Del Mar National Horse Show History
Bringing equestrian excellence to San Diego County since 1946, the Del Mar National stands among the handful of horse shows in this country to reach its golden years. However, retirement isn't even under consideration for this golden oldie!
Over the years, Del Mar has earned its reputation for being among the toughest, most exciting, finest, and richest horse shows in Southern California. With its world-class, multidisciplinary equestrian competition and signature Saturday evening performances, Del Mar ranks high among the most prestigious horse shows in the western region. A Del Mar win merits bragging rights as well as literal and figurative currency.
Many of today's horse show superstars rode here as juniors, amateurs, and lead-line competitors. While watching young riders compete, you may actually be witnessing tomorrow's champions. Many spectators continue to purchase ringside box seats year after year as an established family tradition. Riders often reminisce about showing at Del Mar, whether as a child or professional. These qualities help create the ambiance associated with this show and are what make it truly exceptional.
The superb coastal weather and the show's proximity to the storied thoroughbred racetrack founded by a legendary group of friends — Bing Crosby, Pat O'Brien, and Jimmy Durante — only heighten the charm.
The Del Mar National began as part of the annual San Diego County Fair. In 1946, 350 competitors rode for their chance to win a slice of the $20,000 pie and to earn points toward becoming ultimate show champions.
By 1979, the Del Mar National had become so popular, it eventually outgrew the county fair and became a separate event. The show and the venue have continually evolved over the years. At one time it occupied an arena near the racetrack grandstand; then it moved onto the racetrack in front of the grandstand. Another time it resided in an arena built adjoining the racetrack chute, near the stables. The rings and locations have changed over the years as Del Mar's unique character took shape and grew into the icon it has become. Different breeds have competed in a variety of disciplines at Del Mar. Today, the show hosts three distinctly different weeks of competition; Western, Dressage, and Hunter/Jumper. At one time, exhibitors could watch flashy gaited horses, hackney ponies, Morgan horses, hunters and jumpers, stock horses, and even draft horses and mules.
Del Mar now offers more than $350,000 in prize money and attracts more than 3,000 horses during the three weeks of competition. The show takes place in the multi-million-dollar Del Mar Arena which received an extensive makeover in 2009, including the addition of a roof. Much of the 'outdoor' quality has been retained through the use of half- and three-quarter walls where none existed previously. With quite a few "firsts" in its history, Del Mar is one of only two equestrian venues in the western states to host a World Cup, which it did in 1992.
1946: As one of the many events at the annual San Diego County Fair, the Del Mar National Horse Show made its debut this year. Three-hundred-fifty competitors vied for $20,000 in prize money. Adrian Van Sinderen, President of the American Horse Show Association (AHSA) flew in from New York to judge Hackney and harness show ponies.
1948: The prize list for the third annual Del Mar National offered stall rent for $10.00/horse-tack stalls (first bedding included) for the duration of the show. Sleeping stalls and horse feed cost nothing. The Del Mar Airport advertised in the prize list its convenient location, "just 2,500 feet to National Horse Show arena". Ringside boxes were $125.00, tax included, providing six seats for eight performances.
1950: Allen Ross managed the show from 1950 to 1959, and established the record for producing the largest horse show in the world recognized by the American Horse Shows Association in 1958. Ross returned to Del Mar in 1978 with the goal of setting a new record.
1954: Less than a decade after the first show, Del Mar earned national recognition as the world's largest horse show for junior competitors.
1956: A small tornado ripped the metal roofs from several barns. Damage totaled $4,500, no horses were injured.
1959: The show added Western Shetland Pony Congress and the Light Horse Breeding Division to its events. Rule 17 in the prize list advised "Judges May Ride or Drive," stating, "When the judges consider it necessary, they may ride or drive any of the contesting horses to determine their respective merits."
1960: The 15th anniversary show earned an 'A' rating from the AHSA. Members of the United States Olympic Equestrian Team (USET) competed against other exhibitors vying for $40,000 in prize money. War Bride, ridden and owned by Jarvis Esenwein, was one of 38 entries jumping in Saturday night's $1,000 Puissance Jumpers class. An official retirement ceremony for popular show jumper, "Skyway", owned by Tom Blakiston of Blakiston Ranch, followed.
1963: A flu epidemic sidelines 65% of the horses entered this year. The show went on as scheduled, although many classes, due to the reduced field of entries had to be cancelled.
