COLUMBIA — Inside the Stephens College Equestrian Center, a group of women chat in small groups, only paying attention to the center ring when necessary.
Michele Smith, a western riding professor, yells directions to a student who is running around the ring on foot. On Thursday, the student will take her horse around the ring during the annual Prince of Wales Riding Club Horse Show.
“Wooh, you’re so consistent,” a member of the crowd yells. The girls’ ensuing laughter conceals the months of planning that got them to this point — a rehearsal of the show.
The Prince of Wales Riding Club, the oldest continually active riding club in the country, was established at Stephens in 1927. The club’s 81st annual horse show evolved from a communitywide social event into a three-day horse show.
This year, the 35-member club wanted a change.
Ellen Beard, chairwoman of Stephens’ equestrian department, said she saw the “thirst of the students for a new idea,” and encouraged them to plan a combination dinner and horse show event. She gave the girls creative control, but urged them to reinstate the mock-horse auction that she created in the 1980s.
Everyone who attends the show will be assigned a profile of a famous horse lover and a budget they can spend in a fictional horse auction. The audience becomes more involved in the show because they will be able to “buy” whichever horse they want if their character has enough money.
The horses will be auctioned after the club members ride them in the three disciplines of the show: western, hunter jumper and saddle seat.
One of the featured horses is Make It So Zippo, a world champion at the American Quarter-Horse Association show in the amateur showmanship class. Another is Platinum Investment, a jumper that “consistently places in the ribbons,” according to Smith. Starburst, an American Saddlebred who has won several events at the Park Pleasure Open, will also be shown.
Buddy Wagner, a well-known horse show announcer, will narrate the show.
Attendees will eat a buffet dinner at elevated tables around the showing ring, sip champagne and bid in the auctions. In addition to the mock horse auction, there will be a silent auction and a live auction, which will include larger pieces, such as a sculpture by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.
Another change is the name for this year’s show: Jewels and Jods. The riding club’s president Emily Stoutenborough said jewels refers to the Stephens women and jods refer to jodhpurs, a kind of riding pant.
They also moved the show to the arena near the Stephens’ stables on Old 63. Historically the show has been held at Midway Expo Center.
Stoutenborough said they wanted to bring alumni and students together to celebrate Stephens’ 175th anniversary during alumni weekend this weekend. Equestrian alumni volunteered to be judges for the show, donated items for the auctions and encouraged the women’s work.
Beard said she hopes the event will highlight the school’s equestrian program, which started in 1926 and is one of the nation’s oldest programs. She said many people, including other Stephens professors, don’t understand the equestrian program.
“We’ve shown them that the girls can do more than ride a horse around in a circle,” Beard said. “They are business women and horse trainers.”