Rumors ran amok at this year’s Washington International Horse Show (p. 8) regarding the viability of the show. Will it survive the date rotation situation and be able to accrue the Verizon Center dates needed for next year and beyond? Will city leaders allow the streets to be shut down again for stabling despite the complaints of area merchants who say that closing the streets compromises their businesses? Are this year’s receipts and contributions enough for the show to remain in the black?
Evidently, the buzz was viable enough that the day after the show concluded on Oct. 30, The Washington Post published an article titled, “Horse Show’s Close May Be The End Of Its Tenure In D.C.” The article brought the many rumors into the limelight, and horse show fans in the D.C. area took notice that their fixture show just might be in trouble.
At the heart of the problem is next year’s date. With the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s rotation situation, the 2007 WIHS was scheduled to overlap with the opening weekend of the NBA season and the Washington Wizards first home game. “We’re still working to resolve the problem, but we’re making progress and I’m optimistic,” said WIHS Executive Director Susie Webb.
Even before this year’s show commenced, the WIHS Board of Directors began discussing alternative venues for the future. One that’s under consideration is the 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore. One board member said this was their top choice because of the expansive parking lot that could be used for stabling and a warm-up area, in addition to the close proximity to the Inner Harbor, a popular tourist and entertainment attraction. It’s possible that more horsemen could be drawn to this location for its horse-friendly atmosphere, and spectators for its destination location.
But it’s certainly with reservations that the WIHS Board is considering any major venue change for the future. “Our intention is to stay at the Verizon Center for at least the next two years,” said Webb. “In 2008 it’s the show’s 50th anniversary, and we’re already gearing up for a very special show.”
Although the WIHS is seen as a city tradition, the show has survived venue changes throughout its history. The show began at the D.C. Armory in 1948, then was relocated to the Capital Centre (renamed the U.S. Air Arena) in 1972. When the show moved from downtown to the suburbs of Maryland, there was fear that the core group of spectators wouldn’t follow the show to Prince Georges County. That wasn’t the case, however. Both fans and horsemen enjoyed this venue, which despite its placement on the often-congested Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), was well-attended, and horsemen truly vied to qualify their horses.
It’s no secret the traditional fall indoor shows have been on the endangered species list for years, and, sadly, the National Horse Show at New York’s Madison Square Garden is now extinct. With Washington’s move back to the nation’s capital in 2000, the show’s leaders hoped the relocation would be for the best. Unfortunately, times have changed, and it’s hard for big-city horse shows to survive when so many other options for entertainment exist.
On the bright side, Friday night’s attendance set an all-time record, and Webb said she felt a difference in the show’s atmosphere. “The support we had was great,” she said. “Hopefully, this is a trend. [This indoor show] is special, and we need to work together to maintain it so it doesn’t go away. I hope people didn’t think this was our last year because we’re going to rally to keep it here.”