Washington International Horse Show

Celebrating 50 Years!


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The first Washington International Horse Show was held in 1958 at the DC Armory. The show remained at the Armory until 1975.

A Look Back
For 50 years the Washington International Horse Show has been a place for professionals to make their marks, amateurs to get their start, the famous to socialize and kids to watch in awe. Some of our country’s top riders, and some from other countries as well, have competed at WIHS in preparation for further international success. Presidents and first ladies have mingled with spectators from around the Washington, D.C. area and beyond. There have been high moments and low moments and changes of location, but through it all, WIHS has remained one of the country’s major metropolitan indoor shows and the pinnacle of the equestrian calendar.

Col. Rene Studler served as a WIHS president and was on the board of directors for many years. He was one of the people who helped keep the show going in its early years.

The inaugural show was held at the D.C. Armory in 1958 with Major General W.H. Adendroth serving as the first WIHS president. After the first year, WIHS actually skipped a year and resumed in 1960. In 1964, WIHS took another break because the Olympics took many top riders out of the country. Austin Kiplinger became a WIHS board member (and then president from 1967 to 1970) the following year and has been involved with the show ever since (see “The Man Behind the Scenes” in this article).

The show remained at the Armory until 1975 when it moved to the Capital Center in Landover. At that point, the Metro system was just getting started and a subway station was being built right next to the Armory. “The construction equipment was all over the place... they took our parking lot for construction equipment. We were just evicted in a sense and had to go someplace,” said Kiplinger.

Many on the WIHS board and those who rode at the show would have loved to stay at the Capital Centre but when the city moved both the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) basketball and the Washington Capitals hockey teams to downtown D.C., the Capital Centre was scheduled to be torn down. So, the horse show followed the sports teams and since 2000 has called the Verizon Center home.

Austin Kiplinger, pictured here with his late wife Gogo, was the WIHS president from 1967 to 1970 and is still an active member of the board of directors.

The Man Behind the Scenes: An interview with Austin Kiplinger
- provided by Phelps Media Group
Austin Kiplinger has been an influential member of the WIHS team since 1965. He has had horses in his life since he was young, and he has lived in the Washington D.C. area for decades. He served as the president and chairman of the board of the WIHS, and he is still on the board of directors. Mr. Kiplinger lives on his farm near Seneca and he still keeps an office in Washington, D.C. He still rides horses for pleasure and enjoys his time at the WIHS every year.

How did you get involved with horses?
This was during the great drought years of the 30s and the Depression years. I was in my teens and my father was an editor here in Washington. He thought I ought to get out of Washington and get some experience and learn what goes on in the rest of the country. He sent me out to Mr. Graham’s ranch in Oklahoma. [Mr. Graham] was a veterinarian and raised Hereford cattle. I did farm work and I rode for cattle work. We had to drive the cattle to watering ponds because there was no rain. We had to drive them a number of miles to get them to water. I did that work for two summers. I became interested in that sort of thing and in horses. I didn’t ride again for many years after that.

[Later] I bought a farm here in Maryland. I was talking to a neighbor and he said, ‘Have you ever tried fox hunting?’ and I said no. He said I should go cubbing in the early weeks of the hunting season and said it was kind of like a ride in the park. That was his description. I said sure and we went out. He gave me a horse that had been a whip’s horse out in Rappahannock. He was a very experienced and steady horse. All of a sudden, the hounds got onto a fox and we’re off. We were running at full tilt, and I was presented with a fence! All of a sudden, I found that this horse knew what to do. He jumped it, and that was my first experience with jumping. I survived that day and I was hooked.

Have you lived your whole life in Washington?
No, I went to college in Ithaca at Cornell, and then at Harvard. I was a reporter in San Francisco and then I was in the United States Navy. I flew airplanes in World War II off of carriers in the Pacific. Then I came back and worked in Washington. Then I worked in Chicago for eight years. I wrote a column for the Chicago Journal of Commerce and then I was a news broadcaster on ABC and NBC. I broke in with a lot of other unknowns, like David Brinkley, Jeff Huntley, Walter Cronkite. Then I came back to Washington in 1956 and I’ve been here ever since.

