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Devon takes a ribbon for casualties
Alice Higgins
June 18, 1962
Despite a tragicomic succession of accidents, it was a splendid show, enlivened by three unabashed refugees from the Thoroughbred racetrack
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June 18, 1962

Devon Takes A Ribbon For Casualties

Despite a tragicomic succession of accidents, it was a splendid show, enlivened by three unabashed refugees from the Thoroughbred racetrack

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The Bryn Mawr (Pa.) Hospital is substantially supported by the proceeds of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, the opening event of the big-time eastern horse show circuit—and a good thing, too. This year Devon set new records not only for the number of horses and ponies entered (1,050) and the number of spectators but also for the number of participants sent to Bryn Mawr after freak accidents. In the first of these, Julie Kardon broke a collarbone when she fell while schooling her hunter. Then Mrs. David Kelley's hunter fell into a coop, rolled over on her, cracked several ribs and knocked out all her front teeth. Next to be taken to Bryn Mawr was Mrs. John B. Hannum III, master of Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Fox Hounds, who was badly injured when her hunter threw her and stepped on her, fracturing her pelvis and several ribs. Mrs. Charles Bird Jr. was thrown and dragged by her young hunter and suffered face lacerations, a broken nose and severe cuts in her mouth. Mrs. Elton Wetmore, whose husband was exhibiting a parade horse, was standing at the rail waiting for his class when a horse in the ring cast a shoe that spun over the rail and struck her head, opening an inch-and-a-half gash and knocking her down and out. The next night the Wetmores' horse not only threw a shoe but almost all of his hoof—so Devon turned out to be a very unlucky place indeed for the Wetmores.

Despite these and other accidents, Devon was an excellent show, with quality as well as quantity in all its divisions. The only justifiable criticisms are that the jumping courses had not been changed to fit the new rules, so classes were excessively long, with too many jump-offs, and the patrolling of the outside hunter course was lax.

Most of the seasoned campaigners were on hand for the open events, and the green divisions drew unusually large numbers. In this area how to succeed by being a failure was demonstrated by three new champions. Those fresh stars of the horse show world—Thoroughbreds all—were originally destined for the race track. However, one never reached there because he couldn't be ridden and, although the other two did race, their efforts are best passed over in sympathetic silence. In fact, as Gene Cunningham, trainer-rider of the Thoroughbred named Cap and Gown, says, ''As far as speed goes, my gelding couldn't outrun a fat man." Cap and Gown won both the young-hunter and the green-conformation championships. He ran and jumped with ease and a beauty of motion that brought home the blue ribbon in every one of his classes at Devon. Cunningham spotted the obscurely bred gelding last summer and bought him for Owner Mary Swan Sprague, a fox-hunting enthusiast who has only recently become interested in show horses. The horse was too thin for show purposes but was a type that Cunningham admires, bay with white markings on the face and hind legs. Cap and Gown started living up to his trainer's expectations at last fall's major shows. He was reserve champion at the Washington, D.C. show and then went on to New York, where he won every performance class in which he was entered.

The 32-year-old Cunningham has had his Warrenton, Va. stables only slightly longer than he has had the management of Cap and Gown. A weekend rider since leaving school, Cunningham worked in a bank, sold securities and finally manufactured corrugated boxes in Dallas. Then he sold his interest in the boxes and drifted back east via Southern Pines to Warrenton and his own horse business. Besides his success with Cap and Gown, Cunningham rode still another hunter to a championship tricolor, Mrs. Eleonora Sears' Pike's Peak.

Another racetrack reject snapped up by a knowing eye is a horse named Silver Fox. Owned and ridden by Morton (Cappy) Smith of Warrenton, this gray gelding won the green working-hunter championship without effort. Bought last winter and shown only once before, he defeated 70 rivals, many with a year of experience behind them.

The unruly jumper
As for the rogue horse that couldn't be gotten to the racetrack, he too won a championship—the green-jumper title. First owned by a New Jersey veterinarian, the horse, registered as Nostrum, proved impossible to break. In a fit of anger the vet called a professional colleague, Dr. Robert Rost, and gave him the horse outright. Rost has a way with unruly horses, having started the reformation of Andante, the famous open jumper (SI, June 20, 1960). Rost knew the reputation of his 3-year-old gift horse and decided he would break him or kill him. Actually, the breaking was done by Rost's wife Joan, a pretty western rider who was once a rodeo queen (SI, Oct. 18, 1954). Using a stock saddle, Joan worked slowly. It took two weeks to teach Nostrum to stand still for mounting, and this was finally accomplished by tying up a hind leg. Then it took another two weeks to get across the idea that the rider should be allowed to dismount, unassisted. Joan started showing Nostrum when he was 5, as a working hunter, a division new to both horse and rider. She had little success. Meanwhile, a friend and near neighbor, Olympic Rider Frank Chapot, saw the horse's potential and started helping Joan polish his jumping. All was prepared for Joan and Nostrum to make their debut at Devon in the green-jumper division when, shortly before the show, a horse Joan was breaking for someone else fell and crushed her foot. So Chapot substituted as rider, and Nostrum lived up to his hopes by winning the championship. That title, by the way, was the fourth the Rosts won during Devon week. Earlier, they collected three tricolored rosettes with their stock horses.

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