National horse show first under new arena roof

The Del Mar National Horse Show returns to the Del Mar Fairgrounds April 16 to May 2, but under a new roof - literally.

The Del Mar Arena is now covered with 76,000 square feet of steel. The finishing touches are expected to be complete on time, with a grand opening ceremony for the facility scheduled for 11 a.m. April 16, the first day of the horse show.

“It’s going to be done,” said Kenny Baker, equestrian manager for the fairgrounds. “When people first walk in, they will be amazed how big the roof is, but there is a still the openness of the arena with three-quarter walls.”

An estimated 1,200 horses and the best riders in the country will compete during the three-week show, which includes one week each of Western, Dressage and Hunter/Jumper competition. The daytime events are open and free to the public, and spectacular showcase events take place each Saturday night for $18 a seat.

Wild West week

During Western Week, The Night of the Horse “Wild West Extravaganza” will feature an impressive display of trick riding, roping and horsemanship on April 18. This year’s performers include the Rainbow Riders drill team, the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls doing horseback acrobatics, Cowboy Dressage, mounted sharpshooters, and The One-Armed Bandit who rounds up a herd while standing on his saddle.

Dressage Week is expected to draw several Olympic riders and culminates with the Evening of Musical Freestyle on April 25, in which horse and rider perform a choreographed routine much like figure skating or ballet.

The grand finale of Hunter/Jumper Week is the $100,000 HBO Grand Prix competition on May 2. A fast-paced thriller, the top 30 horses from the week must clear a series of jumps as fast as possible.

New event

Before the marquee race, a new “Ride and Drive Classic” will test competitors’ handling skills of two types of horsepower. First, riders will negotiate a series of jumps on horseback and then jump into a car to complete another obstacle course.

The evening will also pay special tribute to Robinson, a Grand Prix champion and equine celebrity that is retiring. Ridden by Richard Spooner, Robinson has won more than 50 Grand Prix races.

“He’s probably one of the most beloved horses in the country, certainly on the west coast,” said Dale Harvey, the Hunter/Jumper week manager.

Attendees will be able to meet Robinson after the show and get autographs from Spooner and other Grand Prix riders.

“The whole show is going to be new and exciting, especially with the new arena roof,” Baker said.

Raising the roof

Having a covered arena brings the venue up to World Cup standards, which requires an enclosed space. Del Mar hosted the World Cup in 1992 but with a troublesome temporary cloth structure. With the new roof in place, Baker is already setting his sights on bringing the competition back.

“I don’t know when, but we’re going to be bringing it here,” Baker said.

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