Thursday, Jun. 6, 2024

I Survived Devon Leadline—And Went Back For More

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Last year, I wrote an angst-ridden blog about dragging our aged pony from our backyard to the leadline class at the Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania). I survived by the skin of my teeth and learned a few hacks along the way, which I applied to my second trip around the Dixon Oval this year and will now share with you: 

Hack No. 1: Convince your child that Devon leadline is canceled. 

Hack No. 2: Reread Hack No. 1. Don’t be stupid. 

Hack No. 3: If you ignore Hacks No. 1 and 2, at the very least, leave your backyard pony in the backyard. Borrow one instead.

At the end of last year’s extravaganza, I swore to my husband I would “NEVER EVER EVER” do Devon leadline again. I wouldn’t shove my frump-butt into shapewear and put myself on display among the most elite figures in the equestrian world. Getting gussied up to trek around the impressive Dixon Oval pushed me past the stratosphere of my comfort zone. 

So how is this very average mom writing yet again about being a leadline warrior in the same ring as Louise Serio? Let me explain why I’m a hypocrite who subjected herself to what could have been torture for a second time. 

Against her better judgement, blogger Jamie Sindell entered the popular leadline class at The Devon Horse Show (Pa.) with her 4-year-old daughter for the second year in a row, this time borrowing an experienced pony in Royal Slipper to remove some of the preparation stress. Devyn Trethewey/USEF Photo

Last year, my child was a bitty toddler, ignorant to the Devon charm. Let’s face it, doing the class was mostly about me. A year later, I’m in trouble because she’s now older, more aware of her surroundings … and thinks Devon is “the bomb.” 

Over this past year, she hasn’t stopped talking about what she’s coined “The Devon,” even counting down the days like she’s a walking horse show advent calendar.

She’s so obsessed with this historical show that in the grocery store, mid-cereal aisle, she’s stopped strangers: “Did you know I’ve ridden at The Devon?” An addict. 

I contemplated utilizing my brilliant hacks and telling her the leadline class was canceled. There’s a lack of moms motivated to strut their stuff in a whiny-kid-and-pony parade. But my daughter is clever, and I worried she’d eventually use my lies as ammunition against me in therapy. 

What truly sealed the Devon deal this year was when, mid-ride, she halted her pony, pressed her face into mine and whispered: “I love you, Devon Mommy.”  

That night I sent in the entry.

As a veteran, I figured, I would at least be savvier and adhere to Hack No. 3 this year! Instead of transforming our elderly pony into the Cher of leadline, I’d borrow one who was used to being on stage. Though the approach cost more dinero initially, I calculated that the reduced stress would equate to less money spent on Titos.

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This year, however, presented a new hurdle: My youngest daughter, age 3 and with a lackluster commitment to ponies, had nonetheless been indoctrinated by her 4-year-old sister into believing The Devon was a must-do. 

The Devon experience seems to cost as much as a small Bat Mitzvah when you are sending just one kid. What was this guilt-ridden mother do about two wanting to participate?

Ultimately, I settled on an ingenious workaround: I decided to bring the youngest kid along, dress her in show gear, pop her on outside the ring long enough to snap pictures, then praise her profusely and offer high fructose corn syrup-enriched bribes. Shady, but better than a cranky toddler swan diving into the high-quality footing of the Dixon Oval.

Both Sindell’s 3- and 4-year-old daughters wanted to compete in the leadline class this year, but only one actually did. Everyone still enjoyed the experience. Photo Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

As The Devon neared, we practiced. Still, my daughter’s hands were stubborn appendages. We’d begin with short reins and end up sloppily on the buckle while my daughter pondered pressing concerns such as, “Why do you look tired all the time, Mommy?” 

Man, now I had to add Botox to the list of things required for this year’s Devon. 

I wrangled for control over the situation: “Remember, we’re practicing. Shorten up!”

“Mommy, how did you and Daddy make babies?” We were doomed. 

But one of my takeaways from last year is that it’s actually the adults who care most about ribbons. The littles can’t wait to get the class over and then smear themselves with treats. This time around, I didn’t obsess over my kid’s wonky hands. She’d still be a celeb for the day. 

