The event is divided into a multibreed show, which will take place until this Saturday, and the hunter-jumper show, which will last from Wednesday of next week until Sunday.
While participants hail from all over the West, the show’s secretary, Harriet Landrum, said the show also has a strong local component.
“I’d say about 30 percent of the competitors are from the Santa Barbara area,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen this number decline in recent years due to the rising prices of property in the area. Owning a horse is expensive.”
The event is advertised as the “oldest horse show in the West,” and some of the competitors have been coming to the show for decades. In some cases, multiple generations of the same family are participating in the competition this year.
Welsh pony enthusiast Benjamin Bottoms said he started riding when he was 6 and is excited to see his great-nephew following the same path he did.
“I think, as with anything, you have a lot of families naturally drawn into the sport. Horses require a tremendous amount of time and effort to take care of,” Bottoms said. “I’ve got a great-nephew and a pony to put him on, so I want to see him have the same great experience that I did.”
Local horse owner Carol Hirons said three generations of her family are participating in this year’s event. She said the huge amount of dedication that owning horses requires often becomes a family effort.
“Welsh ponies are a whole way of life,” Hirons said. “We have been participating in the show for years.”
Other competitors showed the same sense of devotion to the sport. Local horse trainer Kristen Hardin, who specializes in hunter-jumper events, said some of the riders she works with will fly out from all over country to train at her ranch in the mountains near Santa Barbara.
“Some will come out for a couple weeks or a month at a time,” Hardin said. “They do it because they want to dedicate themselves to riding and becoming horse men or women.”
Welsh ponies are a popular aspect of the multibreed show because their calm demeanor and ability to be trained allow almost anyone to ride them, making them the perfect beginner pony for children, according to Diane Isaacson, a local breeder of 50 years.
“The neat thing about Welsh ponies is that you can have a child, a parent, a trainer or anyone else ride them,” Isaacson said. “They are the perfect place to begin.”
Children participating in the event are as young as 5 years old, and one event involves children younger than age 7 being lead around the ring by their trainers.
Nora Frushour, who sets the courses for the events, said the U.S. Equestrian Foundation issues a certain number of fences to jump and direction changes for each event, and it is her job to make it fit into the given arena.
“It’s a lot like a puzzle,” Frushour said. “For the multibreed show we try to use natural fences — fences you might see normally in the countryside — while the hunter-jumper event uses less decorated obstacles.”
Leslie Nelson, who has trained horses in the area for 27 years, said she has been participating in the show in some way for almost her whole life.
“Back when I was a child, they used to run the hunter-jumper and the multibreed shows together and it was a huge deal — it was very prestigious and there was a flower show and everything,” Nelson said. “It was very much the place to be.”
Nelson, who primarily works with hunter-jumper horses, said the hunter-jumper portion of the event should prove to be an exciting show. According to Nelson, the competition has been given an A-rating by the USEF — the second-highest level of prestige possible.
“People come from all over — Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Colorado,” Nelson said. “People love Santa Barbara. They see that it’s here and they immediately want to come.”
Holdrum said a few of the horses in the hunter-jumper competition are among the best in the nation, adding that many of the horses in the competition will go on to participate in the Kentrucky State Fair’s World Championship Horse Show as well as other world-class events.
“In next week’s competition, we will have horses of Olympic variety and a few that have actually been with the U.S. Olympic team,” Holdrum said.