When it comes to organizing the iconic Dressage at Devon, Lori Kaminski says the devil is in the details. She wears many hats as President and CEO, as do the countless volunteers who make the one-of-a-kind show possible. Beyond the electricity found in the Dixon Oval, Kaminski keeps her thumb on the pulse year-round of all the things that keep the DAD brand in a league of its own.
From competitors and scoring, sponsors and vendors, signage and shopping, it’s an event that fits the notoriety of the world stage into an intimate, family-friendly setting in a suburb of Philadelphia. People come from everywhere to be a part of DAD, even the volunteers, some of whom hail all the way from down under.
While reminiscing of horse slobber on her evening gown and an eagle made of glass, what Kaminski looks forward to most this year, now nearly 40 years deep in her service to the event, is making more memories with her Dressage at Devon family. After last year’s cancellation due to the coronavirus, Kaminski and her crew are on course to make this fall’s show better than ever.
When did you first get involved with Dressage at Devon (“DAD”) and what made you want to be a part of this event?
Lori Kaminski: I started with DAD in the 1980s. I used to do a lot of scoring for combined training and combined driving and someone asked if I would come up and score the breed division.
Has your role at DAD changed over the years?
LK: So, I started as the chief scorer for the breed show, then I was asked to replace the breed show secretary because of my “friendly” attitude. (Little did they know…). I had special software written for me to make it easier to get the entries to the graphic artist for the program. Back in the day, we would have between 400 and 450 horses in the breed show, but USEF and USDF didn’t expect as much from us as they do now. During my time as the breed show secretary, Melanie Sloyer (our breed show chairperson) and I came up with many new items to add to the show and many of them have become part of the USDF Sporthorse program. I think I’m most proud of the “Born in the USA” Breeder’s Awards that are given at DAD. This program promotes the USA breeder. It’s a cash award program that is split between the owners of the winning horses and the breeders of those horses. The horse must have been conceived and born here in the USA.
In 2009, I was elected President and CEO of Dressage at Devon and my focus has been more on the “event” than just the horse show. It’s a bit challenging to juggle all of the balls to make an event of this magnitude look easy.
In the lead up to a big show like this, what are some of the things that you focus on during the final weeks?
LK: My focus during the final weeks is to try not to let anything fall through the cracks and to make the show a welcoming experience for competitors, sponsors, vendors, and spectators. The devil is in the details.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an organizer?
LK: One of the biggest challenges I have is getting enough volunteers. Not just at the show, but to work on the production of the event itself. There are so many moving parts and it takes a lot of hands to get it all done. We used to have 40 or 50 volunteers working throughout the year, and now we’re down to about 20 active volunteers. So, everyone is wearing three or four hats.
What is it about Dressage at Devon that makes it a true destination event, not just for competitors, but for fans, too?
LK: I think that DAD is a destination event because of the atmosphere. The Dixon Oval has an electricity to it that you can’t find at any other dressage show. Competitors liken it to being almost like showing in Europe. The venue is small, so it’s very intimate. Many people (both competitors and spectators) come year after year to meet up with old friends and make new ones. There’s just no other show like it. Oh yeah, and the shopping! We have really great shopping. Not just for the horsey set, but you can find things for home decorating, clothing, pottery and all sorts of other items. One year, I even bought my husband an eagle carved in glass. We had just moved to the Chesapeake Bay area where the eagles fly daily.
How do volunteers play a role at DAD—do you have some folks who have volunteered for many years?
LK: I touched on volunteers earlier, but one of the longest (if not THE longest) volunteers is Melanie Sloyer. She volunteered at the first DAD in 1975 and has worked the show every year since. Our showtime volunteers go a long way back, too. Not only do they continue to volunteer at the show, but they come from all over. We’ve even had volunteers from Australia.
What’s something that many fans might not know about DAD?
LK: Something the fans might now know about DAD is the cost of production. It takes roughly $750,000 each year to produce the show. I think that’s phenomenal. And we have expenses year-round, not just for the show itself.
Do you have a favorite class that you enjoy watching – if so, why?
LK: I don’t get a lot of time to actually watch the show, but one class I try to catch part of is the foals of the current year. The babies are so much fun to watch! Of course, everyone likes the Grand Prix Freestyle under the lights on Saturday night. The gentlemen from the gentlemen’s committee wear tuxes and some of the ladies dress in evening wear and add a bit of elegance to the night.
Are there any particularly special moments that stick out to you from your years at DAD?
LK: One thing that I will never forget from my years at DAD was presenting the award for the Grand Prix Freestyle to George Williams riding Rocher. I was standing next to her in an evening gown when she reached over and slimed my shoulder. I said to George that I wouldn’t wash it off! Terri Miller took a picture and sent it to me. I will cherish that photo always.
In the wake of last year’s cancellation, what are you most looking forward to this year?
LK: After last year’s cancellation, I am most looking forward to seeing my Dressage at Devon “family” again. Many years ago, at a committee meeting after the show, I said that I love DAD because everyone is family…maybe a dysfunctional family, but family none the less. Many of the people I consider my closest friends I met at Dressage at Devon.
Mark your calendars and plan your trip now! The 2021 Dressage at Devon will take place on September 28 – October 3 at the Devon Horse Show Grounds in Devon, PA. To learn more, visit www.dressageatdevon.org.