Every year the Dixon Oval at the Devon Horse Show in Devon, PA fills with some of the cutest riders you have ever seen. In classes that typically top 50 riders, there are only 8 placings up for grabs. Here are some tips that you can try if you are hoping to place in that coveted top 8 in the Devon Horse Show leadline classes!
The Devon Horse Show Leadline Class
Since 1896 the annual Devon Horse Show and Country Fair has been held in Chester County, Pennsylvania with proceeds benefiting Bryn Mawr Hospital. Every year on Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend, spectators from near and far gather to watch the Leadline classes at the Devon Horse Show. The show offers two different leadline classes, and both of them are just about the cutest spectacle you have ever seen. In the same ring that hosts Olympic caliber riders soaring over seemingly impossible jumps, the youngest equestrians parade around on their horses and ponies during the leadline class.
Why is it so popular?
The leadline class(es) at Devon are popular for a few different reasons. First of all, unlike most of the other classes held at Devon, the leadline classes are open to all who meet the age requirements. Other classes at Devon require riders to qualify at other shows during the season for the privilege to show at Devon. Leadline accepts entries from all riders, no matter how many shows they have under their belts or how pedigreed their pony.
It’s adorable. The leadline classes always draw a huge crowd of spectators because it is truly that fun to watch.
Young equestrians are given the opportunity to ride at one of the most famous horse show venues in the world. The main ring at Devon is named the Dixon Oval. The Dixon Oval is considered to be one of the most illustrious, well-known equestrian competition rings in the world. Whether the leadline kids have a short horseback riding career or go on to be lifelong riders, it is a certain point of pride (or bragging right if you will) to say you rode in the Dixon Oval. If you know, you know!
When is it held?
The Devon Horse Show runs annually from Memorial Day Weekend through the first weekend in June. The leadline classes are held on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend in the early afternoon.
Who can enter?
There are 2 leadline classes held at Devon each year. The entry requirements are based on the rider’s age as of December 1st the year prior to the show year. The first leadline class is for riders ages 3 and under. The second leadline class is for 4 and 5 year old riders.
What should you know before you enter the Devon Leadline Class?
If you have ever walked around the show grounds at Devon, you know that this show is pretty elite. During the week at Devon, some of the wealthiest horse owners in the country will show some of the most expensive show horses and ponies in the country. This is about as top tier as it gets. One quick glance around the pristine show stables reveal gorgeous horses that cost more than some peoples’ homes. Hired grooms ensure that their horses are in absolute flawless condition from nose to tail.
Up in the stands are reserved box seating (which have a years-long wait list and cost thousands of dollars each year, in addition to a minimum donation the first year which starts at $10,000). Many spectators in these boxes are dressed in fashionable attire and often bring along coolers with high-end snacks like tea sandwiches, fruit and cheese platters, and bottles of wine.
Why does all of that matter?
Why am I telling you about the horses and spectators that frequent the Devon Horse Show? Because it’s an integral piece to the show’s image and the leadline classes absolutely reflect this image.
Leadline at Devon is the horse show to pull out ALL of the stops. Scrub those ponies until their coats are stain-free and immaculate. Hire a good braider to put precision perfect braids in your pony’s mane and tail. Clean and oil all tack and pay close attention to every and all details to make sure everything is sparkly and show-ring-ready.
The same care and attention should go into the rider’s outfit AND the handler’s outfit. The young equestrian’s attire should fit as perfectly as possible. Their clothing should be clean and stain-free. Girls’ should wear their hair in 2 braids if it is long enough, with matching show bows at the end of each braid. Make sure boots are polished and bring a small towel to the staging area behind the ring entrance for a last second boot wipe before they head into the class.
The judge will be looking for anyone who stands out and perfect presentation carries a lot of weight. More on that below.
How much does leadline at Devon cost?
The entry fee for the leadline class at Devon is far lower than most of the other classes at Devon. In 2022, the total fee for leadline was $110 per class ($50 entry + $60 in additional office fees). You can check out a great breakdown of these entry fees on this form that Devon Horse Show has published.
Of course, that’s just the class fee. The additional expenses can add up quickly for Devon leadline, so be aware of what you might potentially be on the hook for BEFORE you decide to show. Will you need to pay any of the following? If so, factor these costs into your potential total:
- Do you own a pony/horse or will you need to rent one?
- Does your barn charge a trainer fee?
- Trailering fees/gas
- Outfit for rider and handler
Both of our years at Devon cost us between $300-$500/year when all was said and done. A couple of expenses that are not included in that estimate: food and souvenirs bought at Devon and the professional pictures purchased after the show from the photographer.
How to Pin in the Top 8
With only 8 placings and an average of 50 entries, it is extremely hard to pin in the Devon Leadline Class.
Here are my thoughts regarding how to get pinned. Please hear me loud and clear: the opinions that follow are just that – OPINIONS. They are mine alone and I offer them after watching leadline at Devon for the past 30+ years. As you are probably well aware: horse shows and the judging is purely subjective. The results rest solely with the judge and there is no guarantee. What wins a ribbon one year is never guaranteed to win one the following year.
Big ALSO: I am pretty convinced that every year the judge starts the class with a few ribbons basically already awarded. Some of these winners will coincide with the reasons I list below. I think they typically still have at least 2-3 ribbon spots available (sometimes more) to decide after the class begins, so it is worth the effort to try to stand out if you want a shot at one of those spots.
With all of that in mind, here are some of the things that I have seen land riders in the top 8 in the Devon leadline classes. I have personally seen these occurrences over multiple years.
