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Top Equestrians Compete in Washington, DC

Many of the world's top equestrians recently descended on Washington, D.C. to compete in the 48th annual "Washington International Horse Show." Considered one of the world's leading equestrian events, it featured horses and riders from around the world competing for prize money and championship titles. VOA's Jim Bertel has more on this year's competition.

For one week every October, Washington, D.C. becomes the equestrian capital of the world providing a showcase for many of the world's best-known horses and riders. Mason Phelps is a spokesman for the Washington International Horse Show. "This horse show is in it's 48th year, here in the Verizon Center, in downtown Washington DC and it is probably our biggest and best year ever. Our ticket sales are way up."

The five-day event showcased show jumping and hunter competitions along with dramatic demonstrations of horsemanship. This year's show also featured the Invitational Dressage Championship, pitting four of the top competitors in North America against each other. Dressage is an Olympic event in which the horse and rider perform complex movements, often described as ballet on horseback. Two-time Olympian Ashley Holzer from Canada and her horse "Pop Art" won the two-day event. "We had international Olympic judges and to have them at an event like this is really spectacular."

Courtney King finished second in the competition, coming just weeks after she won the prestigious Dressage at Devon Show in the eastern state of Pennsylvania. She says despite her horse "Idocus" being fatigued from that event, she was pleased with his performance. "I was really, really happy. He did it. It was not his most brilliant performance, for sure, but he did his job, he put in a clean test (competition) and I was thrilled."

For these world-class riders, Holzer says competitions like the one in Washington are stepping stones towards a bigger prize, an Olympic berth in the 2008 Games.

"The Olympics are a huge deal. To be able to qualify for the Olympics and compete in the Olympics is really a dream come true. And to have the chance, that it might be my third one, would be quite spectacular so I think about it all the time."

The 500 riders at this year's Washington International Horse Show compete by invitation only. Participants qualify for the year-end competition based on points they accrue in other competitive events during the year.

While the riders get most of the attention, Kent Farrington, one of the top show-jumpers in the sport, says it takes a team to be competitive. "It is all about the horses you have to ride and I am surrounded by really good people, good staff that take care of the horse, great vets, great farriers [a person who shoes horses]. There are a lot of factors that go into having horses compete at this level."

While competing at this level can be very stressful, most of the competitors say the rewards of the horse show world, from working with horses to the friendships formed on the show circuit, make it all worthwhile.