I wanted to drink a mint julep at the Devon Horse Show. That was my goal. The event features horses, just like at the Kentucky Derby, so I figured there had to be plenty of mint juleps, too, maybe even one served atop a hat.
The Devon Horse Show, for the uninitiated, is where money and manure mingle on the Main Line. In 1896, it started as one day of equestrian competition — aka horses jumping over stuff. Perhaps back then, before the advent of the car, the Main Liners untethered their family horses from buggies and then brought them right onto the equestrian course.
They can’t do that anymore, of course. A Land Rover doesn’t need a horse to pull it, and the Devon Horse Show, sponsored by Land Rover (and Jaguar), now features several days of horses jumping over stuff, carnival games and sales of art, lavender-colored clothing, leather and especially wine and cheese. You can’t walk more than about 10 feet without seeing a sign about wine and cheese. Even vendors who feature menus with wine and cheese reassure Devon Horse Show attendees with boldfaced, large print letters that, yes, they absolutely do sell wine and cheese.
I got there at about 10 a.m. on Memorial Day morning and was pleasantly surprised when I saw some guy walking toward the event wearing shorts and another wearing a Jamie Moyer Phillies t-shirt jersey. Not everyone was wearing a sportcoat, meaning I could get in wearing my tennis shoes! I’d heard a little about Devon, and I’d packed a spare pair of dress shoes in my car for an emergency (break glass in case of overwhelming wealth).
The area for the Devon Horse Show is surprisingly small. Vendors in tents and fair games are on the perimeter, closest to the road. The equestrian course is surrounded by grandstands. Those seats are reserved for a price. The peasants must sit on benches in the sunlight, so close to the horses jumping over things that sand could get kicked in their face. Because I wanted to get a tan, I actually preferred being a peasant.
Horses and riders were competing as soon as I walked in, so I decided to check it out. The riders weren’t as lucky as me. They did have to wear dress shoes and sportcoats. Sometimes people would clap after the horse and rider jumped over the fences. Other times when the rider and the horse got over those obstacles with seemingly the same grace, nobody clapped. It made no sense, and there was no soft-spoken golf announcer there to whisper about the intricacies of horses jumping over stuff.
The only words I really heard came from a couple of guys seated a bit higher than the rest of us peasants but still right next to me. I realized they were the judges. Their grading seemed unscientific, like they didn’t know what the hell was going on either. After one rider, a judge said, “Is a 67 too low?” That horse gets a 72. El Primero, ridden by Sandra Ferrell, goes next. This time one of the judges said, “It’s a good ride. Is it a 79?” The other judge said 85. The final grade was 82.5.
After a horse called Social Hour completed the course, my mind wandered back to the goal: Where could I get a mint julep?
I walked toward the area with all the vendors and tried looking at a place called Pour Richard’s — nope, just coffee. Garden Cafe — nope, just wine and cheese. I scoured the entire area, and the only alcoholic beverages were beer and wine. If they sold them, they certainly didn’t this early or in any of the non-VIP locations.
Defeated, I watched the horses for a while longer, basking in the sun sans mint julep. When it got too hot, I decided to look at the clothing and art tents and eventually saw The Art Gallery of Devon. The woman in charge of the gallery greeted every customer. Because I had a notebook, she assumed I must be an art connoisseur and handed me a pamphlet. When a mother walked in with her two kids, who were probably no older than 10 or 12 years old, she said, “this is the time to start art collections for your children.”
Right away, I noticed oil paintings featuring animals sipping drinks going for $450 and $750.
The Devon Horse Show: Where the imaginary foxes drink mint juleps, but you can’t.