She is still young, however, and has plenty of opportunity to take herself in hand as skillfully as she controls her mounts. Since August, Kathy Kusner has risen to countless fences with Unusual and, by her own admission, "knocked down only four rails." How much of this success belongs to Kathy and how much to the horse? Mrs. Frances Rowe, who is agent for Unusual's owner, C. S. Florman, has something to say about that: "He was bred by Mrs. Liz [Whitney] Tippett and her Llangollen Farm in Upperville, Va. His sire is Endeavour II [also the sire of the outstanding Thoroughbred, Prove It], and his dam is Winter Rose, the dam of the superb jumper Riviera Wonder, who four times won the New York national championship. We started Unusual at the Devon Horse Show in May, but he didn't finish anywhere. Once Kathy started riding him he began to win. First on the Virginia circuit...Then he won the green jumper title at the Penn National Horse Show. In my mind I feel that, without Kathy Kusner, Unusual is just another nickel horse."
The girl that Kathy Kusner must beat out to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team is tall (5 feet 8 inches) Mary Mains, the youngest rider ever to represent the U.S. in international competition. Last week in Toronto, she lost a jump-off to England's David Barker, but the three points which she picked up pushed the U.S. into a two-point lead, a lead which it never relinquished.
Mary Mairs has a fluid style and appears not to be moving on a horse at all. When the USET toured Europe last summer she impressed Europeans as much as any rider—male or female—that they had seen in years. Currently on leave from Sarah Lawrence College, she probably will never return. "I guess I should go back to school," she says, "but then my parents say I'm getting a pretty good education without the books."
During most of the international events this season she has been riding her own favorite horse, Tomboy. Three years ago Mary saw Tomboy for the first time, "fell in love with her and persuaded my parents to buy her for me even before they had seen her." The Mairs family has a 20-room home in Pasadena, Calif. which is filled with animals. A visitor there recently peeked into a bedroom and saw a number of dogs in the room. On the bed itself was a plank leading to the floor so the old, arthritic ones could get down without undue effort.
During the international events Mary has normally been the first rider to take the course for the U.S. team. Her job has been to go over the jumps without collecting faults. thus enabling the other three members of the team—Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot and Bill Robertson—to try and pick up time on the other nations. "I imagine," she says, "that I go out first because I am the least experienced. My job is to set things up so the boys can do their jobs better."
Before Mary Mairs goes out, however, USET Coach Bert de Nemethy slowly walks the course with her. The two will examine a jump, then pace off slowly the distance to the next jump. De Nemethy is constantly talking to her, questioning her, testing her reactions to different situations, and she constantly has the correct answers. Between now and the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, De Nemethy will have to decide which he thinks is better, Kathy Kusner or Mary Mairs, and a lot of people will be interested in his answer.
The Canadian team in the 1964 Olympics probably will not have to survive any such suspense. Gail Ross will be there, and you can bet that her mother will be there too. Each time that Gail Ross goes to a fence her mother's shoulders move as if she were on the horse herself. She squirms in her seat and nervously puffs away on a cigarette, frequently lets out little squeals of fright. When her daughter has completed her course Mrs. Ross slumps in her seat in nervous exhaustion.
There have been reasons in the past why Mrs. Ross should be so concerned. On Saturday, October 7, 1961 Gail left the home of her companion for the evening, Lewis Scott, a 20-year-old polo player and student at Cornell University. The two had been duck shooting near Scott's home in Markham, a suburb of Toronto. After attending a dinner party at Scott's, the two began driving back toward the motel in which Gail was staying. At 2 a.m. the foreign sports car that Scott was driving went out of control on a lonely road, crashed into two trees, and Scott was killed instantly. It was three hours before some early morning duck hunters found Gail Ross lying beside the wreckage with a fractured skull and her jaw broken in three places.
One month later she appeared in the Royal in Toronto with her jaw wired and her diet consisting solely of soup. She rode her favorite horse. Pinnacle, and won the jumping title.
This year, aside from Pinnacle, which she has been riding mostly in the international competitions, Gail has ridden Thunderbird and Wings of Gold, both owned by her parents. She won 44 first-place awards, plus 28 reserve championships at various Canadian shows.