At most horse shows the junior classes are events that only a parent could love. Long lines of children ride often-reluctant horses over jumps with assorted degrees of skill. They are not spectacles that make one stand up and shout, but the kids have to start someplace, so most show managements schedule those classes for early morning or as matinees, to get them out of the way.
At the recent Fort Sam Houston and San Antonio Charity shows, however, the junior jumper classes were well worth getting up for, though they required strong nerves by spectators. As one judge put it, "I don't know if they thrill you or chill you, but they sure get a lot of jump out of those horses." Since the limit of the barriers for juniors is five feet (5'6" in puissance classes) and time is usually a factor, it is hard to say just how high some of the kids could go.
The terror of the time classes was high school senior Rafael Joseffy of Fredricksburg, Texas. With her Sea Lorn, a 7-year-old racetrack dropout, she was the junior jumper champion at both shows, and in her harum-scarum style Rafe made a cliff hanger out of each competition. Defying the odds and rulebook advice, she takes astonishing chances, directing procedures from any point between the horse's ears and its tail.
San Antonians recall seeing Rafe as a small child, sound asleep while awaiting a class, and she herself remembers that she won her first blue ribbon at the age of 4. She was then taking lessons from an Hawaiian princess. She now trains with Colonel John Russell and leads a group known as Russell's Raiders. Russell tells of an incident at a fancy exhibitor's party a few years back, when he strolled out onto the patio just in time to hear Rafe say to his son, "You take that one, Johnny, this one's mine." Two punches were thrown, and a saddle-horse exhibitor was flat on his back. "Those gaited horse riders are sissies," said Rafe.
A sissy is something Rafe certainly is not. At one horse show she was fished out of a pen in which she was making friends with an angry buffalo. Her mother seems resigned to the fact that girls will be tomboys, although friends claim that she visibly ages each time Rafe shows. Rafe's latest (and safest) stunt was to enter a Betty Crocker contest as a gag. She won it. Miss Crocker would be shocked to learn that the last time Rafe cooked she set the kitchen on fire heating dog food. After the firemen departed she went off with some friends for some innocent amusement—jumping off a 40-foot bridge into the water. She was just coming back for her third jump when she was collared by the law, taken off to the pokey, lectured and released.
Now Rafe is planning to have a try at the U.S. three-day team. "A three-day event!" said a San Antonio horseman who knows her. "Hell, Rafe will have the whole thing finished in one morning!"
Rafe was not the only junior who gave the audience chills at this show. Both horses and riders were thoroughly unorthodox in style, but the parents, at least, remained calm at the sight of beloved offspring in unescorted flight. Ginger Wallace's Dr. Strangelove seemed to try his best to land on his hind feet, and the acrobatics of Susan Owen's Look Out Henry defy description. "If you could put a saddle on a snake," said Coach Russell, "I imagine it would be like riding Henry." Henry, another racetrack failure that Susan bought for $350 and trained herself, is an eye-rolling, twisty jumper. Susan calls him her permanently green horse. Many others, like the Bowman sisters—Ruth, 18, and Barbara, 14—and 13-year-old Wanda Bar-field, seem to have horses with cast-iron mouths and the finishing instincts of a Seabiscuit. "Things are a little different here in Texas," explains Russell. "Most of these kids have ridden on ranches from the time they could walk. They'll climb up on anything with hide on it. And as an old horse-show rider, let me say that it scares me to go on a cross-country ride with the Bowmans, for example. The combination of terrain and speed is terrifying."
The Bowmans have their own private Outward Bound program at their ranch. When the children are old enough they paddle downstream in a canoe, cook dinner, spend the night alone in a cave reachable only by a stiff climb, cook breakfast and return to the fold. Ruth is now going to school in Switzerland but plans to join Rafael at college in the East this fall. One of their objectives is fox hunting. "Heavens," said one of their friends, "can't you just see them overriding the staff and hounds and catching the fox with their bare hands?"
As one of the open-jumper-class riders said after watching Wanda Barfield cut every corner at top speed, "These are the open riders of the future." Then he added, "I'll be retired by then, thank God!"