It is afternoon in Middletown. Bruce and Buck Davidson are walking the cross-country course. The two-mile route will be ridden at a hard gallop, broken only by the highly technical maneuvering it takes to get horse and rider over jumps that include combinations of water, fences, ditches, hills, hedges and logs. Each obstacle demands planning and pacing, and during this walk, as on most of Bruce's course walks, a gaggle of riders follows to listen.
Davidson approaches the seventh jump—a log three feet high, a drop into a dirt road, a bound up a bank, and another three-foot log—with his head cocked slightly to one side. "This is beautiful," he says. "This is excellent. Just don't hang on their faces. Let them jump." He asks a young girl beside him how she'll handle the obstacle, and as she points to her imagined path, he nods. "Remember not to gallop here," he says kindly. "If you come too fast, she won't see the road, and she'll get scared."
Forty-four is not old for a rider—some eventers compete into their 50's—but it is getting there. Davidson is not thinking about retirement but says that when the time comes, he will remain involved in racing, fox hunting and horse breeding. And he says that as he slows down, one of his greatest pleasures is seeing his children become interested in the sport. "This is a great inspiration for me," he says. "It was always a dream that they would ride with me."
Nancy helped her father during his European tour last summer. Buck trained with the Young Rider's Association team (for riders under 21) and beat his father at last year's Radnor International Three-Day Event in Pennsylvania. "I can't have a lazy day around him," says Buck. "But I've got the best coach in the world. Now I'm waiting for the day when they say, 'There goes Buck Davidson's father' and not 'There goes Bruce Davidson's son.' "
Bruce's own enthusiasm may be critical to the future of his sport, in which costs are high and monetary rewards are low. First-prize purses at England's Badminton and Burghley four-star international events are $30,000 and $15,000, respectively. First prize at Fair Hill, one of only two three-star international three-day events in this country, carries no money at all. Sponsorships are scarce—Davidson has modest support from Purina and receives tack from Miller's Harness—and media coverage, especially in the U.S., is rare. Yet the animals themselves are worth upward of $100,000, and round-trip air travel to European events costs $10,000 per head.
Rewards for spectators, on the other hand, are great. "In cross-country, spectators stand right at the jump," Davidson says. "It's incredibly dramatic—like standing at the three-yard line in football." Crowds, however, are still not big. "If they tripled the prize money," Davidson says, "the public would come."
But the sport's lack of publicity in no way diminishes Davidson's stature among riders and fans. At Middletown a girl approaches a stranger at ringside and asks, hopefully, "Do you know Bruce Davidson? I need his autograph." When asked what she likes about Davidson, she says, "He wins a lot, and he has a good seat." She watches Davidson canter by. "I love him, and I love his horses."