The Devon Horse show is the oldest and largest show in the country. It’s an 11-day event which begins the last Thursday of May. The first DHS was held in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1919 that the County Fair was added. Together they have donated over $47 million to the Bryn Mawr Hospital. Every spring, over 100,000 people attend the show and 2,000 people volunteer to work. Unfortunately, there is a plan underway that will effect the show grounds by developing an adjoining parcel of land. How ironic that by building a town center they will be losing the identity of the community.
The first time I went to Devon was in the early 1970’s. It was the one day a year my Mom let me play hooky while we enjoyed a mother/daughter day. George Morris, Rodney Jenkins, Bernie Traurig, Conrad Holmfeld, Katie Monahan, Norman Della Joio, Michael Matz. Joe Fargis and Buddy Brown (a personal favorite), were the people to study*. Mom wasn’t a rider, but she had a good eye. The years she spent watching my lessons must have paid off because she could pick the top three horses out of a large class. We enjoyed the in-hand classes, shaky tails (slang for 3 and 5 gaited horses. No disrespect intended), ladies side saddle and whatever was scheduled on our day. Where Mom enjoyed watching the four in-hand carriage horses, I loved the hunters. We both, however, looked forward to the Grand Prix jumpers. Back in the day, it was Rodney Jenkins and Idle Dice that captivated the crowds.
This year I went to see a junior rider from our barn make her Devon debut. It was cold, threatened rain (it always rains at Devon and I had to wear layers to keep warm). The following Thursday, the weather was the polar opposite (pun intended). 91 degrees, thick humidity and yes, it rained too. Attending the show this year came with mixed emotions. Mom had passed in April and my mind was flooded with memories. As I looked around, I was comforted by the familiarity, but disturbed by the scuttlebutt that has been swirling behind the scenes these last few years. It wasn’t the weather that dampened my mood, but the current events.
Last December, when the DHS management changed, it’s no secret that the there was a hostile takeover. What else could it be when there was an emergency vote three days before Christmas to oust the recently voted in president and chairman? For years, there has been animosity between the Country Fair vs. the horse people. Obviously, the new management wants to take the show in a different direction (the County Fair). My guess is people have been swayed because bigger money is to be had and the changes don’t have much to do with preserving the DHS.
Just because Wade McDevitt’s great grand father was one of the the shows founders does not mean that he has any loyalty towards the show. In 2013, he made his intentions known when he proposed a retail development with Urban Outfitters on the adjoining property to the horse show and to lease DHS property to the company. His wife Wendy just happens to be President of Terrain which is part of URNB Inc. His brother in-law just happens to be co-founder of Urban outfitters and McDevitt just happens to sit on the DHS board? This can’t be just mere coincidence. Even though McDevitt has since resigned as horse show President and says the DHS will not be effected by this development project, I don’t believe he has walked away. Dig a little and you will see that this project is not dead in the water. Becuse McDevitt is a commercial real estate developer, it is not a leap in logic to think he has more interest in development than he does the horse show. He probably thinks we are all rubes.
It’s my opinion that the DHS is systematically being dismantled right before our eyes. Was there a back door deal made to remove all the horse people and have the county fair “run the show”. (This alone should irk the horse community.) Why would the DHS want to halt the process for obtaining an historical marker? Is it because it would make development more difficult? Why would the DHS take out a loan in municipal bonds and then give money to the hospital? Who gives away money they don’t have? Is the new management trying to bankrupt the show and then let URNB. Inc. come in and save the day, you know, for the community’s sake? My guess is the land is worth more than the show, at least it is to those that will financially benefit. In April, 2015, Urban Outfitters and Anthropology Inc. presented their plans for development but without the half-acre from the DHS.
The developers tipped their hand by expressing interest in a half-acre that the show grounds owns. They could have gone ahead with this development while bankrupting the DHS and then no one would have seen this coming. Reminds me of the Joni Mitchel song Yellow Taxi, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. If the DHS is financially weakened, then it will become easy pickings for URNB and the landscape of the Main Line will be forever altered. All I know is that when big money is involved, it isn’t what they say, but what they do. The warning signs are there. Just because they aren’t walking through the front door, doesn’t mean there isn’t access in the back. As the development proceeds, then it’s only a matter of time before the historic Devon Horse show will be history. When this happens, it can be said “there goes the neighborhood”.
* this list of professionals is woefully incomplete. These are just who I remember off the top of my head.
Go to this FB page if you want to see more photos that have been taken over the years.
Finally, the horse community needs to step up. Don’t just stand there and watch. As we lose the big shows, it will effect your business as it is one less place to take your customers. Riders, for you it isn’t just a loss of opportunity, but of a memory that you competed against the countries best.