A Tradition of Excellence

Reprinted from 22nd DAA archives- also contributing: Joy Lyn Oleson, Lisa Iaria, Nani Luebke, Regina Antonioli

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.

Over the years, Del Mar has earned its reputation for being among the highly competitive 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 CrosbyPat O’Brien, and Jimmy Durante — only heighten the allure.

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. The rings and locations, along with the breeds and variety of disciplines have changed over the years as Del Mar’s unique character took shape and grew into the icon it has become. Today, the show hosts three distinctly different weeks of competition; Western, Dressage, and Hunter/Jumper.

Horse Show at the Fair

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. Del Mar holds quite a few “firsts” in its history and in 1992, it was the first venue in the western states to host a World Cup Competition.

1999; Del Mar Arena

Historical Timeline

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– now USEF) flew in from New York to judge Hackney and harness show ponies

1948: The prize list for the third annual Del Mar National offered stabling fees 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.

1950Allen 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 (USEF). Members of the United States Olympic Equestrian Team 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.

1965: Glen Gimple wins a blue ribbon in Western Pleasure.  The Glenn Gimple Memorial Bronze Trophy was established as a part of the USAE Medals program, awarded to Reining Seat Medal Finals overall champion with the highest total combine scored (reining and Equitation).

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 (USEF) 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.

1975Di Ann Lundy (Langer), of Los Angeles, CA, captured the Santa Anita Perpetual Trophy awarded for Leading Rider. She and her mount, Dannywon 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 (and would become 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) 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.

1987Horses 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 of Show Jumping comes to Del Mar, bringing the world’s top riders and jumpers to compete. Attendance was standing room only as thousands of equestrian enthusiasts flocked to the event. The World Cup drew sold out crowds for the Hunter/Jumper show the next week as well.

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.  Dressage is added to the Del Mar National with its own week of competition. Olympians Hilda Gurney (Team Bronze 1976-1984) and Charlotte Bredahl (Team Bronze-1992) were among competitors.

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. Dressage riders Elizabeth Ball, Guenter Seidel and Leslie Webb go on to be part of the Silver medal winning Pan Am Team.

1996: The Del Mar National Dressage received the distinguished honor of being a USET Qualifying Selection Competition.  Local rider, Steffen Peters qualify and go on to be part of the Bronze Medal winning team at the Atlanta Olympics.  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, along with newcomer, Debbie McDonald compete in the Dressage Freestyles before an enthusiastic audience on Friday night.  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 Dressage becomes a CDI***W (Competition du Dressage International) qualifier for the 1999 Pan American Games and the 2000 World Cup.  Night of the Horse moves to Western Week and Evening of Musical Freestyles has its own performance evening.  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, is 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 GamesWestern 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.

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, made its debut at the Del Mar National Horse Show. In Dressage, after victories at Del Mar, Debbie McDonald and Guenter Seidel go on to be part of the Silver Medal Team at the World Equestrian Games in Spain, and McDonald wins the 2003 World Cup.

2003Kelsey 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 JoeDressage 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. McDonald and Seidel go on to help win Team Bronze at the Athens Olympics. 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. The Del Mar National helps to qualify an all-West Coast Team (McDonald; Morse; Peters; and Seidel) to take Team Bronze at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen Germany.

2006: Del Mar’s world-class event now offers more than $350,000 in prize money during three weeks of WesternDressage, 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.

2007: The Del Mar National provides 3 weeks of horse show & grand entertainment. Night of the Horse features a multi-breed evening of talented performers which include Morgans, Saddlebreds, Friesians, Paso Fino, Devon Maitozo Vaulters, Drill Teams & Cowboys for an action-packed performance. Dressage week features the poetry of elegant dance with the Evening of Musical Freestyle with an GP Freestyle win by Michael Barisone of Lon Valley, NJ. Dressage week features the poetry of elegant dance with the Evening of Musical Freestyle. The $100,000 HBO Grand Prix gives Rich Fellers his 3rd win in 4 years. The $25,000 California Junior/Amateur Show Jumping Championship, $25,000 Dearborne Stables Open Hunter Classic & the $25,000 Open Equitation Championship & the $10,000 Ralph’s Supermarkets Power & Speed classes offer lots of opportunities for the big prize monies. Early morning live Television broadcasts promote the Del Mar National.

2008: Night of the Horse pays tribute to the heroic fire fighters who bravely fought the terrible wild fires in the fall of 2007.  Complete with Firefighters from many stations and Dalmatian Dogs, the tribute also included the San Diego Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe and Drums and the California State Firefighters beautifully restored steam engine.  The CDI*** Grand Prix division is a USEF HP Qualifying Competition for the 2008 National Grand Prix Championships and Olympic Games Selection Trials for Dressage, where Steffen Peters and Ravel win the Grand Prix and go on to win the 2009 World Cup in Las Vegas.

2009: Richard Spooner retires his longtime partner Robinson, affectionately known Robby, during an emotional ceremony prior to the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar.  Robinson had 35 Grand Prix wins and too many international wins to count.  That same night Richard not only won the elusive $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar, and took second place as well.  The Del Mar National says goodbye to the great and much-loved horse Brentina.  The Dressage Olympian Mare was officially retired at the World Cup in Las Vegas, but Peggy and Parry Thomas and Debbie McDonald graciously agreed to bring Brentina for a final appearance during the Evening of Musical Freestyles.

2009: Richard Spooner retires his longtime partner Robinson, affectionately known Robby, during an emotional ceremony prior to the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar.  Robinson had 35 Grand Prix wins and too many international wins to count.  That same night Richard not only won the elusive $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar, and took second place as well.  The Del Mar National says goodbye to the great and much-loved horse Brentina.  The Dressage Olympian Mare was officially retired at the World Cup in Las Vegas, but Peggy and Parry Thomas and Debbie McDonald graciously agreed to bring Brentina for a final appearance during the Evening of Musical Freestyles.

