There is something so exciting about a good equestrian event. Whether show jumping, rodeo, racing, or something else entirely, the mixture of excitement, society, and of course, horses, makes for an event like no other. From the Kentucky Derby to the National Rodeo Finals, we’ve found and profiled the 15 very best equestrian events held each year in the United States.
The AQHA World Show
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Each year, owners and riders of the American Quarter Horse descend upon Oklahoma City in order to show off their champion horses and skills. The World Show attracts competitors, exhibitors, and spectators from all around the globe. It consists of all sorts of events and is considered the premiere competition for Quarter Horse fans.
ASPCA Maclay National Championship
Junior riders compete in prestigious shows all year in hopes of qualifying for the ASPCA Maclay National Championship. Held alongside the National Horse Show, which also makes our list of America’s best equestrian events, the Maclay is the crown jewel of a young equestrian’s career. Riders representing every part of the country flock to Kentucky (a.k.a Horse Country) to compete over several days. To win, riders must prove themselves on both the flat and over a jump course.
The Breeders’ Cup
Hailed as the “Super Bowl of Horse Racing,” the Breeders’ Cup is two days of racing. It features the world’s best thoroughbreds in every major category of racing. Though this massive event is held at a different American race track each year (Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Keeneland are all popular hosts), it attracts horses, jockeys, trainers, and spectators from all around the globe. The first day of racing ends with the crowning of the champion filly or mare in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The second day of racing finishes with the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Devon Horse Show
The name Devon has become synonymous with class and equestrian excellence, and that all comes from the famed annual Devon Horse Show. Held in Devon, Pennsylvania every May, the Devon Horse Show dates all the way back to 1896. Held all outdoors, the show features horsemanship, equitation, confirmation, speed, and other performance classes for all breeds of horse. Interestingly, the horse show doubles as a benefit for nearby Bryn Mawr Hospital. It’s the hospital’s largest fundraiser of the year.
The Hampton Classic Horse Show
Bridgehampton, New York
The Hampton Classic Horse Show takes place every year over Labor Day weekend. It’s both a prestigious Grand Prix event and a highlight of the East Coast social calendar. The show has been celebrating the end of summer since the early 1900s, and attracts more than 1,000 of the world’s top horses and riders. As the riders compete in various show jumping events, fans descend upon chefs’ tables, charity auctions, and VIP dinners to see and be seen. Don’t forget your fancy hat for the Classic’s last big Grand Prix event, always held on Sunday.
Keeneland Racecourse Fall/Spring Meets
Is there an American race track more beautiful than Keeneland Racecourse? We don’t think so! This historic race track is located smack dab in the midst of the country’s most beautiful horse farms. Be sure to sit in the grand stand for views of rolling green pastures and mile upon mile of white fencing. Though the track hosts a number of events throughout the year, it only opens for racing in the spring and fall. Unlike at so many other Thoroughbred racing tracks, a day at Keeneland is a day out to celebrate all things horses, horse racing, and Kentucky. Visitors dressed to the nines spend the early morning tailgating in the parking lot, then make their way track side to enjoy stakes race after stakes race featuring some of America’s most beloved horses and riders.
The Kentucky Derby
On every first Saturday of May, since 1875, horse racing fans from all over the world tune in to the Kentucky Derby. To win this prestigious horse race is the lifelong dream of every Thoroughbred owner, trainer, and jockey. Each year the 20 best three-year old horses vie for their spot in history. Those fortunate enough to score a ticket to The Kentucky Derby experience the excitement of Churchill Downs first-hand from either their spot in the infield or their box along Millionaire’s Row. Though the actual race lasts only about three minutes, Louisville, Kentucky’s annual Derby celebration actually lasts about two weeks, and includes parades, concerts, festivals, and one of the biggest fireworks shows on the planet.
Kentucky Three-Day Event
As one of the only four-star eventing competitions held in the United States, the Kentucky Three-Day Event is a top equestrian event that attracts thousands of fans and only the top-ranked horses and riders from all over the world. Traditionally held the weekend before the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Three-Day Event actually takes place over four days: dressage on Thursday and Friday, cross-country on Saturday, and show jumping on Sunday. The horses and riders compete for winnings totaling more than $400,000.
National Finals Rodeo
Las Vegas, Nevada
The best rodeo riders and their fans top off their holiday season with the National Finals Rodeo, held annually in Las Vegas. It’s considered the premiere championship rodeo event in the United States. This equestrian event features the top 15 money winners in each rodeo event, as determined by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Events include steer wrestling, bronc riding, roping, bull riding, and barrel racing, among others.
The National Horse Show
Founded in 1883 and held in New York City, the National Horse Show once provided Louis Keller with the names for his New York Social Register. This iconic horse show was the first recognized show in which a woman rode astride rather than sidesaddle (1915). Some of the National Horse Show’s early competitors included such notable names as General John J. Pershing, William Billy Mitchell, and George S. Patton. Talk about an influential piece of history! Today, the National Horse Show remains just as influential, although it has gone through some changes. In 2011, the show’s location moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Queen’s Cup Steeplechase
Mineral Springs, North Carolina
The Queen’s Cup Steeplechase is considered by many the premiere equestrian event of the social season in the South. It’s held annually on the last Saturday of April. Unlike those who take part in flat racing, the athletic Thoroughbreds competing in the Queen’s Cup soar over a series of 4.5-foot jumps while galloping at speeds topping 30 miles per hour. On the sidelines cheering them towards the $150,000 prize are thousands of spectators, all dressed in their finest spring attire.
Saratoga Classic Horse Show
Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs has long been known as a center for equestrian sports, a tradition that’s celebrated every June at the Saratoga Classic Horse Show. Dating back to 1927, these prestigious horse shows attract from all over the country horse lovers and spectators eager to see some of the world’s best horses and riders compete.
The Tevis Cup
Nevada and California
Known also as the Western States Trail Ride, The Tevis Cup is a 24-hour, 100-mile trek over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The ride has been taking place every July for more than 60 years. It follows the route taken by silver and gold prospectors during the rushes of the 1850s. Nothing about The Tevis Cup is simple, as horses and their riders must navigate steep terrain various wildlife encounters, narrow trails, and total darkness come night time. Fortunately, vet checks are frequently located along the route, and every team that finishes within 24 hours is rewarded with a silver Completion Award Buckle.
The Virginia Gold Cup
The Plains, Virginia
Held annually on the first Saturday of May (yes, the same day as the Kentucky Derby), The Virginia Gold Cup is a steeplechase race held to honor the longtime tradition of the hunt. The prestigious social event was first held in 1922. It features athletic thoroughbreds, food and drink stalls, local exhibitors, and likely the best-dressed spectators of any Virginia event.
World’s Championship Horse Show
Every August, lovers of gaited Saddlebred horses flock to Louisville, Kentucky for the World’s Championship Horse Show. Considered the premiere event of the Saddlebred world, this prestigious horse show is held annually in conjunction with the Kentucky State Fair. More than 2,000 horses and riders compete in different divisions to earn prizes and monetary awards totaling more than $1 million.