Photo credit: The Book
There are no plans to move The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. That is the message new Horse Show President Richard O'Donnell wants to stress as he steps into the leadership position amid a sea of rumors and speculation.
"It's not going to go away. If anything, it's going to survive another 100 years - that's my goal," O'Donnell said. "Devon isn't moving anywhere. Devon is there to stay."
The Devon Board named O'Donnell as president and Wayne Grafton as new Board Chairman after removing President Sara Cox Lange and Chairman Henry L. Collins III at a special meeting held December 22. Following the announcement, social media was humming with speculation that the new leadership had ties with developers with their eye on the showgrounds, which could be sold for development while the show moved to a venue many miles to the west.
Both Cox Lange and Collins have long time involvement with the horse show, going back generations. Collins had served as Chairman for many years, but Cox Lange took the post of president in 2014.
Grafton and O'Donnell also have strong ties to the horse show, and connections to the carriage driving divisions. O'Donnell has served as Devon Treasurer for many years, and was one of three candidates for the president's position last year, although Cox Lange was ultimately appointed.
"I gave her 100% of my support while she was in office," O'Donnell said.
Cox Lange, who is a Hackney and Saddlebred farm owner, oversaw just one show season at Devon, but it was one that included a number of changes to staff, scheduling and procedures.† Cox Lange made a strong effort to revitalize the Saddlebred and Hackney divisions, bringing in a larger number of exhibitors than the classes had seen in many years.
Another very visible change in 2014 was moving the hunter breeding divisions from their traditional spot on Grand Prix Thursday to the closing Sunday of the show. Interviewed at last year's Devon Horse Show, Cox Lange anticipated adding a full selection of in-hand classes for all breeds to the final day as well.
Other changes included the beginnings of a new headset program, where spectators could rent a headset and hear live commentary from professionals on the various classes as they were taking place in the ring. She also promoted the Young Devonaires program, an effort to bring younger volunteers into the network of Devon supporters.
"It was a great idea. It proved to be a very positive thing," said O'Donnell, who assisted with the Young Devonaires program last year. "They raised about $17,000 from their online auction. I commend them for that. They took off in a different direction, and it was very successful and we were very grateful."
At this point, the horse show class list has not been finalized for 2015, and O'Donnell is unsure if any of the changes put in place by Cox Lange will be continued.
"You may see some additional changes in a positive way," O'Donnell said. "If it worked last year, we want to continue doing it and doing better."
Some change may come as a result of feedback from exhibitors. "There are some changes that we have been given by the exhibitors that we are going to consider," O'Donnell said. "Those kinds of things all go through the show managers, then they come back to us with a plan. We try to implement as many of those as we can."
There is no move on to reduce Devon to a Hunter Jumper show as was done with the Pennsylvania National a few years ago. "I'm not interested in seeing it go just hunter jumper. That's why Devon is so unique, it's an all breed show and we have so many disciplines," O'Donnell said.
Under Cox Lange, the Horse Show had a record setting year financially, making a $200,000 profit after years of barely breaking even. Perhaps her most controversial proposal was to streamline the board for more efficiency.
There are two sides to Devon, the Horse Show and the Country Fair. "Wayne and I need to bring the two organizations, the Horse Show and the Country Fair together as one. You can't have the horse show without the country fair and you canít have the country fair without the horse show," O'Donnell said. "When we're in the board room, we're one organization. We're not two separate entities."
O'Donnell hopes that the public will not see the change in officers as an ominous sign. "The Devon show grounds are not for sale," he said. "What has happened is in the past. Let's move on and work together as a team. We want to see the 2015 show go off very well - we want to see the horse show stay alive for the beneficiary, the Bryn Mawr Hospital. There's no question about it. Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Inc. is alive and well. It's going to move forward."
Efforts to reach Cox Lange for comment were unsuccessful.