How does being in the heart of the nation’s capital affect the show?
We used to get White House involvement. The first lady has [usually] been an honorary chairman, from the very beginning. Some of them were horse people and some of them were not. Jackie Kennedy, of course, was very much interested. Her horse competed in the show with Eve Fout, her friend in Middleburg, VA. Some of the presidents have horse interest, of course. Ronald Reagan did. On the other hand, some of the first ladies were very unhorsey, [like] Mrs. Nixon. We took carriages to the White House. Our friend Fairclough from Delaware and Pennsylvania brought carriages down. We drove them down Pennsylvania Avenue - a four horse team. We went to the White House in 1962. We took Mrs. Nixon for a ride around her own park!

For several of the early years, WIHS would send a horse drawn carriage to the White House to bring the first lady to an evening competition. In 1970, Austin Kiplinger organized the Monumnetal Carriage Marathon that included several carriages and drove Mrs. Nixon around the White House grounds.

How have things changed since then?
In those days, of course, you could do that. I remember in 1976 when we were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and we had a lot of horses involved in the Fourth of July parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. I rode in that with the Potomac Hunt. Things have changed so much. Traffic has gotten so heavy and security concerns are so great that those things don’t happen anymore. You can’t get within two blocks of the White House with a vehicle anymore. But, we used to just take horses right up to the White House, through the gate, and around the South Lawn.

Throughout the years, was there anyone that you were ever starstruck to meet?
Well, there was Zsa Zsa Gabor! She rode in the show. She rode a horse, but didn’t jump. We had her as a celebrity guest. We’ve had a lot of celebrity guests. On a more serious note, we had Christopher Reeve a few years ago. We would have had President Reagan, except the Secret Service wouldn’t let him come. They’re very careful about presidents.

What effect do you think WIHS has on the local community in Washington?
I wish it had more effect. I think that the interest in horses - the larger a city becomes, the more distant the horse becomes. Generally speaking, I think the great metropolitan areas are losing their understanding of agriculture, farm life and animal life. I think [the show is] an education for the children. We try to bring schoolchildren in, and we do bring a lot of them in as guests to show them what life was like in years gone by and also where their food comes from, from farms and agriculture.

What do you hope for the future of the WIHS?
I hope that we can keep it going in the center of the city and give city people a look at life between mankind and their animal friends. Recently, in the past 10 years, the world’s population has crossed over so that more than half of the people in the world today live in a metropolitan area. That pendulum has swung and that’s worldwide. I think that horse shows and horse sport remind people of their affiliation with the animal world. I think that’s very, very important for us to have a balanced view of life. That is one of the missions that horse shows have, to remind people of their connection with the natural world.

A Photographic Look at the Last 49 Years

Many international stars used WIHS as a way to jump start their careers. Bruce Davidson, Sr. rode the Maryland bred JJ Babu in foxhunter classes when the show was at the Capital Center. The horse, bred by Charles B. Eiler of Germantown, and Bruce went on to compete at the Advanced level in eventing for nine years. Their successes included top placings at Burghley, Badminton and Rolex's four-star events as well as a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics as part of the US Eventing Team.
- photo by Country Loft

Another horse to earn an Olympic medal was Touch of Class. Ridden by Jennifer Small at the 1987 WIHS, the Maryland bred mare won the Love Trophy. Touch of Class represented the US with Joe Fargis in the irons to win several international titles. The mare's international success was highlighted by being the first horse in Olympic history to have double clean rounds (at the 1984 Games). There, Fargis and Touch of Class won double gold medals. She was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2000.
- photo by Al Cook

Many will remember the year when one unfortunate BudWiser Clydsdale found his way under the eight horse hitch. Luckily, all horses remained calm and the fallen one rescued without any injuries.
- photo by Jack Clark
Since WIHS typically falls just before Halloween, it only seemed natural to have a costum class! These fun jumper classes often paired international riders with local amateurs.
- photo by Gary Fine
For many years, dressage competitions were a part of WIHS. The show used to be used as a qualifier for the national championships. Now, dressage is typically showcased as an exhibition.
- photo by Al Cook

Even from the beginning, Jack Russell terrier races have always been a spectator favorite. Tommy Jones (far right) still organizes the races.

Sarah Foster rode True Blue to the Side Saddle championship. Csaba Magassy (left) was a WIHS board memeber for several years and also competed at WIHS.