The Sunshine Horse Show Circuit, a Florida institution that obviously was not named this year, got off to a chilly 1958 start in Miami last month and is due for a frosty finish in Gainesville next week after five shows. Perhaps it was the nip in the air that gave zest to the performances, but in any case the Miami presentation was a first-rate Class B show.
Another reason was a horse which jumped as though his life depended on it—as, indeed, it once had. Now called Mr. Midnight, five years ago this 7-year-old black gelding of indeterminate ancestry was the nameless occupant of a kill pen in an Atlantic, Iowa stockyard, waiting for death and conversion to dog food.
Mr. Midnight was saved from this premature and ignominious end by sheer chance and an amateur horseman's good eye. Dave Schuetz, an Atlantic credit bureau operator, happened to drive by the yard one afternoon and caught a glimpse of the colt. He stopped his car and looked closer. He liked what he saw.
"I decided to buy him then and there," Schuetz recalled last week, "but the stockyard man didn't want to sell. He warned me that this black colt was mean, and had a reputation as a killer. Well, I wouldn't be put off. I couldn't see that it mattered to them if I bought him or the slaughterhouse got him. Finally we struck a bargain. I could buy him if I could catch him."
Schuetz went into the pen with a halter, and the horse promptly retreated into a chute. Schuetz blocked the end of the chute with railroad ties and then climbed in after his cornered quarry. The flighty 2-year-old snorted, took two strides and leaped over the wall to freedom. As Schuetz took off after him down the heavily traveled highway, he remembers having just two thoughts: "He'll make a wonderful jumper! He'll be killed for sure in this traffic."
But the horse made a fortunate mistake. He swerved off the road and fell, belly up, into a deep ditch. Schuetz scrambled down and sat on his head until help came. Then, with the colt safely roped, Schuetz returned to the stockyard and paid the going price per pound for his new charge—$40, total.
In the following months the horse, named Mr. Midnight by Schuetz, responded (as supposedly mean horses often do) to kindness and slow, easy work. Schuetz taught him more than 30 tricks, among them to kneel, to stand on pedestals and to jump. "That is what he loved to do," Schuetz says. "That horse just loved jumping—you just had to aim him at something and he'd jump it."
This happy idyl came to an end in 1956 when Schuetz fell seriously ill. Confronted by a long convalescence, he decided to sell Mr. Midnight and entrusted him to a dealer who was taking a number of horses to the sales at New Holland, Pa. The dealer was a friend of J. Ray Patterson, a horse-owning contractor at Chester, Pa., and on his arrival at New Holland he called Patterson and described Mr. Midnight over the telephone. Patterson bought him for $225. Patterson's good friend Free-land Evans, who has shown such top horses as Sun Beau, schooled Mr. Midnight and started showing him in jumper events.
"If you win the first class, Free-land," Patterson promised in Miami, "I'll take us to Cuba to get warm." Mr. Midnight won the first class. In fact, he won every jumping event offered, including the Sky High class. Although the horse set no new records, he cleared a very creditable 6 feet 1� inches. That was all it took to win the class—the show officials, not expecting even that height to be reached, used a standard that stopped at 6 feet. And the event was exciting enough to stop the spectators who usually start leaving toward the last class but in this case stayed on until nearly midnight to watch Mr. Midnight.
Fourteen-year-old Laurie Ratliff, who comes from Pass Christian, Miss., where most people ride Saddle-bred or Walking horses, rode her Ricochet to two second places behind Mr. Midnight at the Miami show. She also won the ASPCA Horsemanship class, and Little Sombrero, with Laurie aboard, was the Juvenile Working Hunter champion (winning the second leg on this trophy) and also won reserve Conformation Hunter honors.