Longtime Devon Horse Show managers Peter Doubleday and David Distler have announced their retirement from the show amid conflicts with the show’s administration.
“We were denied the communication and opinions that we had to offer to make it better in our mind,” Doubleday said. “They didn’t seem to want to hear about it.
“We felt that we weren’t all on the same team, which we thought we were on the same team in producing and planning this horse show,” he continued. “There was no incentive for us as managers to go above and beyond the call of duty.”
Distler said he and Doubleday—who each have been with the show for nearly half a century—started discussing the possibility of retiring from Devon during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) this year, and they sent in letters of resignation on Monday, June 6, the day after the 2022 edition of the show ended.
“[There were certain] things we did to make the show work,” Distler said. “Some of the responsibilities were taken away and given to other people that we ended up having to fix.”
Doubleday has been with the Devon, Pennsylvania, horse show for 46 years. He started announcing in the mid ’70s and joined Distler in managing the show in 1987. He said his knowledge of the Saddlebreds and coaching worlds was instrumental to managing the show, in addition to his background in the hunters and jumpers.
Distler rode at the show twice as a junior and has been involved in a professional capacity for 49 years.
“In 1985 Honey Craven asked me to be his assistant manager,” said Distler, who took over managing the show the next year. “He asked me to pick my assistant manager, and I picked Peter, and then I decided Peter and I should be co-managers.”
Doubleday and Distler described their work as a year-round endeavor, beginning with hiring hunter officials two years out, winters spent ordering ribbons and coolers, writing 60-plus contracts, filling out applications with the U.S. Equestrian Federation, working out the schedule, putting together the prize list and many other tasks.
“For instance, after junior weekend we turned over 700 stalls [in one day] for the second week, which included the pro hunter divisions, [Fédération Equestre Internationale jumping] and saddlebreds,” Doubleday said. “[We tried] to keep that all coordinated, hiring really good staff from officials to starters to stewards to ringmasters to everything, and basically putting it all together. It was a yearlong planning process.”
Doubleday said that whoever takes over managing Devon will have plenty on their plate.
“Dealing with the administration will be a huge challenge,” he said. “The other big challenge will be it will be very difficult to find someone who is well-versed in all the things that are offered there. I’d hate to see this turn into a hunter/jumper show, but it could very well [happen].”
He added that entries were down in the non-hunter/jumper part of the show, as well as in the open hunter divisions.
“In 2019, we had one of our best shows ever, before we took two years off,” he said. “The Saddlebreds were huge, [as were the] hackneys and the coaching. It was three years before they came back. In that time they went and did other things, so we’re not on their map anymore. That is going to be a huge building process, if that’s where they want to go.”
Doubleday, Southern Pines, North Carolina, was quick to point out that he’s not retiring from his other responsibilities. He’ll still be managing the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (Ontario) for its upcoming 100th anniversary, and he has a busy calendar of announcing and FEI judging.
Distler still has managing responsibilities at the Washington International Horse Show (Maryland) and the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East (New Jersey), and judging responsibilities at shows like the Agria FEI World Jumping Championships (Denmark) and the Longines Global Champions Tour of London.
Devon was the first show Distler, Wellington, Florida, ever managed, and the show acted as a springboard to future management jobs at the National Horse Show, the Winter Equestrian Festival and others.
“[Retiring from Devon] was probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, and for Peter too, I’m sure,” Distler said. “But it was something that had to be done. When it stops being fun, then you need to move on.
“I stood at the in-gate during the grand prix, which is what I usually do. When the first horse walked in the ring, I didn’t even realize it, but I was crying,” he continued. “I’m going to miss it. Forty-nine years is a long time to give your life to. This year was the 125th year, and I hope we have another 125 left. I wish them all the best. I want Devon to succeed even without us.”
This isn’t the first shake-up in the heritage show’s history. At the end of 2014, then-board president Sarah Coxe Lange and chairman Henry Lafayette Collins III were ousted during an emergency board meeting—a decision Doubleday said at the time he did not support. Wayne Grafton subsequently was elected chairman of the board after Lange’s removal.
A phone call and email to Grafton, who currently serves as CEO and chair of the Devon Horse Show, was not returned by press time.