Margie Goldstein limps only slightly as she walks the dirt-covered floor of the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. Like a kid taking giant steps, the leading rider in show jumping's American Grandprix Association (AGA) paces off the distance between the flower-bedecked fences that constitute the course for the final event of the season.
It's Nov. 3, the last day of the 108th National Horse Show, and in the staging area under the stands, riders dressed in ruffled shirts and red jackets trade stock tips while they get their boots shined. Many of them play at this sport, traveling the 33-stop national tour with their high priced horses and tiny purebred dogs.
For Goldstein, of the middle-class South Miami Goldsteins, it's much more than a hobby—it's her livelihood. In 1989 she came out of nowhere to win the AGA's Rider of the Year trophy in a startling upset. Finally, at 31, she had earned the respect of her blue-blooded rivals.
Then a 2,000-pound stallion mashed her left foot to the approximate consistency of Cream of Wheat. It was March 23, 1990, during a preliminary event at a horse show in Tampa. The footing was deep and treacherous, and as the horse, Roman Delight, was going around a turn, he slipped. "It was like someone had pulled a carpet out from under him," Goldstein says. "My foot got caught in the stirrup, and the weight of the horse crushed every bone in my foot."
Doctors told her she would probably never walk normally again. Riding was out of the question, at least for a while.
A week later Goldstein was back on a horse, her foot immobilized in a plaster cast. Every bump was agony. Ten miserable weeks passed before she was able to return to competition.
"I don't know whether it's an inner drive I have, the competitiveness inside me, or what, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could get up there again," she says. "I was so hungry to get back. It's hard sitting on the sidelines, watching. The longer I was out, the more it made me want to get back in."
She made it gamely through the second half of the '90 season, earning a respectable top 10 finish in the riders' final standings. By the time the tour began again, in February 1991, she had gotten her line down pat. "It only hurts when I walk," she would say. "Not when I ride."
So there she would go, her 5'1", 105-pound body bouncing in the saddle, arms flapping, part athlete, part animal psychologist, cajoling a beast 15 or more times her weight to jump fence after fence, wall after wall. Her single concession to her injury was the specially constructed zippered boot on her left foot.
In truth, the foot hurt a lot of the time. As the injury healed, painful spurs formed around the frayed edges of knitted bone. And when she first returned to the circuit, nerve damage diminished Goldstein's ability to feel the horses' reactions, putting her at a disadvantage.