1966: More than 2,000 horses entered this year. A five-year-old mare, Paniolo, made headlines when she competed in a jumper class the day before giving birth to a healthy foal.
1971: The AHSA designated the Del Mar National as a "star show," an honor reserved for the top 20 horse shows in the country.
1973: The August issue of Horses Magazine proclaimed, "The 28th renewal of the Southern California exposition National Horse Show, known to one and all as Del Mar. Ed Sullivan hadn't seen a 'really big show' 'til this one" with more than 2,600 horses. The article continued, "The show was unbelievably smooth for one of this size.it was brilliantly directed," by 1973 Show Manager Alan Balch. "Alan knows this horse show better than anyone because he grew up there working his way through the various phases of the operation," HM reported Linda Hough had "countless excellent rounds" and was Star of the Show, pictured receiving hunter awards with the late, legendary, Jimmy Williams.
1975: Di Ann Lundy, of Los Angeles, CA, captured the Santa Anita Perpetual Trophy awarded for Leading Rider. She and her mount, Danny won Champion Jumper. Shown wearing the Santa Anita Sash, jumping a triple bar, Lundy won the Leading Rider award two years in a row, in 1974 and 1975.
1978: Local favorite Hap Hansen was deemed Star of the Show at Del Mar in the August 1978 issue of Horses Magazine. The show, described as, "The33rd annual, a.k.a. 'Del Mar'.was a big successful show." Larry Gimple,, then a trainer, now the show's Western Week Manager, showed well that year riding Dee Cee Chex, owned by Dawn Rush.
1979: The Del Mar National separated from the Southern California Exposition (as the San Diego County Fair was then known) and became a prestigious event in its own right.
1980: The low-lying stable area flooded during heavy spring storms, leaving the Fairgrounds buried under two feet of mud. In spite of all this, by opening day on May 8, the grounds welcomed 1,300 horses arriving to compete in 560 classes for $125,000 in prize money.
1984: The show attracted an international lineup of world-class riders from Japan, Mexico, and Canada as they prepared for Olympic competition in nearby Fairbanks Ranch (Three-Day Event cross country and Roads and Tracks) and at Santa Anita Racetrack (dressage and show jumping).
1985: The Children's Show and the Open Show reorganized so children and adults could compete at the same time, albeit in separate classes. A Challenge of the Breeds became part of the Western week. For the first time, the show is reorganized with hunter/jumper classes the first week, western, gaited, and breed classes the second week. The entire Saturday evening of hunter/jumper week became devoted to the Grand Prix of Del Mar.
1986: The Del Mar National is chosen by the American Grand Prix Association (AGA) to become part of the National Grand Prix Series, offering a $25,000 purse for the Grand Prix of Del Mar.
1987: Horses Magazine named the Del Mar National as the number two horse show in the West. Del Mar National hosted the Pacific Coast Jack Baker Memorial Medal Finals for junior and amateur stock seat riders.
1990: Long-awaited construction began on the new $5.4 million arena complex now named the Del Mar Arena. This year the show occupied temporary facilities space next to the construction site.
1991: The Del Mar National Horse Show made its home in the newly completed Del Mar Arena complex, providing comfortable covered seating for 4,000 attendees. Dressage competition became a third major division of the show.
1992: The Volvo World Cup comes to Del Mar, bringing the world's top riders and jumpers to compete.
1993: Attendance over the three weeks exceeded 40,000 for the first time. The first "Night of the Horse" extravaganza proved a big success as a crowd-pleaser.
1994: A new attendance record was set as more than 51,000 spectators enjoyed the National. Women's Barrel Racing and draft horse classes become part of the third week of activity. Prize money topped $180,000.
1995: During its golden anniversary, the Del Mar National gathered increased national recognition with key equestrian publications naming the show among the premier events worldwide. Now in its third year, the "Night of the Horse" extravaganza became a sell-out.
1996: The Del Mar National received the distinguished honor of being a USET Selection Trial in Grand Prix Dressage. The National Reined Cow Horse Maturity and Finals became part of the Western Week, resulting in a record 52,000 in attendance for that show and $225,000 in prize money.
1997: Local Olympic medalists Steffen Peters and Guenter Seidel, who helped win the Team Dressage Bronze medal at the Olympics in Atlanta, GA, competed at the Del Mar National before an enthusiastic audience. Local show jumper, Hap Hansen, a favorite of the Del Mar National, wins the $50,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar. The Reined Cow Horse Hackamore Classic became part of Western Week.
