Back in the saddle: This month the PA National Horse Show rides again

Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.

As with fall leaves and apple cider, the 2022 Pennsylvania National Horse Show returns to Harrisburg this month, with organizers saying this year’s event will offer visitors even more to see and do.

The 2022 show runs October 13-22 at the PA Farm Show Complex, where it began in 1946. For decades, shows have continued there every year, interrupted only by the pandemic in 2020 when the show is held on a reduced scale at a site in North Carolina. He returned to the Farm Show Complex last year with an additional show ring and training rings to accommodate more horses.

According to Susie Shirk, executive director of the Pennsylvania National Horse Show Foundation, this year’s show continues with an expanded format.

“This year’s show will have five rings running at once,” she said. “Two rings are for community activities, two are school rings (jumpers) and one is for competitors.”

Also new this year is a “Family Fun Day” on October 22. Kids’ crafts, horse and wagon rides, and free frozen slushies are all on offer for afternoon fun.

“It’s an opportunity for families to come out and do something different,” Shirk noted.

The purpose of each year’s event, Shirk said, is to raise money for the Pennsylvania National Horse Show Foundation, a nonprofit that supports therapeutic riding and equine rescue programs. Through tax-deductible donations, the foundation provides grants for therapeutic riding programs, horse rescue associations, therapeutic equipment, equine-assisted activity programs, scholarship funds for riders, veterinary care and more.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show hosts an annual “Foundation Friday,” which features two therapeutic riding championships for assisted and unassisted riders, and the foundation’s “Therapy Horse of the Year” award. Runners compete for ribbons and a trophy and receive merchandise donated by program sponsors and vendors.

This year’s Foundation Friday takes place on October 21. Riders qualified for championship classes by competing in one of three previous summer events at Walnut Grove Farms in Dover, the Friendly Horseman’s Club in Denver, and the Columbia Riding Club in Columbia.

The greater community of Harrisburg also benefits from the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, as the area receives an estimated economic impact of more than $10 million per year, according to the show.

Max Hempt, chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania National Horse Show Foundation, said he’s been involved with the show for “about 10 years,” the third generation in his family to do so. He proudly notes that his grandfather, Max C. Hempt, along with his father and uncle, have been “very instrumental” in promoting the growth of the show since it started as a four-day run with 226 horse entries. Organizers are expecting around 1,500 horses and competitors at the show today, with a crowd of around 12,000.

The Farm Show Complex received “extensive renovations during COVID,” Hempt said, and organizers recently upgraded to use an international-grade stand to better accommodate horses.

“It makes it a lot safer,” he said. “Everyone who has been involved in this project agrees that it is worth it.”

Shirk added that “it takes a village” to put on each year’s show, requiring “150 to 200 people to make the show happen (over) 10 days”.

Set-up begins on the Sunday immediately before the show and involves “removing all the dirt from the coliseum (Farm Show Complex) and bringing in our own dirt and our own footing,” Shirk said. The process takes a good 48 hours.

The whole process is then repeated 10 days later at the end of the show, but in reverse order.

Despite all the hard work, Shirk loves putting on the show.

“It’s fun to meet all the people there, and it’s fun to see it all put together,” she said. “The best part is seeing therapeutic riding. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Hempt agreed.

“The main goal is to raise money for the foundation, most of which goes to therapeutic riding programs, and to make it the best show possible for everyone involved,” he said.

The 2022 Pennsylvania National Horse Show runs October 13-22 at the PA Farm Show Complex, 2300 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit

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