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In early November, when the air is crisp and the leaves are yellow, falls the feast of St. Hubert, an eighth century saint who is the patron of hunting. The hunters he protected mounted their horses to chase the stag, the hare, and the fox over fences, stone walls and hedges, through the streams and across the ditches. They still do, but as early as the 14th century some sportsmen became more interested in the performance of the horse than in the actual hunt, and out of their impromptu competition came the modern horse show.
Next week, in the climax of the 1955 season, the best of the equine world will meet in New York's Madison Square Garden and San Francisco's Cow Palace, amidst all the bright and fashionable panoply of the modern horse show, jumping barriers that imitate those found in the huntsman's field and forest, in pursuit not of animals but of silver trophies. Always the high point of a year of competition throughout the nation, the New York National this year has even more interest than usual. For the first time in its 72-year history, parade horses (above) will appear as a class. Moreover, many of the horses and riders competing will be candidates for their nation's teams in next year's Olympic Games, and some of them could be among the winners of Olympic gold medals.
The year 1955 is still setting records in the number of shows throughout the U.S. and the number of horses entered in them. An estimated $25 million worth of horseflesh has competed at local shows, fairs and big city events for over $1 million worth of prize money, assorted cups, various colored ribbons and the pure joy of winning. Across the Atlantic, one of the notable events of the postwar decade took place in Austria when the famed Lipizzans (seen at the New York National in 1950) gave their first public performance in Vienna after 10 years of political asylum (see page 39).
There are many ranks and ratings of competition, but the New York National, which runs from November 1 through 8, is a class "A" show by any standard. As a display of high society and the latest creations of the haute couture, it is second only to the opening of the Metropolitan Opera, the traditional background for the presentation of the fall fashions. From the horseman's point of view, "A" means the highest rating bestowed by the American Horse Shows Association, governing body for the sport, a show in which the exhibitor will receive triple points toward the annual American Horse Shows Association High Score Awards in his division. There are 17 divisions plus three medal-class equitation events, and the A, B, C rating given a "recognized" horse show is based on the number of classes and the amount of cash premiums offered.
By the time the National formally opens at 9 o'clock in the evening—a suitable after-dinner hour for its fashionable audience—three of the Conformation Hunter classes will already have been completed—the first at 11 a.m., another at the 2 p.m. matinee, the third at the start of the evening performance at 7:45. Then, in the glitter of floodlights and to the triumphant marching music of the First Army band, the International teams will enter the ring: the United States Equestrian Team, the youngest ever (see page 43); the Irish team, captained by Colonel Fred Ahern; the Canadians, led by W. R. "Bob" Ballard; and the Mexicans, once again under the command of their world-famous veteran, Brigadier General Humberto Mariles. Though few will be aware of it, the general will be riding under an almost unprecedented handicap: victim of a recent automobile accident which injured two of his riders so seriously that they will be unable to compete, he himself suffered a cracked bone at the end of his spine. Determined nonetheless to ride, he filled the depleted ranks by calling on his attractive sister-in-law, Eva Valdes, a member of the 1950 team.
These are the top riders of the show, the outstanding representatives of their nations; but the non-International classes also will offer good horses and excellent individual riders. Among the entries in the Jumper Division is Bedford, a bold-going black gelding, once considered an outlaw and sold in 1946 for $40. Bedford, winner of 53 championships to date, already has amassed so many points this season that he is a certain winner and so will receive, on the evening of November 5, the Professional Horseman's Association trophy. Bedford is a colorful champion, a temperamental horse with the habit of kicking constantly as he prepares to start the course—a habit which in no way seems to dissipate his energies for jumping.
There is a story behind Bedford's appearance this year which not many people know. For this year's jumping events, he will not be guided by his usual rider, Joe Green. One of the top professional riders in the business, Green was hospitalized recently after a horse named, ironically enough, Bedford's Image fell on him. David Kelley, another top-ranking pro, took Bedford over on Green's behalf and will ride him in competition against the horses of his own client and therefore against himself, with the winnings going to Joe Green to help pay hospital bills.
Among the women competitors in the open jumping events, two are outstanding. Mrs. Flor Isava of Caracas, who captured the women's jumping championship in Venezuela earlier this year, is competing for the first time in the United States. Betty Bosley of Unionville, Pa. has entered a horse called The Clown which is potential Olympic material.
The hunters and jumpers may be the stars of the show, but they will not be the only attractions. The Dodge Stables, winners last year of ASHA high score awards in no less than three divisions, will be back again this year. Their Socko, winner of the 1954 National's five-gaited championship as well as the ASHA citation, will possibly show without his usual rider-trainer, Earl Teater, who broke his leg when Socko took a spill at the Louisville show in September. The horse, however, was unharmed and with another rider summoned from the sidelines went on to win the Gelding Stake.
For the newly introduced parade classes, Mrs. Lyle H. Cobb has crossed the country with horse, trailer and car from Beaverton, Oregon, to fulfill a childhood ambition to show at the Garden. The horse, Belvedere's Golden Glory, a 7-year-old double-registered American Saddlebred Palomino stallion, is leading the field in points for the ASHA high score championship in his division. He was reserve champion last year to stablemate Mr. Strutter.