Step Class
Dressage at Devon celebrates 40 years of bringing the finest in equestrian competition to the Main Line
by Leigh Stuart

Dressage at Devon ( has been among the premier dressage shows in the country since 1975. This year’s 40th anniversary show, which will take place September 29 through October 4, is set to live up to the event’s grand heritage.

“Anyone will tell you, the atmosphere at Devon is electric,” says Lori Kaminski, president and CEO of Dressage at Devon.

Held at the Devon Horse Show Grounds in Devon since 1975, Dressage at Devon comprises a mix of breed and performance division competitions, as well as exhibitions and a fall festival. In terms of grandness, the event’s heritage is matched only by its scale. The grandstands at Devon—including the boxes, most of which are sold in legacy fashion—seat nearly 5,000. Along with this sizable number of spectators, there are a great many competitors.

“We’ve had as many as 450 breed show horses and another 300 on top of that,” Kaminski says, noting this year’s show will likely feature approximately 300 breed horses and 250 performing horses staying in a selection of the Horse Show Grounds’ 900 barn stalls.

As a Concours de Dressage International (CDI) event, Dressage at Devon is a competition recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), which is the body that governs international dressage competition and composes and updates tests for the highest levels of competition—above what’s known as the “fourth level.” This includes competitions such as the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics.

“In the performance division … horses four, five and six years old can compete in the ‘young horse’ tests,” Kaminski explains. “Horses must be at least six years old to compete above fourth level and at least seven years old to compete at Grand Prix—the highest level.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, dressage is considered by many to be the apex of horsemanship and comes from a centuries-old practice rooted in the relationship between horse and rider.

The essence of dressage is in choreography and the horse and rider’s ability to perform a series of predetermined movements, all in an effort to showcase their athleticism and grace. “It’s more of a dance-partner relationship,” Kaminski says of the interaction between horse and rider. “You are working with a piece of equipment that has a mind of its own, so the relationship is give and take.”

Dressage is scored much like figure skating, Kaminski explains, in that each test features a number of different movements, with each movement scored on a scale from one to 10. “Some tests might have 300 points in them, if there are roughly 30 movements,” she says. The score and total possible points are then converted into a percentage, and horses and riders are ranked accordingly.

Dressage at Devon uses FEI judges designated three stars or higher. Additionally, Kaminski notes, “Judges have gone through years of training and are all former riders, for the most part, that have shown in most cases at the level they’re judging.”

The events of Dressage at Devon also include the world’s largest open-breed show. The Breed Division competitions judge and award prizes based upon criteria such as each animal’s appearance and athleticism.

“Competition-wise, spectators to the breed division will see the largest assembly of young horses showing in an open-breed competition in the world,” Kaminski says. “It would be a wonderful place to shop for a young horse if one is in the market for a future performance horse. Breed-division horses can be foals of the current year all the way to aged mares and stallions. Our largest classes are the foals through 3-year-olds. The animals are in hand and show around a triangle at the walk and trot and are stood for conformation judging.”

Of particular note, these horses and riders are competing for more than honor—the total prize purse for the various competitions is $55,000: $9,000 in the breed division; $6,000 for the young-horse and fourth-level tests; and, in honor of the event’s 40th anniversary, $40,000 for the CDI (Prix St. George through Grand Prix), with a GP Freestyle purse of $15,000.

Also in the lineup of events will be exhibitions and a fall festival. A series of performances by the Illinois-based Tempel Lipizzans will offer visitors quite the spectacle. The Lipizzan, which is considered Europe’s oldest breed of domestic horse, has a regal heritage. This prized breed is particularly strong, with a muscular build that is particularly well suited for performing “airs,” which are poses struck by horses while in the air, mid-jump.

The fall festival portion of Dressage at Devon will offer fun for the whole family. The collection of 90 festival vendors includes, as one would expect, a variety of shops for tack and saddlery, equine pharmaceuticals, pet foods and animal-friendly products. There will also be a great selection of wares for riders and fans, with vendors offering boots and apparel, textiles, ceramics, goods for the home and more, as well as indoor and outdoor dining options.

Photograph courtesy of Dressage at Devon