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Three Days on a Horse

The Wofford Cup is still in Wofford hands, but the big news from Colorado was a tiny Californian named Patricia Galvin

It takes a special sort of courage on the part of horse and rider to start and finish a three-day trial. This difficult and dangerous event, which could be called the decathlon of the equestrian world, was the traditional test of a cavalry officer's horse, and it is no less rigorous in its civilian version. The course laid out this month for the Wofford Cup Three-Day Event at Colorado Springs' Broadmoor Hotel was tough enough, and among the 20-odd riders assembled there an 18-year-old California girl named Patricia Galvin, who looks about as rugged as a Dresden doll, might understandably have been considered among those least likely to succeed. For one thing, she had to pack 40 pounds of lead just to bring her weight in line with the rest of the field.

"Trish" Galvin faced considerable competition. Two former Olympic riders, two professional horsemen, seven other women and assorted gentlemen of varying experience made up the record number of entrants. The two Olympians, Bill Haggard and Jeb Wofford, son of the late colonel who organized the first national open event in the U.S., were the most experienced and the natural picks to win. And there was a psychological competitor for Trish as well—no woman had ever even completed the Wofford Cup test, a fact which was emphasized when the men got together to purchase a handsome $40 trophy for the girl who either finished or came closest to doing so.

Beyond this, no favors were asked or given. The course, designed by General Tupper Cole, manager of the U.S. Equestrian Team, was the longest and biggest ever faced by Trish and the other novices, and it was seen only once during a walk-around inspection the day before the trials.

The first day's test—the dressage—began with leaden skies and intermittent rains. It came as no great surprise when Jeb Wofford, who has won all the Wofford Cups but one, earned the low score of the day with his second horse, Cassivellaunus. But nipping at his heels in the field of 24 horses was Trish Galvin, a scant six points behind on her gray Irish mare, Brae Na Ri. This was a double achievement since Trish, the owner of some experienced three-day horses, had left them at home and elected to compete on a mare she had trained herself. Wofford's trainer, Jonas Irbinskas, on Tingling, another Irish import, was third. That evening some of the boys admitted that Trish had them scared.

She still had them scared on the second day, which thinned the ranks considerably as the rugged five-phase endurance course took its toll. Most of the spectators gathered by the splash obstacle as word filtered through how competitors were doing on other phases of the trial—two girls had been eliminated on the steeplechase for going off course, but Trish Galvin had made it and even earned maximum bonus points. Across the hill one horse was seen to be pulled up lame. Another refused three times at the splash and was disqualified. Still another horse, Galway Bay, owned by the Galvins, plunged into the splash, boldly continued up the hill but was then seen to slow down. By degrees he moved to a walk and was eliminated. That night in the barn he died of a ruptured diaphragm.

By evening, riders, trainers and parents were grouped in a corner of the Broadmoor terrace, waiting expectantly until sundown for the results. Jeb Wofford and Cassivellaunus still held the lead, Jones Irbinskas had edged Tingling into second place and Bill Haggard had pushed his green horse, Northman II, into third. But the news that brought cheers was: Trish Galvin was fourth, with a possibility of closing the point gap to win on the third day.

The jumping course, the last day's test, was posted two hours before the event. For some this last effort was the one test too many. Jonas Irbinskas piloted his other horse, Passach, over the 14 obstacles with only two knockdowns and then failed to pass between the finish flags—an automatic disqualification. For Passach, three days' effort was canceled at the last possible place where a mistake could be made. Mrs. Corwith Hamill and her 15-year-old daughter Nancy, the only women besides Trish Galvin still left in the competition, also met disqualification when their horses refused to jump.

Trish, the last girl left, was also the last to ride. Carefully she started Brae Na Ri around the course. At the third obstacle, two rails enclosing a ditch, the mare refused. Trish circled and tried again, losing valuable time. This time the mare jumped and continued nicely until the eighth, a tricky in-and-out, where she refused again. One more disobedience of any kind meant disqualification. But the third mistake was not made. The mare skimmed over the remaining six obstacles and Trish Galvin, in fourth place, was the first woman to have finished a Wofford Cup Event.

As for the Wofford Cup itself, it went to Tingling and Jonas Irbinskas, who finished the jumps with a low 21½ in penalties. Jeb Wofford, who with Cassivellaunus dropped to second place on that last day (Bill Haggard on Northman II was third), was not overly disappointed. "It's a Wofford horse," he explained, "so that trophy will still be in the same old place on the mantel." But that $40 cup which the boys had donated was, as far as Trish was concerned, the most beautiful trophy there.