On Devon Leadline Eve, I didn’t have to worry about glamming up a pony because that was covered. Instead, I had ample time to critique myself. I tried on my dress, blinded by the shocking white of my legs. Should I risk a last-minute spray tan, or would I blotch like an unripe peach? I stopped my brain from roiling with self-doubt. I got this! This is for my daughter. 

My daughter didn’t care if I was pasty. She just wanted to relive this special day together. Before bed she screamed: “Tomorrow’s The Dev! I’m so excited!” 

She’d renamed this horse show yet again. I’ll make sure folks at the show update their marketing and provide us with future royalties.

I spent the night compiling my girls’ show outfits, ensuring we were Devon ready. 

Blogger Jamie Sindell and her 4-year-old taking their much-anticipated spin around the Dixon Oval. Photo Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

In a horrifying twist, tragedy struck: A bright pink show bow had disappeared. For over an hour, I scoured the house for any pops of pink. After fruitless searching, my youngest approached: “Rambo ate the bow. I threw it in the garbage.” GREATTTTT. I located a sad pair of back-up of bows that weren’t soaked in dog slobber. 

The morning of The Dev went too smoothly. I made myself presentable and got the kids into the car in clean underwear. We achieved our goal of arriving an hour prior to go time. Killing it! 

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“Hey hon, where’s the box with my hat, the gloves, and backup bows?” I asked my husband, who looked at me like, “At home, duh.” I wilted. He promptly dumped us on the outskirts of the showgrounds and sped home to collect the items. It wouldn’t be Devon if I wasn’t on the verge of a breakdown.

My husband made it back in time to camp out with our gaggle of kids ringside while my daughter and I waited for the pony by the warm-up. Then it dawned on me: I had forgotten to feed any of the children lunch. Miss Dev-obsessed was having a lie down on a dirty bench amidst a blood sugar crash.

Just when I was ready to ditch it all and hit Clydesdale Corner, my dirt-streaked daughter looked up at me: “You look so beautiful.” It didn’t matter that my mascara was blurring into black eyes. My daughter and I were about to do The Dev. Together. 

I took our life in our hands, zigzagging our way through the swarm of younger leadliners exiting the Dixon Oval just in time for a quick saddle change. We tossed my daughter onto the stunning pony Royal Slipper, owned by Ellen Cabot. “You ready, girl?” I asked my nearly comatose child. 

The exhilaration of entering the beautiful ring hadn’t faded with time. As we strutted around, we passed our family. The siblings cheered for their sister, who by that point had rallied and was now grinning at the crowd. 

Amazingly, I felt less imposter-ish than I did last year. This mom fit in, even with her eBay dress and her Amazon hair thingy. My daughter, loopy reins and all, was right where she wanted to be. Sure, we were surrounded by big name trainers hoping for blue ribbon bragging rights, but there were also parents like me, cementing memories with their children.

We exited the ring with a bucket full of goodies and a participation ribbon. 

“Can you put that on her bridle?” My daughter asked, her energy revved. She hopped off, and I stuck on my youngest daughter for her fake debut. We snapped a few pictures of the gleeful littlest sister. Nailed it!

After handing back the pony, my children rode the rides on repeat until they hit the verge of vomiting. I soaked in the bustling show grounds, sitting with my eldest for a moment, ogling the beautiful horses in the junior hunter class. The spectators sitting with me weren’t all avid horse people. There were couples with packed coolers, clapping enthusiastically after each round, and face-painted kids, pointing with delight at seeing a horse jump for the first time.

The Devon experience is one Sindell’s entire family enjoys, and it encompasses not just the ponies but the whole county fair experience. Photo Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

How is it that, in the center of Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs, this sacred space preserving equestrian tradition remains? A place that unites equestrians in different disciplines. A place that immerses non-horsey people in horse culture. A place where a child can fall in love at first sight, eventually begging his parents to take out a home equity loan to buy his move-up horse. A place where memories are made.

What I’ve come to realize is there’s a reason Devon has survived the test of time, drawing enthusiastic crowds back year after year, hooking my little girl on leadline and lemon sticks: Devon is magical. 

We drove home late that afternoon, the kids sticky-happy-tired with a Devon hangover in the car. I scrolled social media and saw the kiddo and I included on US Equestrian in both a picture and a reel. A precious souvenir. “Look!” I showed my daughter, then asked her to share her favorite thing about leadline. 

“It’s half me and half you, Mommy.” 

I’m sold. See you at #thedev2025

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