It was feast or famine at New York's National Horse Show last week. Some classes overflowed, others were sparsely populated and one whole division was dropped for lack of entries. Although there was no shortage of horses in Madison Square Garden—a record 670, as a matter of fact—the unbalanced program left spectators surfeited with prime jumpers, working hunters and junior riders, but starved for harness ponies and for quality horses in the saddle division.
The international jumping, normally the drawing card of the show, offered the usual five teams but little competition. Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Mexico met a U.S. Equestrian Team just back from Tokyo and, despite the fact that the horses and riders had been campaigning since spring, the U.S. team outclassed its competitors, winning eight events with embarrassing ease, as well as the team and individual championships. The Canadians won three events. Jim Day, an 18-year-old newcomer and certainly a welcome addition to any horse show, accounted for two of the Canadian triumphs. Tom Gayford on durable Blue Beau, the horse that jumped 7 feet 1 inch two years ago, captured the final event, the Grand Prix of New York, and, as a result, became the leading foreign rider.
But the competition for the individual championship, though mainly an intramural affair among three of the U.S. riders and Jim Day, was close and spirited. Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot and Kathy Kusner were the three U.S. leaders. It was 25-year-old Kathy on Untouchable who won—by a close two points. She had conquered three classes on the chestnut gelding, including the two-part Grand Prix of North America.
Garden triumphs arc not new to Kathy. Last year she rode Untouchable in the open jumper classes, and the horse won the championship. Owner Ben O'Meara then lent Untouchable to the U.S. team, a gesture few professional trainers would make. Most horses donated or lent to the USET are offered by wealthy owners, not by professionals who generally need their equine stars both for money and prestige. After last year's National, O'Meara sold Jacksorbetter—which he had ridden to the reserve spot behind his Untouchable—to Neal Shapiro, so this year he had the pleasure of watching two O'Meara-trained horses jumping for the U.S. Even though Jacksorbetter was not a standout in the international events (mainly because Shapiro lacks experience) the horse still won the PHA Championship for 1964, based on points accumulated in open events throughout the year.
Even with Untouchable on the U.S. team and Jacksorbetter sold, O'Meara was not out of horseflesh for this year's National. He had two entries in the open jumping division. With The Hood, a leggy black gelding, he won the Puissance at 6 feet 9 inches, as well as a combined open and international event, the first such class since World War II. To no one's great surprise, The Hood also won the Jumper Championship.
Although the show had some very good jumping, most of the classes lasted much too long. Almost 40 jumpers were entered, surprising in view of the fact that other shows in the area have had to cancel the division for lack of entries. Thanks to extremely poor scheduling, long hours and the unevenness of the classes, the show will be remembered for its many deficiencies rather than its few highlights.
Once again the announcing was execrable. It was not the fault of the public-address system, for when Announcer Otis Trowbridge got laryngitis—it was hard to discern just when that occurred—the show's assistant secretary, Robert Chamberlain, spelled him at the mike and was clearly understood. Furthermore, Chamberlain sounded interested in what he was saying. Admittedly, the announcer's lot is not a happy one. He must call the horses up for their classes as well as inform the public—ostensibly—at morning, matinee and evening classes. When Trowbridge did give information, his mumbling presentation and the mangling of the names of the foreign riders and horses were more exasperating than enlightening. Walter B. Devereux, the affable and often president of the National, does not plan to replace Trowbridge. He likes him personally. Judging by the dissatisfaction of this year's patrons, they soon may be talking only to each other.
One of the foolish reasons for the paucity of information is the specious notion that news will reduce program sales. If it did, it should. The catalog, which sold for $2, presented the bewildered spectator with a blank page for international events, with lines to be filled in by hand (and by ear from Mr. Trowbridge) as the class was in progress. The riders are listed in the front of the book, and the horses' names (without any description of height, age, sex, color) are in the back, so a great time can be had by all playing guess who.
Another annual defect is the molasses-moving jump crew, which sets up and removes the fences and also removes, by sheer boredom, many spectators. On late nights the members of the jump crew get compensatory pay. They got a lot of it last week.