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The Pennsylvania National Horse Show -- Through the Queer Eye of Carson Kressley



 

Carson Kressley won the ASHA Northeastern Regional

Amateur Park Horse Championship at the 2005 Penn National

Horse Show with Callaway's Prime Rate.  Photo: Shane Shiflet


 

Carson Kressley, a Lehigh Valley, PA native, is as at home in the ring at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show as he is on TV, making over clueless straight guys as the breakout star of the hit series, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.


During high school, he showed American Saddlebreds from training stables near his home and in
Lancaster County, PA. He continued to show at the Pennsylvania National throughout his college career (he graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Gettysburg College with a degree in finance), and after moving to New York City to work for the American Horse Shows Association (now the US Equestrian Federation) and Ralph Lauren.


The fashion guru of the Fab 5, Carson has appeared in The Perfect Man starring Heather Locklear and Hilary Duff, co-hosted The Today Show, judged the Miss Universe pageant, commented on the Oscars and Golden Globes, and written two books. He’s also volunteered his time to raise national awareness of the show horse industry.


Carson
took a few minutes from his latest projects, (shooting the fifth Queer Eye season and creating his own fashion line, to launch this fall) to talk about his memories of the Pennsylvania National Horse Show (known to exhibitors as ‘Harrisburg’) and plans for the 2006 show.


Did your background with horses help you in any way in becoming a celebrity?
Indirectly yes. In my line of work, half of the equation is how you deal with people. Whether it is cast mates, producers or the press, it really helps to be a people person in the entertainment biz. Since I grew up on the horse show circuit I was exposed to all kinds of very diverse people. And I think that really helped me in my career - both in fashion and entertainment.

 

How often do you get to ride and is showing more challenging because of your schedule? It seems like the older you get the less time you have for everything. When I was a kid I had the luxury of being able to ride every day if I wanted to! For all of my adult life I have been trying to balance work and riding. And since I have lived in New York City all of my adult life it has been difficult finding time to ride and practice, especially since the horses are many hours away. But with anything you love, you find a way to make it work. I have less time to ride now than ever so I mainly just get on at horse shows and hope for the best. I have some very nice horses and excellent trainers, so I am very, very lucky!

 

How long have you been showing at Harrisburg? Do you remember your first Harrisburg? I have personally been showing at Harrisburg for about twenty years. However, my grandparents used to take my sister and me along when they would show their road ponies there as early as the 1970s. The first time I showed a Saddlebred there was in 1986, I think. I had a junior exhibitor three-gaited horse named I'VE GOT IT. We definitely didn't HAVE IT that night. I don't think he cantered either direction. But it was certainly a thrill to show at the biggest show I had ever been to!

 

What do you like about the show? Well I am a very nostalgic person, so I love the history of the show. Some of the greatest horses of all breeds have shown there including Wing Commander! I actually have the program from the horse show the year he showed. It was relatively late in his career, maybe 1959??? I guess Harrisburg has always been special too because as a kid it was the biggest show one could go to, so it always sort of seems like a big deal. Other things that make it special: the shopping, barns from all over the US, the Valley Forge Band, and the TERRIBLE FOOD!

 

Do you have a fondest Harrisburg moment? There are two fond memories of Harrisburg that, when I think about it, really center around two horses that I absolutely loved to death. One was CH Melody's Miracle Man. He was a gaited horse that I showed to the reserve Amateur Five-Gaited Championship in 1991, I believe. He was the kindest, most game horse you could ask for. Although he was not the best horse in the ring, he thought he was!!! The other special moment occurred around 1999 when I was second (again!) in the Adult Show Pleasure Stake with a horse called CH Regal Gleam. That horse was chock-full of personality and really, really handsome. After the class, I felt a tug on the hem of my riding jacket. I turned around to find a little girl about five years old, who wanted my autograph! My first fan, sigh! Oh and one other moment that is probably the best: my sister has been a big supporter in the show ring all of my life, so in 2004 I was so pleased when she won the Amateur Five Gaited class and Championship with a new mare we had just bought, Espresso Love. That meant a lot to me! Now I cannot wait for my niece, who is 8 years old, to show at Harrisburg to carry on the family tradition.

 

Are you planning to come to Harrisburg this year? Which horses do you think you will bring? In the horse business you cannot really plan too far out since you never know what the HORSES have in mind. But at this point, knowing how important it is to support this grand show, we are planning on bringing everything. A gaited horse, a road pony, my park horse... The road pony is cool since that is the division my grandparents used to show in at Harrisburg. I think it’s great to carry on that tradition too.

 

How is it different being at the PNHS now that you are famous? I have less trouble parking. No, just kidding, they still give me a hard time about parking! There really is no difference. Well I guess some people in the stands know who I am.

 

For first time spectators, any words of advice on what they should expect or be sure not to miss? The great thing about the Pennsylvania National is that it is one of those great old multi-breed horse shows that we don’t see too much of anymore. So really, each session of the show is pretty entertaining for spectators since there are a variety of classes from Open Jumpers to Western to the American Saddlebred classes (which are the best, but then again, I'm admittedly biased).

 

Any recommendations on shopping at the show? Which shops are never-miss for you? Shopping is one of the best things about the show!!! There really isn't any other horse show in the country that has such an array of shopping. It’s a great place to get a head start on horsey Christmas shopping. I usually buy a piece of artwork or jewelry. There's also lots of super-cute clothes for little kids if you have one of those on your gift list. I always admire the wares of the lady with the hand-painted furniture. She has antique tables, chairs, even sleds! Each beautifully painted with horses or dogs. I would love to buy it all for my country house...but alas, I do not have a country house!

Do you have any horse-themed decor in your apartment? Any suggestions for incorporating horsey stuff graciously? As with any artistic endeavor, you have to take care to not be too literal or over the top (I know that's rich coming from me!). You don't want your home to look like the Libertyville Saddle Shop, now do we? Living in midtown Manhattan, a real horsey, country, Ralph Lauren-y look was not appropriate, but I do have lots of equestrian references in the artwork I have, the collection of silver trophies on my bookcases and even in my lighting fixtures (my dining room chandelier is Venetian glass, but it hangs from a chain of chrome snaffle bits!).

 

Any recommendations for dealing with helmet hair? I guess we are not talking about the waspy 'do sported by the likes of Elizabeth Dole and now, frighteningly, Hillary Clinton, but instead LITERALLY helmet hair from a hard hat? I ALWAYS carry another hat with me (usually a favorite ball cap) that goes on my head immediately after I take my riding hat off. It’s really the only way to cope.

 

What projects are you working on now? We just wrapped the 5th season of Queer Eye, which airs on Bravo this fall. I am also working on a line of apparel that debuts this Fall in time for the holiday season. It’s men's and women’s, along with accessories, and I promise it is fun and has strong equestrian references. I am also working on a film with John Goodman that comes out for the holidays. Oh and also some international press travel....just in time to be back for Harrisburg!

 

Anything horse-related in the works? I like to keep the horse thing interesting by buying and selling. I just sold my champion pleasure horse, Steeling Home, who won at Harrisburg last year, to Allyson Fedorko. So it will be fun seeing her in the ring with him, cheering them on. Also my niece has a new equitation horse. So that is exciting as well. This year will be her first trip to Louisville, even more exciting. And of course we have several young horses in the wings - time will tell.

 

The 61st annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show will be held October 12-21 at the Farm Show Complex and Exhibition Center, Harrisburg, PA. More than 1,100 of the top horses and riders from throughout North America will compete for $340,000 in prize money and 11 national championships. Tickets are on sale September 5 - for information visit www.panational.org or phone (717) 770-0222.

 

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