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...but after the awards ceremony, it was Mark Phillips, her partner, who was draped in the winner’s sash, as well as the sashes for the Leading International Jumper Rider and Leading Lady Rider awards.
Turns out that Phillips, a British Olympic eventing gold medalist and cross-country course designer, was just proudly holding them for his partner, Hough, during the post-competition press conference at the Washington International Horse Show.
As the last rider to go in the jump-off, Hough wisely didn’t give in to the temptation to go too fast with the fleet 12-year-old mare. She turned in a calibrated round that was just quick enough, netting her game, set and match for the class and the show. Her triumph means her name will be engraved on the coveted gold President’s Cup trophy.
After several second-place finishes, Hough finally had achieved her ambition to join the legions of great riders who had won the trophy. Just as exciting, the victory buoyed her quest to qualify for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final next March in Omaha, Nebraska.
Hough is known for her dedication and achieving her goals, both in the U.S. and abroad, but it wasn't all business for her in the nation's capital.
...as many riders do because the show’s time schedule for jumpers is conducive to such activity.
“It’s really fun to be in a city and the weather was absolutely stunning this week, and I actually took advantage of it and was a bit of a tourist and walked pretty much all of D.C. We started at the Pentagon and … we did about a three-hour walk on Friday.”
The Washington International is unlike any other show in the USA—just a block or two from restaurants, hotels and museums, within walking distance of the White House.
The show has an impact on the city in several ways when it moves in. Streets are closed so tent stabling can go up, and horses move back and forth on the sidewalks in the shadow of skyscrapers, drawing curious stares from office workers crossing their path.
There are inconveniences for competitors—horse baths have to be done on the street, there's no space for exercise outdoors and the warm-up area behind the ring is tiny—but the enthusiasm of organizers and spectators makes up for it. Cupcakes in pink boxes are unusual tasty bonuses for award winners, and the presence of a crowd is a boost for riders.
The show draws, as one might expect in this location, a cosmopolitan crowd.
Some spectators come in from the nearby Virginia and Maryland horse country. Retired U.S. Senator John Warner (a former husband of actress Elizabeth Taylor), for instance, regaled the crowd at the show recounting his days competing there.
...the group that cheered the loudest was rewarded with a future clinic with Callan Solem, who placed seventh this year in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Sweden.
Diplomats, generals and urbanites up from the Metro subway system fill other seats in the Verizon Center, home to basketball and hockey teams when the floor isn’t set with jumps.
They all appreciated the drama of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington as the climax of the show. The President’s Cup party in the Acela Club, high up in the building with a bird's eye view of the action, was festive with the excitement of watching top competitors go for a big prize and the honor of having their names engraved on the Cup itself.
The 2016 edition involved three-quarters of the USA’s Rio Olympic silver medal team, all winners of the President’s Cup trophy in prior years. But the night belonged to Hough. As she and Ohlala galloped through the timers, the crowd went wild, and many stayed around for the awards ceremonies when riders threw their ribbons to wide-eyed kids.
The youngsters watched the victory pass in fascination, dreaming that someday they’d be circling the ring in triumph themselves.
Text by Nancy Jaffer
Images by Nancy Jaffer, Lawrence J. Nagy & Amy K. Dragoo