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COW PALACE – Where Did Everybody Go?




By Leeann Mione


SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – We’ve all heard the stories of days gone by in the horse show industry. Times long past when shows such as Chicago International, Winterfest and The Big Easy were in their heyday.

Devon came close to joining the ranks of shows that have come and gone, but this year the Saddlebred contingent rallied and it looks like the show is on track to see increased numbers for a terrific turnout.

Cow Palace could have and should have had the same fate. In 2004, numbers looked good at the show which was staging a comeback and was held during the Grand National Rodeo in October. The rodeo however, needed to make a big move with calendar dates to boost numbers. The decision was made in 2004 that the rodeo and horse show would move from October to April and the horse show would be cancelled for 2005 because the dates were not available.

Flash forward to April 7-10, 2006. Grand National Rodeo is going strong with increased numbers and some of the country’s biggest rodeo talent performing for huge crowds night after night. The horse show however is a different story.

Just over 30 horses showed up at Cow Palace, arguably one of the most famous venues in San Francisco, to be judged by Nelson Green. Rockridge Farm, Dixon Stables, Diamond Hills, Deardorff Stable, Park Place, Bennett Stables and Pleasants Valley all made the decision to bring horses. An even bigger number of barns, including several northern California barns, stayed home.

To say that showing at Cow Palace is a unique experience is an understatement. There isn’t another show on the Saddlebred circuit anywhere in the country that offers what Cow Palace does to the spectator. Rock and roll music blaring from the speakers, house lights down and the spotlight highlighting the action, a packed house cheering wildly as the winning Saddlebred or Hackney pony takes its victory pass – it’s a thrill that few get to experience.

“This show is a tradition and the West Coast needs to see what they have to do to support it,” said Nelson Green. “The management and board members like having the Saddlebreds and ponies here. I made it a point to talk to them personally and they want us [the horse show community] to come back.

“The trainers and exhibitors need to realize that the horse show classes are part of a total entertainment package. A package put together to entertain the audience. You could put all the horse shows in California together and you still can’t equal the number of people in the audience that you see during one rodeo performance at Cow Palace,” he added. “The show will never cater to the horse show community because the Rodeo is the big draw, but wants the horses to remain part of the schedule and wants input on what they need to do to keep the horses coming.”

The 2006 show was made possible because of a small but dedicated group that was determined to see the Cow Palace Horse Show continue. They brought their horses and put up with the hassles and inconveniences that come with an event like this; i.e. increased security, having to work horses in the middle of the night, credentials required to go anywhere (similar to Louisville), and a class schedule that requires a whole lot of “hurry up and wait”.

Yes, it probably is easier to stay home and wait for that horse show that offers the perfect ring conditions, perfect weather, perfect judge(s), perfect management staff, perfect stabling and perfect prize money. Oh yeah, that’s right… that horse show doesn’t exist!

Cow Palace is only able to offer a huge crowd session after session, a thrill that is unmatched as they cheer their support for their favorites, the best stabling in the place, a show ring experience like no other and to top if off, a coveted and gorgeous Cow Palace silver belt buckle to the winner. And one more thing; management wants them to keep coming back despite their low numbers this year.

Bruce Dixon and Bill Tomin are two of the people who have been staunch supporters of the show and have devoted much time and energy into making it a success. They each got to experience the thrill of taking a victory pass in front of a huge rodeo crowd Sunday afternoon. Dixon rode Callaway’s Arbitrator to the Five-Gaited Stake win for owner Patricia Martin. The Full Monty and Julie DeVault were the reserve grand champions from Rockridge. The six horse class was one of the best of the day and the rodeo crowd enthusiastically cheered their favorites.

Bill Tomin was up on Wee Pee’s Storm to debut for DeVault Farms LLC and they were named the winners of the three-entry Three-Gaited Stake. Wee Pee’s Storm will now head to the junior exhibitor three-gaited division with Julie DeVault. CH Like Sunshine has been a consistent performer from Diamond Hills and now teamed with Julia Chen she took the reserve tricolor.

Whether or not the Cow Palace Horse Show continues its grand tradition remains to be seen. Hopefully, like Devon, it will rally and be part of the California horse show experience for years to come.

Complete show results may be seen by clicking on Show Results.

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