I received, a few years ago, as a hostess gift, a candle called “Devon.” It’s arguably the best smelling candle I’ve ever encountered (and I am one of those that can spend hours smelling every single candle in a Yankee store). The candle smells like sugar, vanilla, and lemon – meant to be evocative of the famous Devon lemon sticks and fair. It smells so good that I’ve never even burned it – just left it out and open. It smells amazing – but it does not smell like Devon to me. Not My Devon anyway.
I had the surreal experience of going out to Devon this year as a spectator, instead of as a competitor. I was outwardly offended when security gave me a second look instead of a simple bored nod “good morning.” Of course, the difference is that this year I was wearing a sundress and it was noon. Typically, I would be dressed to ride and it would be 4AM. This year I sat in the stands instead of at the in-gate. This year I watched riders objectively instead of watching to see how lines rode and to know whose high score I was aiming to beat. This year I got to feel excitement watching each horse in the derby, instead of feeling nervous energy grow as they got further along in the jump order and I got closer to “on deck.” This year I ate tea sandwiches instead of sharing ritual Swedish Fish and iced Ginger Snaps with my horse before go-time.
My Devon smells like pine shavings from a paper bag. Like Quicksilver and Suave mixed with sweat – both human and equine. Like salt, hay, molasses, and sand, mixed with metal, paint, and wood stain. 80 years from now you could blindfold me and take me to Devon and I would know exactly where I am, based on smell alone.
Devon is different things to different people. To some it’s lemon sticks and a Ferris wheel. To some it’s the electricity of the lights on Grand Prix night. To many, it’s a goal; a dream. And one that a great many never achieve. This is Devon – it is different things to different people, but to everyone it is somehow magic.
My Devon is prep at 4AM, hack in the Oval at 5, a bath at 6. Check the order of go. Watch the jump crew set the course as the sun comes up over the Main Grand Stand. Watch the first one go. Go check to make sure no braids are rubbed out of place. Watch the course again and warm-up until we’re 10 out. Catch oxers off each lead and canter away. End on a vertical the same lead as Jump 1. Wait by the in-gate as the nerves come washing over and the excitement builds. Go in and make the next 90 seconds of your life everything you worked for over the last year and beyond. Be patient to the single oxer. Let the electricity of the ring and the crowd make him jump up to you. Smile when you land off the last jump because there’s no other feeling like this in the world.
This is My Devon. It’s hard work and it’s nerves. It’s sweat and tears – some of joy and some of disappointment. And it’s every part of magic.