1998: Grand Prix prize money increased to $60,000 and the event continued as a sell-out. Audiences saluted one of the greatest jumping horses of all time, Samsung Woodstock, at his official retirement ceremony here. The San Diego Chamber Orchestra joined the Night of the Horse, providing live musical accompaniment to the equine performances.
1999: The Del Mar National hosted the Dressage CDI***W (Competition du Dressage Internationale) qualifier for the 1999 Pan American Games and the 2000 World Cup. At the Del Mar National, American dressage riders Debbie McDonald and Donna Richardson qualified for the Pan American Games. They went on to help win the Team Gold Medal at the Pan American Games, while McDonald also won an Individual Dressage Gold Medal.
2000: The Del Mar National, selected as a qualifying event for the 2000 U.S Olympic Team Trials, sent California riders Guenter Seidel and Christine Traurig on their way to win the Bronze Medal as members of the dressage team. Olympic hopefuls also competed during Hunter/Jumper Week in preparation for the finals. The 22nd DAA hosted the 2000 USET Olympic Show Jumping Team Trials at the Del Mar Horsepark, just down the road from the fairgrounds. Laura Kraut, Margie Goldstein-Engle, Lauren Hough and Nona Garson formed the all-female team to represent the USET at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Mules joined "Challenge of the Breeds" competition during Western Week.
2001: Reining was approved as an exhibition event during the next Olympic Games. Western Week hosts a NRHA show for the first time. Del Mar National's total purse reached an all-time high of more than $300,000. Prize money increased during Hunter/Jumper Week, for the $75,000 Ford Trucks Grand Prix of Del Mar, an AGA Event, presented by Budweiser.
2002: The Del Mar Equestrian Center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds was voted the "Best Show Location" by the members of the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association (PCHA). The new West Coast Active Riders Challenge Series, sponsored by Nutrena Feeds, made its debut at the Del Mar National Horse Show.
2003: Kelsey Huffman and her horse, Top Hickory, were among the biggest winners during Western Week. There wasn't an empty seat in the house during the Night of the Horse when headliner, Equine Extremist Tommie Turvey, Jr., enthralled the crowd with his prized paint horse, Poker Joe. Dressage Week filled four arenas over four days. In the $25,000 Lexus Grand Prix, Richard Spooner cleaned up by winning first and second place. Duncan McFarlane and his horse Ezrah won the $75,000 HBO Grand Prix of Del Mar, and Cathleen Calvert of La Jolla won the $25,000 Del Mar National Open Equitation Championship presented by Monarch International's Show Circuit Magazine.
2004: The Del Mar National hosted the last USEF Reining Seat Medal Finals National Championships and awarded the last medal, before its retirement, to Champion Keri Blackledge of Costa Mesa, CA, on her horse Sundance Dun It. Olympic fever hit Del Mar as Dressage riders from around the country came to qualify for the 2004 USEF Grand Prix Championship/Olympic Selection Trials. In an upset, Leslie Morse of Beverly Hills, CA, on her horse Kingston, won the $5,000 Grand Prix Freestyle sponsored by International E-Z Up. Hunter/jumper week offered more prize money and a new grand prix qualifier with a record-breaking number of entries jumping a record number of rounds. Olympic hopefuls jumped at Del Mar prior to the USET Olympic Show Jumping Team Selection Trials held at the Del Mar Arena for the first time.
2005: Celebrating its diamond anniversary, the 60th Annual Del Mar National Horse Show all but sparkled as a lucky sellout crowd witnessed a shining historical moment in show jumping history. For the first time, a horse and rider combination successfully defended the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar title. Rich Fellers, riding McGuiness, owned by Mollie & Harry Chapman, won the $100,000 HBO Grand Prix of Del Mar, an AGA event, for the second consecutive year. Technical Show Manager, Dale Harvey, commented, "It was amazing that we had to close the gates to accommodate standing-room-only crowds". Going twenty-second in the order, McGuiness and Fellers achieved the first clean round, and the only clean round in a thrilling jump-off, finishing within the time allowed.
2006: Del Mar's world-class event now offers more than $350,000 in prize money during three weeks of Western, Dressage, and Hunter/Jumper competition. New prize money doubles the prize awarded for the NRHA show during Western Week, along with a brand new $25,000 Dearborn Stables Open Hunter Classic offered during Hunter/Jumper Week.