The Del Mar National Horse Show in California has joined an elite group of US Equestrian-licensed shows, earning the designation of USEF Heritage Competition. The show has brought equestrian excellence to San Diego County for 75 years and stands among the handful of horse shows in the country to reach such a milestone. Over the years, Del Mar has earned its reputation for being among the toughest, highly competitive, most exciting, finest, and richest horse shows in Southern California. With its world-class multidisciplinary equestrian competition and signature Saturday evening performances, Del Mar ranks high among the most prestigious horse shows in the Western region.
The Del Mar National began as part of the annual San Diego County Fair. In 1946, 350 competitors rode for their chance to win a slice of the $20,000 pie and to earn points toward becoming ultimate show champions. By 1953, the 10-day show featured saddle horses, harness horses, roadsters, ponies, hunters, jumpers, polo, Western, cutting horses, and equitation. By 1979, the Del Mar National had become so popular it eventually outgrew the county fair and became a separate event.
The show and the venue have continually evolved over the years. The rings and locations, along with the breeds and variety
of disciplines, have changed over the years as Del Mar’s unique character took shape and grew into the icon it has become. Today, the show hosts three distinctly different weeks of competition: Western, dressage, and hunter/jumper. Del Mar now offers more than $350,000 in prize money and attracts more than 3,000 horses during the three weeks of competition.
The competition takes place in several rings, including the multimillion-dollar Del Mar Arena. The arena received an extensive makeover in 2009, including the addition of a roof. Much of the “outdoor” quality has been retained with the use of half- and three-quarter walls. The superb coastal weather and the show’s proximity to the storied thoroughbred racetrack founded by a legendary group of friends—including Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Gary Cooper, and Oliver Hardy—are qualities that help create the ambiance associated with this show and are what make it truly exceptional
A Del Mar victory merits pride and bragging rights, as well as the literal currency. Many of today’s horse show superstars rode here as juniors, amateurs, and lead-line competitors. Riders often reminisce about showing at Del Mar, whether as a child or professional. Former competitors include numerous world-class equestrians: Hall of
Fame riders, Olympians, and World Cup Champions, including Hap Hansen, Susan Hutchison, Rich Fellers, Richard Spooner, Will Simpson, Lauren Hough, Hilda Gurney, Debbie McDonald, Steffen Peters, and Guenter Seidel. Many spectators continue to purchase ringside box seats year after year as an established family tradition.
The Del Mar National plays an important role in the community. In addition to sponsoring numerous equestrian competitions and charity educational scholarship events, the Fairgrounds has provided disaster relief for thousands of horses, other livestock, and citizens who were evacuated during the devastating Southern California fires. The commitment to always be ready to provide safe haven for members of the community remains an essential component of the Fairgrounds.
In addition to receiving the Heritage Competition designation, the Del Mar National will celebrate its 75th anniversary at this year’s April event. It is a show with a tradition of excellence worthy of its history and of this new honor.