Meanwhile, at the gate a seething mob had formed. Riders who wanted to compete were unable to get through the crowd. One, in fact, was disqualified under the one-minute rule, but was reinstated when it was learned he was not one of the demonstrators. Fistfights broke out in several spots, while in the background Ben O'Meara, smiling benignly, received reports from friends and admirers on who was hitting whom. "Isn't it nice," he said with a radiant smile, "to find you have so many friends?"
The police at the gate sent for the riot squad as one lady screamed over the surging crowd, "Listen to me—stop this! Think of your country! Think what the Russian papers will say about this, tomorrow!" At that point a rider was pushed off his horse and came up swinging, so the lady's patriotic plea went unheeded. At the ringside a spectator suffered a fatal heart attack, but through all this the class, depleted of horses as it was, went on. It was won, almost two hours after it began, by 17-year-old Cindy Usher on Sweet Cap. The judges left the ring looking as if they had just been released from a cell for the condemned.
The Devon officials did nothing to punish the jumper rebels, and the next day they all showed as usual. No one was eliminated except for the traditional reason of three refusals, but there was a final irony. O'Meara, unable to compete in the last three classes, had previously won enough points with The Hood to tie for the reserve championship. Since he was barred from the ring he could not jump off for the title so the tri-color ribbon went to Bill Steinkraus on Fire One.
The American Horse Shows Association must now take action against the demonstrators, but whatever decision is made will probably be unfair to some. There has been talk about "degrees of participation" in the rebellion and there are jumper exhibitors who fear that one, probably Kathy Kusner, will be singled out as the scapegoat. A few U.S. Equestrian Team supporters are loudly crying for disciplinary retaliation against the three team members who participated in the demonstration, although they were there as individuals at their own expense and not representing the United States. But all three could be barred from the squad in this Olympic year.
When—and if—everyone cools off, the Devon rebellion, despite its questionable taste, may prove to have accomplished some good. It certainly would be helpful if it produced a change in attitude on the part of the often stuffy Devon management toward the legitimate grievances of the exhibitors. These include not only complaints about the events that sparked the boycott but also concern the obsolete and often illegal courses that riders are faced with year after year. A second benefit would be the development of more open minds among the AHSA stewards, who often choose to cover up the mistakes of management rather than protect the interests of the exhibitor.