Remember the dust-up at the Devon Horse Show that started off the season last June? Night Owl was disqualified because Rider Bill Steinkraus preferred to take second place rather than jump his horse again to break the tie for first (SI, June 17, 1957), and arguments raged all summer. Well, the issue is settled now; the cause of the impassioned dispute was given a decent burial at last month's annual convention of the American Horse Shows Association in New Orleans. The culprit rule which caused the discord has been rewritten; in case of a tie for first place an exhibitor now has the option of jumping or taking last place among the tied horses.
This, of course, is exactly what Steinkraus had believed was his privilege and also the principle of the then existing rule, which stated that all ties for first must be broken by jumping off. From now on there can be absolutely no doubt about either the spirit or the letter of the law.
While this was perhaps the most interesting single decision made at the convention, there was a good deal else of importance to the horse show world. First, it was revealed that there were more recognized shows held than ever before—a respectable 362—and that includes only shows held under the rules of the association. There were probably three times this number of nonrecognized events, ranging in size and importance from one-day or-night affairs to Chicago's gala week-long show. Despite the mild gloom of recession, indications for 1958 are bigger than ever, with more horses, more shows and more exhibitors in prospect.
Of course, there is a shred of a cloud around the silver lining. Money and spectators have definitely not kept pace with the growth of the horse show as a sport. And a good deal of unofficial time and talk was expended in New Orleans to find out why. The equally unofficial conclusion—and there it remained—was that horse shows are the most poorly merchandised sport in the world except perhaps for pigeon racing.
The horse show spectator is someone that everyone talks about but no one does much for. Too many announcers, evidently fearing they may block a program sale, hoard information about horses and exhibitors as though it were gold. This does not, of course, endear or indoctrinate the uninitiated. The limp excuses offered, including the one that the judges mustn't be tipped off, underrates the efficiency of the horse show grapevine. Any judge worth his fee generally knows the identity of the horses and certainly should know his own mind. More than likely, he has seen the horses in question and judged them (and perhaps bought or sold them) before. If he is that unsure he can always buy a program, disguise it in a plain brown paper wrapper and sneak it into his hotel room for perusal.
Then there are the horse show committees that, in a strangely defeatist attitude about the sport they are promoting, decide there must be a feature attraction to toss to the restive spectator. Some of them are good, but most of them are neither desired nor deserved.
The bestowing of the annual high-score awards is the climax of all the conventions, and this year it was given added luster by the presence of Abdullah Al-Khayyal, the Saudi Arabian ambassador, who presented a handsome silver bowl, a gift of King Saud, to Mrs. Garvin E. Tankersley, owner of the high-score Arabian horse, Al-Marah Libdi. This was the first trophy of its kind to be presented by a ruler of another nation, and the only near hitch in the ceremony came when a New Orleans hotel questioned the color of the king's delegate.
For Lyman Orcutt the joy in his award for the top Morgan horse was short-lived. The day after his gelding, Super Sam, received this honor, the Orcutt barn in Massachusetts caught fire, and Super Sam, along with 16 other Morgans, was killed.
While the association was completing its business, the U.S. Equestrian Team was also holding a meeting. Here the attitude was: be either first-rate or fold up. The team has good riders and some good horses and now plans to send its jumpers to Europe to gain experience. In early fall some of the horses and riders will return to the States and the international competitions of Harrisburg, New York and Toronto.
In fact, the international events may be even more extensive than usual as plans are brewing to open the competition at Washington, D.C. with all the panoply of ambassadorial boxes, a ceremony not seen in the capital since 1936.