The Horse Palace on the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto is one of the most handsomely crafted Depression Era buildings in the city and has been described as one of the finest examples of 1930’s Art Deco style architecture in all of Canada.
This author spent two hours at the complex on Friday Nov 3rd walking the perimeter and exploring the equestrian centre inside. I wanted to expose some of the intricacies of the Horse Show, and the glories of the 2017 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, but was inspired instead to try and communicate the great energy that flows through the Horse Palace during this annual event.
Art Deco elements of The Horse Palace in Toronto
The building has cubist forms. It’s ‘blocky’ with columns set into the façade that have strong horizontal and vertical lines. The purpose-built, mother-of-all-stables has horses sculpted right into the concrete in breathtaking friezes above artfully composed stain glass windows. And these features are even more pronounced when set in relief behind tall piles of fragrant horse manure.
When constructed in 1931, the Horse Palace was described by contemporaries as the finest equestrian facility in the nation. But that’s not because of anything found on the exterior, but rather because of the layout and amenities inside the structure. This venue really is a horse ‘palace’; its a giant horse stables complex built around a large rectangular indoor riding arena under a massive skylight, and so the structure has a great natural light that pervades every hall and stall and make the building something of a focal point evidencing the Royalty aspect of the sport.
The interior of the Horse Palace is literally a cubist installation as both floors are honeycombed with ten foot square horse stalls. During The Royal Winter Fair, and especially on weekends during the Horse Show, these stalls are occupied by various and important Riding Stables businesses. One pen is set up for their horses, while another is usually furnished for humans to entertain their friends and talk shop. Many of the same stables with horses for sale in Horse Canada magazine are here doing deals, buying and selling animals, but also they buy and sell bales of hay, riding gear and horse tack.
The exterior of the riding stalls are decorated with blankets emblazoned with the names of the stables, and a great many breeders have set up floral displays around trophies and photos showing past glories. The decorations frequently include boxes of carrots and apples for passing horses!
Upstairs, the Horse Palace glows in the late afternoon as the setting sun catches the dust above hundreds of stalls to make heavenly scenes. Its all quite surreal as equines are exercised, walked and stretched in a spectacular other-world environment that at night becomes a big party event for people and horses.
Look at this delicious handful of high moisture corn and horse pellets sugared in molasses – that’s candy for horses.
Watching Juniors Compete in the Coliseum at The Horse Palace
There are over one thousand competitors at the Horse Show at The Royal Winter Fair each year and the competitions unfold at three or four separate arenas – my favourite venue is the riding arena inside the Horse Palace.
Behold here are the Percheron Stallions, Foiled before Jan 1st 2015, that’s the name of the class. What was more interesting to me was the age of the exhibitors – they were so young.
Anne Pringle from Shady Lane Stables was watching the show, and seemed to know exactly what was happening. She confirmed this author’s suspicions that the young exhibitors leading the horses about the sand ring below were also being judged.
One of the administrators below clapped his hands together and a young person began running beside her horse, and that was interesting, and looked a little dangerous.
Anne explained that’s why the middle-aged men in brown follow along behind the youngest Junior Equestrians as they show their prized Percheron stallions.
“Did you notice the horse wanted to turn left?’ Anne asked.
No, I replied.
“The horse wanted to follow the curve of the track, but the wrangler turned it right to come back this way.”
“Oh. Did she lose points?”.
“She would have. But the official turned it right.”
Anne Pringle from MJM Shady Lane Stables gave me her notes from her program. She was there looking for breeding stock but her notes later proved to be incomprehensible scribbles; were they weights? The horses’ ID tags? There were numbers scribbled beside the classes that couldn’t be rectified against anything understood by this author.
The next class was Percheron Grand Champion Stallion and Reserve, followed by Belgian Get of Sire and Belgian Progeny of Dam. These are just two of the many horse judging classes that sound like Rock n Roll band names. There was a time when all Canadians would have known exactly what ‘progeny of Dam’ means to horse breeders, but in this century that information is less mainstream.
This wasn’t about the prize money. All that happens over in the Ricoh Coliseum. This was a smaller show for the younger competitors and their immediate family and friends and is made to share glory among their regional riding clubs. These kids were not vying for prize money but rather, they were here competing in category at the Royal Winter Fair to experience the biggest stage many of the them have ever known. This is a big league confidence booster.
BWD Equine Farriers Busily Switched Horseshoes at The Royal
Here are the farriers. Two young men from B.W.D. Equine are certified blacksmiths which means they are called farriers at horse shows and for sixty dollars cash they offer a simple horseshoe switch-over service. And they were busy.
Aluminum shoes or steel shoes? These men very efficiently switched over horses shoes while the owners waited five minutes. The horses didn’t seem to mind either as they had one set of metal shoes pried off and fresh metal discs with new nails added – it must tickle a little bit. Most of these horses have very healthy, shiny hooves.
The Bits and Bridle bar on the second floor beside the ramp is somehow sponsored by Horse Sport magazine and the interior of this family friendly saloon has all manner of insider jokes and horse lore imprinted on the walls. There are champions upon champions cherished here and the culture seeps
This is a source of terrific inexpensive food for horse owners and families during the day as the Lein Catering company makes this home base during the fair, and at night it becomes a comfortable lounge at the center of the equestrian scene in Canada.
The Horse Palace is the Dressing Room for the Dressage Arena
The Ricoh Coliseum and the Direct Energy Building are where the Royal Winter Fair really happens, and that’s where the nation’s biggest pumpkins and best farm animals and most profitable equipment dealers congregate. All of this excitement was chronicled in 2015 Toronto Guardian article about the Royal Winter Fair which made it clear that it would take more than one day to see all the exhibits and catch the best shows. The Royal Winter Fair runs halfway through November and there are horse and livestock shows every weekend. In many ways, the Horse Palace is simply a support building for these bigger venues, which only adds to its insider appeal.