Philadelphia’s suburbs are horse country, and there’s no better time to visit than spring and summer, when a host of events put the ponies front and center.
Radnor Hunt Races
Kentucky may have its Derby, but Philadelphia has the famed Radnor Hunt steeplechase. Surrounded by 6,000 acres of preserved countryside in Willistown Township – open space that race proceeds have helped to preserve – the Radnor Hunt Races have been around for 82 years. As much about parties as ponies, it often feels like going to a massive tailgate where a horserace breaks out. Spreads are often lavish – gourmet food, linens and candelabra – with prizes for the very best. It’s a dress-to-impress event (break out your most elaborate hat), with preppy attire the order of the day. Be sure to secure the best spots by the rail to watch the thoroughbreds thunder by. Parking passes, which serve as tickets, are not available on race day, but are pre-sold on the Races’ website.
Devon Horse Show and Country Fair
Like stepping back in time, a visit to the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair (May 25-June 4) is a genuine, old-fashioned delight. Established in 1896, Devon – the largest outdoor horse show in the country – has played host to generations of the horsey set. For as little as $15 for adults, visitors can watch as riders put the ponies through their paces, jumping and cantering their way to blue ribbons. There are competitions for everything from best carriage to best hat. There’s even a dog show. While the horses may be the main attraction, don’t pass on the fairgrounds, where vendors sell custom hats and equestrian apparel along with midway fare like lemon sticks and funnel cake. Kids will love the pony rides and the views from the Ferris wheel. Style guru and equestrian Carson Kressley returns this year and will be signing his new book – “Does This Book Make My Butt Look Big?” – on May 31 from 1-2 pm. Show and Fair proceeds benefit the Bryn Mawr Hospital.
The Brandywine Polo Club is a little less than an hour from Philadelphia, but feels a world away, set amid the rolling hills of Southern Chester County. Sometimes called hockey on horseback, polo is both graceful ballet and full-on spectacle, with players in colorful silks galloping up and down field trying to whack a ball into the opponent’s goal. Whether there for the match or the tailgating, everyone gets into the spirit between chukkers (the seven and a half minute periods of play), taking to the field to stomp down divots created by the ponies’ starts, stops and turns. With tickets priced at an affordable $15, Friday Night Twilight Polo makes the perfect date night. Brink some bubbly, a blanket and a basket of tasty treats – there’s also a concession area – and enjoy music and dancing under the stars after the match. Opening Day is on Memorial Day, May 29 at 3 pm, and weekly Friday night and Sunday afternoon matches continue throughout the summer.
If you prefer your horseback riding the All-American way, Cowtown Rodeo says “Giddyup!” Don your cowboy hat, and mosey to South Jersey for the oldest weekly rodeo in the United States. Seven events – from bull riding to barrel racing – are on show every summer Saturday (rain or shine) starting May 27. Kids will love the face painting and rodeo clowns, and themed nights even bring the circus to town. The rodeo store has you covered if you need a new pair of boots or a shiny belt buckle, and vendors also sell a wide variety of hot sandwiches and snacks. If you want a frosty beer, though, it’s strictly BYO in coolers, and no glass bottles are permitted.