feel, is by changing some of the traditions that bind the sport to the upper class.
"We are trying to convince the public that it is a sporting event, not a show or group of elite people competing among themselves," said John Ammerman, manager of the horse show and an equestrian judge at this summer's Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Julian B. Heron Jr., president of the show, asked horse owners attending the event as spectators not to wear the traditional formal wear.
"You don't wear a black tie to a Redskin game," said Heron.
Ammerman agreed, "You don't go to any other sporting event in a coat and tie except for this one."
Still, there were a few spectators in tuxedos and formal gowns at Wednesday's "Hunt Night" competition. But most were casual, and there were even blue jeans and cowboy hats.
"I'd estimate that three-fourths of our crowd on Monday and Tuesday night were children," Heron said. He estimated that about 4,000 more tickets were sold for the first two nights this year than last.
To add entertainment to an otherwise confusing event, the show is asking riders to wear Halloween costumes during Saturday night's Pair's Relay competition. They will give $750 each for the best costumes for men and women as well as a $500 prize for the best overall show based on a skit the riders will perform before they start their timed relay.
The ring is still full of equestrian traditions. Riders are required to wear top hat and tails. Even the field photographer sports a tuxedo. And the red carpet is literally rolled out for the presentation of awards.
On Wednesday night, about half the arena was full and although there was not wild excitement, the crowd did erupt during flawless jumps and as gold medalists from the U.S. Olympic jumping team entered the field.
Most of the spectators that night were there to cheer on local hunter teams.
"Horse show people love gold," said jewelry dealer Peggy Kline, one of the many vendors at the show. "We do fabulous business at horse shows."
For the people and animals on the horse show circuit, home this week is the Capital Centre parking lot. On one side of the parking lot, 810 stalls have been set up for the horses. Scores of campers are parked near the stalls.
"These horses are athletes," says Dorothy Campbell, 26, of Michigan, as she exercises Rock of Steel, a white thoroughbred, "and they are pampered."