Capital Challenge Combines All the Right Keys to Success

In 1993, as ground was being broken on the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, Oliver Kennedy and Billy Glass had a plan. They envisioned creating a brand-new, premier indoor competition that would mark the start of the year-end, indoor finals circuit. 

Today, that vision has been a reality for 23 years in the form of the popular Capital Challenge Horse Show. What began as a 500 horse event has exploded into a nine-day horse show with more than 1,000 entries, and, as the 2016 edition of the show gets underway on October 1, a waiting list of riders wishing to compete.

Oliver Kennedy and Billy Glass (pictured at the 2006 Capital Challenge Horse Show) have shaped the show into what it is today. Photo by Kenneth Kraus  

While today’s year-round horse show calendar has endless events for exhibitors to choose from and while many longstanding hunter horse shows are beginning to fall by the wayside or see dwindling entry numbers, the Capital Challenge Horse Show has managed to continue to thrive year after year. That continuous success and popularity requires a large number of key factors, and for Capital Challenge that means a strong starting point, exceptional management, generous sponsors and the highest level of sportsmanship and hunter competition in the country.

Starting Strong

When Glass and Kennedy first devised the concept for the Capital Challenge Horse Show, Glass was working for the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) and was in favor of the World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) program presenting their annual, year-end awards at WIHS. When that did not come to fruition, Glass recognized the ideal opportunity to add immediate credibility to the new Capital Challenge Horse Show: hosting the finals of the well-respected WCHR program.

That strong starting foundation continues to be a key component of Capital Challenge and helps to create some of the greatest hunter competition in the country – which remains a primary goal for both Glass and Kennedy.

“The whole basis of success for Capital Challenge is the level of competition and bringing everyone together to compete,” said Glass previously. “We host many of the best horses and riders in the industry, and we are lucky that we have a great facility to attract them. People come from California, the Midwest, the Southwest, year in and year out. We have the highest level of hunter competition.”

Scott Stewart and Catch Me were force to be reckoned with at the 2015 Capital Challenge Horse Show, capturing the Grand Hunter Championship, the First Year Green Hunter Championship, the Grand Green Hunter Championship, and the 2015 WCHR Pro Challenge victory. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

This year, Capital Challenge will host many of the same WCHR events that have been integral from the beginning as well as newer additions, with the full line-up of WCHR classes, including the $25,000 WCHR Professional Challenge, sponsored by the Gochman Family; the $5,000 Developing Professional Challenge, sponsored by the John R. Ingram Fund; the Amateur Owner 3’3” Challenge, sponsored by Milestone, LLC/Havens Schatt; the Amateur Owner 3’6” Challenge; the Adult Amateur Challenge, sponsored by Kate Considine and Willow Brook Farm; the Children’s Challenge, sponsored by Stephanie Bulger and Meadow View; the Pony Challenge, sponsored by RC Stables; the Junior 3’3” Challenge; the Junior 3’6” Challenge, sponsored by Madison Hills Farm; and the $5,000 Professional WCHR Finals, also sponsored by Madison Hills Farm.

Catering to the Customer

While the WCHR classes provided a solid base and a major draw for some, Capital Challenge would not be where it is today without Glass and Kennedy’s ongoing recognition of the importance of catering to the customer and the wants and needs of the exhibitor.

Over the years, numerous classes have been added to specifically meet those needs, ranging from jumper classes – purposely designed for those traveling from a great distance and preparing for the remainder of the indoor circuit – to 3’3” amateur and junior hunter divisions, new equitation finals, the Developing Professional Challenge, and the extraordinarily popular Future Hunter divisions.

The Future Hunters were introduced to Capital Challenge more than 15 years ago and provided the first major year-end championship for horses fitting the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) pre-green hunter qualifications.

This year, Capital Challenge will welcome approximately 150 entries into the Future Hunter classes, which includes five sections: Future Working Hunter 5 & Under, Future Working Hunter 6 & Over, Future Working Hunter Mares, Future Working Hunter Colts & Geldings, and Future Working Hunter 3’3”. The Future Hunters then culminate with the $25,000 Future Hunter North American Championship, sponsored by the Wheeler Family and Madison Hills Farm, on Wednesday, October 5.

“The Future Hunter division is amazing, and I’m truly impressed with how it has grown over the past few years,” said three-time United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) International Hunter Derby Finals champion Liza Boyd. “I think it is the best thing that has happened to our industry because it has made people want to go out and buy young horses. Horses from this class have always gone on to be famous horses, and that is something really amazing for the sport.” 

Hunt Tosh and Largesse, winners of the 2015 $25,000 Future Hunter North American Championship. Capital Challenge will crown a new winner on October 5. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography 

Sponsorship Support

The industry-leading additions to the horse show and the positive impact of Capital Challenge on the sport have not gone unnoticed by exhibitors and sponsors, who in turn have made it possible for the show to grow through their support.

Just as many of the same exhibitors return each year, Capital Challenge has been fortunate to have many of the same returning sponsors such as Ariat International, a sponsor of the grand prix the very first year of Capital Challenge and now the sponsor of the $15,000 North American Junior/Amateur Challenge Cup and the title sponsor of the Ariat National Adult Medal Finals.

The show has also welcomed new sponsors each year, including this year’s presenting sponsor, the World Equestrian Center, a state-of-the-art equestrian facility located in Wilmington, OH.

“We’re honored to be the presenting sponsor of the prestigious 2016 Capital Challenge Horse Show,” said Roby Roberts of the World Equestrian Center. “Our shared passion for promoting the best of equestrian sport in the United States makes Capital Challenge the perfect partner for the World Equestrian Center.”

With the backing of such strong sponsors and exhibitors, Glass and Kennedy look forward to continuing to grow the Capital Challenge Horse Show as the home of the country’s finest hunter competition for years to come.

“That high-level competition is what Capital Challenge is all about,” Glass said. “We are fortunate to have all of those great horses under one roof. Ours is a rare show where all of these geographic representatives meet head-to-head to see who really has the best one. Nobody comes to Capital Challenge to show up. They come there to compete.”

Tommy Serio and the highly successful hunter stallion Popeye K at the 2006 Capital Challenge Horse Show. Photo by Michelle Bloch 

To learn more about the 2016 Challenge Horse Show and to watch all of this year’s competition live online, visit