After more than 20 years, the Washington International Horse Show, one of the biggest horse shows in North America, is set to return to Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
There are centuries worth of equestrian tradition in Prince George’s County, and even if there’s not as much farmland as there once was, the county is still home to big competitions and a number of competitors.
Starting this weekend, one of the biggest competitions on the continent is finally coming back to the county. The last time the Washington International Horse Show was held in Prince George’s County, it took place at the old Capitol Centre (known at the time as U.S. Air Arena). After that, it moved to what’s now known as Capital One Arena.
Here are the details on this year’s show.
When: Oct. 24 to Oct. 30
Where: The Show Place Arena, Prince George’s Equestrian Center, 14900 Pennsylvania Ave., Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Tickets: Available online
For those in the horse show industry, this event is on par with the Super Bowl or even the Olympics, since international competitors will be present, as will the U.S. Olympic team that competed in Tokyo in 2020.
“Prince George’s County is also horse country,” said county executive Angela Alsobrooks.
This event in particular is “now recognized as the only World Cup qualifying 5-star event in the nation.”
“It’s a big step for us to become a five star,” said Mary Helen Shaughnessy, the show’s executive director. “What that means is that it’s essentially the pinnacle of the show jumping equestrian sport. With that, I think we’re really excited to showcase our riders in front of this county crowd.”
In recent years, this event has had about an $11 million impact economically on the region. Shaughnessy said the crowds have been more electric and enjoyable to participants too, offering an atmosphere that’s not all that usual for these kinds of events.
“It’s tough to equate it to anything horse-related, because I do think that when you’re in there and watching competition at this level, even when it’s a kid on a pony or an Olympian, it’s the atmosphere and feeling of a hockey game or a basketball game or something where it’s really electric,” she said.
“There’s a mixture of beauty and style that’s combined with just the thrill of ‘can they clear the fence,’ and ‘can they go fast?’ It’s a great way to sort of marry the interest in the actual equine itself and sport.”
It is also touting itself as a very family-friendly event, with kids allowed in for free for daytime events and special “kids day” activities offering hands-on experiences, like the chance to smooch, ride and groom ponies.
“All kinds of different opportunities to see horses great and small, (to learn) what it means to be around ponies and also what it means to be a rider,” said Shaughnessy.
“This special homecoming will also create cultural waves across the county,” said Alsobrooks.
More than that, she touted the impact horses can have on children.
“It’s the kind of thing that can really stay with our kids for the rest of their lives,” said Alsobrooks. “This is a way to positively engage our children in a sport that they will not only enjoy but get really great benefits from.
“Kids are drawn to animals,” she added.
There’s also excitement that the event will put the county back on the map in the horse industry (not that it ever really left).
“I think it exposes what’s really not a secret,” said Robyn Jackson of Croom, Maryland. She and her five children are all heavily involved in the horse industry. “If you have not had that upbringing, I think this event really exposes just how rich the horse culture is in this area.
“To have this in our back yard is just a wonderful, wonderful thing,” she added. But don’t tell her that it’s also a reminder of the kind of tradition that the county used to have.
“I know how rich horses are in this area,” said Jackson. “I welcome the exposure. The horses are here. Competitors are here. I’m just really happy that the word is getting out but it’s not new.”