Big name trainer (or rider)
In the horse world, sometimes it seems that everybody knows everybody. And when it comes to Devon leadline, sometimes it definitely helps to know a very well-known trainer or to know someone who knows a very well-known trainer. Depending on how close you are to said trainer, he or she might be willing to lead your leadliner. Some trainers are also willing to lend their leadlining services for a fee. Year after year, there are certain famous equestrian trainers who not only lead kids around the Dixon Oval, but who consistently place in the top 8.
This same theory applies to a big name rider. A leadliner led by a famous equestrian would have an elevated chance at visiting the Winner’s Circle.
Famous pony or horse
Similar to a well-known trainer, having a well-known mount for your kiddo to ride can also elevate your chances of winning at Devon. Some farms who own ponies that fit this description will rent or lease them out for Devon and other big shows. A common practice is to lease a pony that is already showing at Devon with an older rider.
First in the ring
Sort of like camping out in line for a great Black Friday Sale, the jockeying for a good position to get into the ring at Devon actually happens. When you are competing in a class that has dozens and dozens of riders, you only have a couple of seconds to catch the judge’s eye. Before the ring fills up with your competition, try to get in line and get in that ring as close to the front as you can. Get that first pass in front of the judge before others have even approached the in-gate.
Look how crowded the ring gets! Sometimes riders are 4 or 5 deep across the fence line!
Military or other service inform
If you have a good friend or family member who has served in the military or is a first responder, ask if they might consider being your child’s leader. Some years the uniforms do not get pinned while other years multiple or at least one leader-in-uniform gets into that elusive top 8.
A smile never hurts
Okay, I definitely cannot prove this one, LOL, but how irresistible are a pair who you can just tell are having the time of their lives? Smile!
Outfitting: from coordination to “WOW” factor
Sometimes the handler’s outfit really WOWs the judge, other times the coordination with colors and/or patterns just totally jives. Maybe the rider’s show bows perfectly match the ribbon in the pony’s braids AND the handler’s outfit. Remember that Devon is the fanciest of the fancy when it comes to horse shows. Fashion, both in and out of the show ring, is never an afterthought. Take some time to plan outfits for handler and rider that really show they are “dressed to impress.”
Your rider should be well-outfitted in perfectly fitted, traditional show ring attire that reflects whichever discipline they are riding (namely English, Western or Sidesaddle). The handlers have free rein (no pun intended) regarding what outfits they wear, but Devon is definitely the place to “go big.”
Connection to Devon or Bryn Mawr Hospital
In a world that’s pay-to-play, some may try to sway their chances of a ribbon at Devon by way of a mega donation to the show or the hospital (Bryn Mawr) that it donates its proceeds to. Your connection to the hospital or horse show could also be symbolic instead of financial. Perhaps you have family on the board at either organization. Or maybe you are close to someone who has an important tie to one place or the other. In this case, it’s all about who you know.
Is there a certain discipline that might set your rider apart from the other 50 riders? Perhaps something unique like sidesaddle? If you can display something different, that might be a great option. Just keep in mind: whatever you do, you must do it correctly. Outfit and tack must be basically a miniature carbon copy of what you might see on an adult rider in that discipline. Do not throw something together haphazardly. Do your research and consult an expert if you are not one. Attention to detail is a must.
Every rider gets a prize
So here’s the great news: every rider in a Devon Horse Show leadline class gets a prize. And for most participants, this, as well as the show participation itself, is beyond enough! (And, in my humble opinion, the “participant” award from Devon is incredibly special: it is the only class that awards a “Devon blue” colored ribbon. All leadliners also receive a lollipop (served on a silver tray, no less)!
Don’t Enter for Top Prizes
I know not everyone will agree with me but after 40+ years of spectating at Devon and 2 years watching my own kid riding in Devon leadline, the experience is enough. If you are even remotely close to being a “horse person,” you know how special it is to have the opportunity to show at the Devon Horse Show. You can check off every item on my list above and still nothing will guarantee a win.
Showing at Devon isn’t cheap, so make sure you get the most for your money – HAVE FUN! Don’t put so much pressure on your kiddo that he or she misses out on the fun of it all.
If you find yourself with the opportunity to enter your child in the leadline class at Devon, try to really experience the day. Invite friends and family to come watch and plan to stay and enjoy the show and country fair!
Our Devon Leadline Experience
When my daughter was age-eligible, we enjoyed 2 amazing years watching her riding in Devon leadline.
3 Year Old and Under Leadline Class
In 2012, she rode a gray welsh pony from her lesson barn. She wore traditional hunt seat equitation show apparel. I was so tempted to put her in a shadbelly jacket that I bought on clearance at a local tack shop, but it was too big. After taking it to 3 different tailors to inquire about alterations, each one said it was so big on her there was really nothing they could do to make it fit properly. And if you missed when I said it earlier: you want a proper fit for Devon. We went with a regular hunt coat that fit her perfectly. It was navy blue and matched her daddy’s uniform coat.
About that uniform. My husband has been a volunteer firefighter for almost 30 years and for our “something extra” at Devon, he led her and wore his uniform.
There were 52 riders in her class and she did not grab a spot in the top 8. Her Devon blue and lollipop were the most incredible “consolation” prizes I had ever seen. They were so special!
4 & 5 Year Old Leadline Class
In 2013, Lily and her dad returned to the Dixon Oval for another try. She wore the same outfit with a different pair of show bows. He wore his firefighter parade uniform. This time she rode a miniature pony named Penelope, also from her lesson barn.
In what is still burned into my memory as one of the most exciting days of my life, she placed 7th out of 57 riders. She was ecstatic to receive a PURPLE ribbon and of course, the blue lollipop.
Have you showed in Devon leadline or has your own child? Drop us a comment and tell us about your experience!