The Washington International Horse Show begins Tuesday and runs through Sunday at Verizon Center. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Robert Ridland saw two NASA jets conduct training flights almost a quarter-mile above his Los Angeles home this summer, so he finds it a little hard to be awestruck by something as relatively modest as a horse strutting into the Verizon Center.

This is, after all, his fifth year co-managing the week-long 54th annual Washington International Horse Show. There are also other, more important things Ridland has to consider, like whether the venue’s sand-based “footing” makes for an equine sinkhole.

“It’s always nice to see that first horse come in there, which we did do, and make sure that they’re not sinking a foot into it and can ride,” Ridland said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon, laughing in a rare moment of freedom before the show begins Tuesday. “That’s always nice.”

With F Street between Fifth and Seventh, and Sixth Street between F and G closed this week to house temporary stalls for horses, Ridland will help welcome a handful of Olympian equestrians, more than 500 horses and an estimated 20,000 spectators for a show he said ranks as “the strongest we’ve seen in years.”

Saturday night’s $100,000 President’s Cup Grand Prix and Friday night’s $25,000 Puissance high-jump competition highlight the jam-packed slate, which features professional riders competing in two disciplines — show jumping and hunter — and juniors in three — an additional equitation field.

Olympic gold medal winners Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward are set to compete in the Grand Prix, a qualifier for the 2013 FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final in Gothenburg, Sweden. Also competing is Reed Kessler, who at age 18 this summer became the youngest-ever Olympic showjumper in United States history.

“It’s as strong a group of riders we’ve had in years,” Ridland said. “It really is the best.”

Show jumping, which tests a horse and rider’s ability to clear a number of tall jumps in a timed course, differs slightly from show hunter, which judges a horse’s movement, grace and ease in jumping.

Equitation, meanwhile, evaluates a rider’s ability to correctly manage a horse and negotiate a course.

Note: The Washington International Horse Show runs Tuesday through Sunday. The events are open to the public, and children 12 and under get in free for daytime performances before 5 p.m. Daytime tickets for adults are $15. In the evening, tickets are $20 except for Friday and Saturday, when tickets are $40. Evening tickets for kids are $10 except for Friday and Saturday, when tickets are $20. Tickets are available at, the Verizon Center box office or charge by phone at 800-745-3000. Full ticket information can be found at

For those who wish to watch the competition online, the show’s Web site features free, live streaming of the event.