Imagine a hockey arena-turned- horse-show-ring. For ten days within that ring, combine jumpers, dressage, four in hands, roadster ponies, hunters, indoor eventing (sounds like an oxymoron). Add breed show classes for everything from heavy horses to sport ponies. Step away from the arena and find a huge agricultural fair, with cows, sheep, goats that are all scrubbed to their eye teeth. Upstairs are rabbits, chickens, giant pumpkins, honey, wool, and a variety of 4-H prize winning projects. Tack on a massive trade show with everything from diesel trucks to antiques to sock monkeys, where you can buy a hotdog or eat in a fine (if temporary) restaurant. Add about a hundred years of tradition. Populate it with everyone from folks in jeans and Durberrys to men in tuxes or tails, or kilts, or hunt colors, the occasional red-coated Mountie, and women in cocktail dresses or gowns.
If you see all that, without every leaving the building, you’re at the Toronto Royal Winter Fair.
Axel judged the CDI as well as the costumed quadrille class. It’s not every day that he judges wearing a tux, but he insists that donning it is easier than figuring out what tie goes with which jacket. I’m totally on board, because he’s incredibly dapper in black tie! The CDI was necessarily small due to the time constraints of the show, but brought lots of spectators. The quadrille was contested by four teams of four: Zorro and his women; cowboy desperados; a team inspired by Remembrance Day (Veterans Day here in the States); and the Riding Elvises. I’d love to see more barns put together quadrille teams, or even pas de deux rides: they’re fun to do, and fun for spectators!
We stayed at the Royal York, a grand, old style hotel in downtown Toronto. The night that we arrived, the only room they had available was a suite right beside the Queen’s Apartment (no, really, the apartment that the Queen of England stays in when she visits Toronto). Poor us (not!). Sadly, we were demoted to a normal room after that, but it was easy to get used to brocades and handsome finishes and fresh flowers on the vanity.
From the York, in the middle of the Financial district, we could descend into the PATH, which is an underground network of shopping malls that connect a dozen blocks – once you’re there, you’d never have to surface into a Toronto winter. Fortunately, we were there during crisp autumn weather, but it was still fun to explore the maze of tunnels and stores. Toronto must be employing all the construction workers in North America: there are so many condo towers and office buildings going up that the crane seems to be the national bird.
The show itself was a blast. Because Axel was only judging in the evenings, we tried to make two trips there each day: in the morning, dressed in jeans, to take in the trade show and agricultural sights, and then return in the evening in formal wear. Because it just wouldn’t do to be inspecting Holsteins while in high heels. During the evening performances, those sitting in the first few rows are requested to dress appropriately, and that meant anything from business attire to black tie. Years ago, this was the tradition not only in Toronto, but in New York at the National Horse Show, and in DC at the Washington International. At the National, even the press was required to be in black tie if one was planning on photographing from ringside, and I remember two decades ago riding the Long Island Railroad into New York, dressed in a long black skirt to cover the goings on. Toronto, however, is the last of the Grand Shows…. Long live the Royal!
Here is a slide show of photos…. Enjoy!