2010: Steffen Peters and Akiko Yamazaki’s Ravel win both the CDI 3* and Freestyle on their way to capturing a Bronze Medal at the World Equestrian Games for the USA.  Jan Ebeling wowed the Saturday night with a winning Freestyle aboard his World Cup mount, the beautiful Rafalca.  The pair went on to garner the CDS Horse of the Year title.   Rich Fellers and Harry and Mollie Chapman’s Flexible won the $25,000 Surfside Grand Prix to come back on Saturday night and held off some pretty stiff competition to win the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar.

2011: A group of Dressage High-Performance Riders regaled Saturday night’s audience in a stick horse musical performance.  The team included Guenter Seidel, Beth Ball, Steffen and Shannon Peters, David Wightman and Kathleen Raine.  The Quadrille for six was a sight to behold including cadence, high-stepping, half passes and pirouettes. Steffen Peters Prix St. Georges win on Jen & Bruce Hlavacek’s Weltino’s Magic was the stepping stone to the pair winning Team & Individual Gold at the 2011 Pan American Games, earning the highest score ever at Intermediaire I.

2012: The Del Mar National Horse Show has earned the distinction of being the first of only four venues in North America to host the U.S. Show Jumping Team Observation Events for the 2012 Olympics to be held in London in the summer. Rich Fellers and Harry and Mollie Chapman’s super stallion Flexible, $100,000 Grand Prix and Surfside Grand Prix for the second time in two years.  GGT footing is installed in the Main Arena at Del Mar and receive accolades from top notch riders.  Two time Olympian, Debbie McDonald, said the new footing made Del Mar a top notch, world-class facility. The Night of the Horse scores a “10” when Golden Globe-nominated actress Bo Derek enchants the audience as our Mistress of Ceremonies.

2013: The magnificent Ravel formally retires during the Evening of Musical Freestyles after one of the most illustrious equine careers in US Dressage history.  Owned by Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang’s Four Winds Farm and ridden by Steffen Peters, Ravel was inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame, rode for the US in two Olympic Games, captured the World Cup title in 2009, Swept all three Grand Prix test at the CDIO in Aachen, Germany, owns many horse of the year titles and taken over 40 Grand Prix laps throughout his amazing career.

2014: Staff Sargent Reckless is recognized as part of the Night of Horse celebration for her courageous and extraordinary contributions in the Korean War.  This highly decorate mare was inducted into the Horse Stars Hall of Fame earlier in the year.  The San Diego Arena is extended making it one of the best Hunter Rings to compete in according to Trainers & Exhibitors. In Dressage, Steffen Peters returned to win both the CDS-W Grand Prix and GP Freestyle on Legolas 92, another mount from Four Wind’s Farm.

2015: The Del Mar National Horse Show celebrates its 70th year of bringing equestrian excellence to San Diego County.  From its humble beginning in 1946 as part of the annual San Diego County Fair and $20,000 in prize money, this world class horse show now offers more than $350,000 during Hunter/Jumper week alone and takes place in its multi-million-dollar arena along with two other arenas. A new indoor warm-up Arena is installed for the main Del Mar Arena.

2016: Dressage in an official USEF qualifying competition for the 2016 Olympic Selections and the 2017 World Cup. Riding before an impressive International panel of Judges, The Evening of Musical Freestyle gives Olympian, Steffen Peters & Legolas 92, their 3rd victory in 6 yrs.  Axel Steiner gives live commentary for online Dressage viewers.  The indoor Warm-up Arena gets GGT footing which is consistent with the Del Mar Arena.  Ashlee Bond & Kost Karazissis provide live commentary for online Hunter/Jumper viewers.

2017: The Del Mar National was deeply honored to be asked to host the retirement of Harry and Mollie Chapman’s west coast favorite, the great show jumper, Flexible.  In a very emotional ceremony prior to the Grand Prix, surrounded by family & friends, Flexible received a very special cooler & garland.  He received a standing ovation as his rider& partner, Rich Fellers walked him around the arena one last time. Flexible is truly a horse with the Heart of a Champion & a Horse of a lifetime.  Ashlee Bond & Kost Karazissis provide live commentary for online Hunter/Jumper viewers. Axel Steiner gives live commentary for online Dressage viewers.

2018: The Del Mar National joyfully celebrated an Equestrian Icon: Judy Martin. Surrounded by family, friends, former & current students & all who cherish her guidance & wisdom, a fabulous video was created in her honor along with the presentation of the Harry Forbes Sportsmanship Trophy, center ring on Grand Prix night, during Hunter Jumper Week. It was an evening of celebration of current Show Champions as well as the exciting winner of the 100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar, crowd favorite, Cupilor & Michelle Parker.

Dressage week honored the beautiful retirement of Legolas 92 from competition. Akiko Yamazaki & Jerry Yang, along with their two daughters, Steffen & Shannon Peters & complete Four Winds Farm staff all were on hand to bid Legolas 92 a well-deserved retirement. Legolas lightened the mood by helping himself to lots of cookies from a bucket on his way out of the arena. It was a bittersweet night for Four Winds Farm as Steffen Peters triumphed in the Grand Prix Freestyle with Suppenkasper. 

Ranch Riding & Reining dominated Western Week with King of The Coast & Monica Albair winning in both divisions for owner Sheila Nash. They captured the Overall Ranch Riding High Point as well as Show championships. Ranch Riding is fun for all & wildly popular!

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