The outstanding individual at the Pennsylvania National in Harrisburg was the durable and dauntless brigadier from Mexico, General Humberto Mariles. His appearance was almost as surprising as it was welcome—until quite recently it had seemed likely that the ebullient and colorful general was out of international competition for good. His army show jumping team, the target of some intramural politics, was disbanded by order of the War Department just before the Olympic Equestrian Games this June. The timing of the team's breakup kept Mariles, a former gold medal winner, at home. But the general fought back. With the help of private donations (which is the way the U.S. team is supported) Mariles organized trials, selected riders, supplied horses and then took a dead aim on Harrisburg. He made it, too, and the veteran horseman and his hastily selected civilian teammates managed the capture of five blues.
(Last year the team was in an automobile accident en route to Pennsylvania which left Mariles with a cracked coccyx. Since he continued to ride—usually on his bobtailed horse, Chihuahua II—the fracture did not heal correctly. When he returns to Mexico, Mariles plans a month's vacation and an operation. "They are going to cut it off," he laughs, "so I will be just like Chihuahua!")
Although the new members may lack some of the general's dash and skill, they can claim to share his courage. Julio Herrera, a race track saliva test supervisor who had not ridden in competition for 13 years, won Mexico's first Harrisburg blue, and Samuel Soberon, a retired leather merchant, was riding in his first international competition at the age of 58.
The familiar music of El Himno Nacional Mexicano was not played much more often than the more familiar music of The Star-Spangled Banner. Three blues plus the Low Score Championship went to the U.S. team of Bill Steinkraus, Hugh Wiley and Frank Chapot, which was polished, well balanced and much more experienced after a summer of competition in Europe's top horse shows. In fact, they rode so smoothly that their difficult wins were often made to look like easy ones.
The Mexican tack room, after each International event, was filled with the animation and confusion usually associated with an opera diva's dressing room. While four teen-age "observers" from a private military academy passed out pennants with the motto Por mejores jinetes con mejores caballos (for better horsemen with better horses), the general sat at his ease, dispensing radiant good will, autographs and tequila to his assorted fans and accepted with equal enthusiasm invitations from a grade school girl to address her class and from the mayor to accept the keys to the city. "Giving Mariles the key to Harrisburg," said one National follower good-naturedly, accustomed to the general's particular brand of dash and ebullience, "could be a mistake."
A special "Big Jump" Sweepstake for $10,618.09, the most money ever offered for one class in an American horse show, was Harrisburg's unique event. Thirty-five of the best open jumpers were entered by amateurs and professionals to compete under International rather than American rules. Eighteen horses faced the 11 big obstacles without making a clean round. Then Mrs. Joseph R. Busk, a 24-year-old mother of four, rode Hans Tobeason's Tarnished Silver over the course for the first faultless trip. The performance brought a special satisfaction to Mrs. Busk, who had maintained, despite a lack of success in the past, that the horse could do it. Tobeason, who cares little for horse shows, was not present.
Then Charles Dennehey Jr., a former member of the U.S. Equestrian Team, equaled her performance on his veteran jumper, Altmeister, as did Jack Amon on Frank Imperatore's Royal Flight. The jump-off, with over $5,000 to go to the winner, was tense—and it was Dennehey's night. Not only did he win with Altmeister, but his Pill Box, tied for fourth, made a clean round on the jump-off along with four other horses. When the judges decided to draw straws rather than hold another jump-off, Dennehey pulled the right straw and with it almost $750 more in prize money. To Tarnished Silver (known at home as Sonny) went the red ribbon, over $2,000, and to his rider the proof that she was right.
"Gawalla, my .300 Holland & Holland Magnum."