HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The iconic Pennsylvania National Horse Show is back for its 77th year starting on Oct. 12 and running until Oct. 22.
“We work all year long to qualify to be able to compete at this horse show,” said rider Cindy McGrath from Wynnwood Farm in Elizabethtown. “So, it’s very prestigious within our industry.”
Riders have been gathering points to qualify for this show since December of 2022 and only he top 20 horses from each size division is selected, so even just being accepted into the show is a huge accomplishment.
Junior weekend will begin on Thursday, Oct. 12 and conclude on Sunday, Oct. 15. Professional horses will then compete Monday, Oct. 16 to Sunday, Oct. 22. Junior weekend features two National Championships and the professional competition is highlighted by the $100,000 Grand Prix de Penn National on Oct. 21.
Most of the competition is free to attend, with Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 being the only dates that require tickets. There are also fun events outside of the competitions such as the Celebration of the Horse, a free family fun event on Oct. 14 where kids can enjoy face painting, wagon rides, crafts and pony hugs.
It is anticipated there will be over 1,500 horses at the show. The PA National Horse Show Executive Director Susie Shirk said that even though it is a nationwide event, there is “good representation” for Central Pennsylvania amongst the competitors.
McGrath’s Wynwood Farm has been in operation since 1989 and riders from there have been competing in the show for about 25 years. Cindy is a rider and Rick McGrath trains all of the horses. This year Cindy is the only rider from Wynwood, but Wynwood has a history of sending many clients to the show.
“We’ve had a lot of different clients through the years come and go so each year is quite special actually,” said Rick McGrath. “Every year is different and we’re looking forward to this one being a little bit special also.”
Cindy will be competing in the second highest division in the open jumpers this year with a fairly new horse, a Dutch Warmblood.
For Cindy, the show is more than just a chance to show off her skills. The PA National Horse Show has been a part of her life since she was a child. It all began when Cindy started begging her parents for riding lessons.
“They said, ‘well, if you get straight A’s, we’ll get you riding lessons.'”, Cindy said. “Well guess what? That was enough motivation for me to work hard and study.”
Cindy’s parents started taking her to the PA National Horse Show, even letting her skip a day of school to attend junior weekend. The passion for horses ran in the family, with Cindy’s sister also riding. One of Cindy’s favorite memories from the PA National Horse Show happened just two years ago when her sister won a couple of classes.
The PA National Horse Show aims to foster a love for horses and riding so that other families will have stories similar to Cindys and her family. Cindy noted that the children in attendance are always excited to see the horses.
“There’s so many kids there that have never been around horses [and] experienced them,” Cindy McGrath said. “When they see the horses, their eyes get bright, and they get so excited to see them.”
Max Amaya, the head trainer and owner of Stonehenge Stables in Colts Neck, New Jersey, helps to foster this passion in the younger generation through his work. Amaya started riding in Argentina as a 12-year-old boy and has now dedicated his career to horses.
“The horses are a passion that people either have it or they don’t,” Amaya said. “I got that bad when I was a young teenager and I love the animals, I love the horses. I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to make a living doing something that I love with animals that I love.”
Amaya’s stables is sending six riders to compete in the junior jumper division this year. Amaya has been sending riders to the PA National Horse Show for about 20 years. Amaya works alongside TJ O’Mara now who he has been training since he was 11 years old.
“[O’Mara is] currently 25, he’s a wonderful professional and when he won in 2016 it was a lot of his and my work being displayed there,” Amaya said. “It was really rewarding for me to watch him win that he always wanted to win.”
Amaya noted that this final is one of the most important events in a junior rider’s career and him and his junior riders are hoping to watch their hard work pay off this year.
“Just as important as it can get for a junior rider at the peak of their career,” Amaya said. “I feel we work all year, and we want any of them to win. The goal is to win.”
As important as this show is to those who compete, it is also significant in general for the Harrisburg community. The show brings in in almost $10 million dollars from hotels and restaurants utilized during the event.
The PA National Horse Show also has a foundation, the PNHS Foundation, that gives back to therapeutic riding programs and horse rescue groups. Shirk said that most of the applications for the foundation come from local, volunteer run groups.
The show holds a “Foundation Friday” every year where riders who participate in therapeutic riding classes in the summer are able to compete in the therapeutic riding championships. All of the adults and kids in the therapeutic riding program receive a blue ribbon and a trophy as well. This year the special event will be held on Oct. 20.
“It puts it all in perspective as to what the purpose of this horse show is and what we really do,” shirk said.