Publish date:

Short cut to a championship

"There were heroic deeds and excitement amidst the woods and water of two splendid estates near Ipswich, Mass. the other day, where three of the country's most important equestrian events were being decided. One rider came splashing down the Ipswich River flailing his horse with his belt (he had lost his whip). A nervy woman competitor, whose shoulder was thrown out of joint at a jump, twisted it into place again and pressed on to the finish. But competence, rather than determination or brilliance, proved to be the proper measure of this year's Wofford Cup, Tuttle Cup and Myopia Horse Trials; and it was quite in keeping that the Wofford should be won by a rider on a slow horse who simply figured out a shorter way home.

There were 14 entries in the Wofford, which is the national championship for three-day events and the traditional try-out for riders who hope to make U.S. Olympic teams. Unfortunately, little could be learned of their abilities because the course, though beautiful, was too easy for top competition.

Yet the cross-country jumps did prove difficult enough to eliminate some of the starters. Mrs. Fritz Coester, who had come from Iowa to compete in her first Wofford Cup (having trained her horse, Night Song, from a book), was downed at the ninth fence, spraining her neck; Felix Nuesch had to dismount and lead his Fantasie home when the mare quit in exhaustion after the 27th fence; Bill Robinson's Swordsplay cut his leg on an in-and-out bank and Clarkson Lindley's Irish Fling refused four jumps.

The leader at the end of the second day was Michael Page on Sunnyfield Farms' Syphon, a horse with a well-earned reputation for being slow across country. Page, a gold medal winner at the Pan American Games, is an experienced rider, however, and he put his training to good use. Having found two perfectly legal short cuts, one over a barbed-wire fence, he saved three-quarters of a mile and brought Syphon home in very good time, thus earning the bonus points for speed.

In second place was 19-year-old Lana duPont on her Mr. Wister, the only proved international horse in this year's Wofford. Earlier this year she had finished 10th at Badminton, England's best and most severe three-day test.

Third was Michael Plumb, winner of the 1960 Wofford Cup. His father, Charles, a 53-year-old raceway judge riding in his first three-day event, had been fourth until he dropped out of sight both literally and figuratively when his horse fell into the Ipswich River. "It was worth it to cool off," he said later.

A careful jumper

So when the final day of competition began, first place theoretically was still open to the top three riders. If Michael Page's horse had two knockdowns and if Lana duPont's or Michael Plumb's horse had none, either could win it. But the duPont-Plumb hopes quickly ended as Page carefully maneuvered Syphon around the 11-obstacle course without an error to win the Wofford Cup, his short cut proving to be the margin of victory. Lana was second, Michael Plumb third.

If there was competition for the Wofford Cup, there was, unfortunately, almost none for the Tuttle Cup, which is the national open dressage championship. Jessica Newberry, a member of the Olympic Games team, was the very easy winner on her Trakehner stallion, Forstrat. Fellow Olympian Trish Galvin (SI, July 25, 1960), who has won the Tuttle Cup twice, did not compete.

The Myopia Horse Trials, a modified three-day event, produced an upset winner in 22-year-old Mary Alice Brown as well as the remarkable displays of resolve mentioned earlier. It was Gene Weymouth at that treacherous jump on the Ipswich who lost his whip and drove his horse across the river by hitting him with his belt. It was here, too, Mrs. Kenneth Read injured her shoulder in a rough landing but refused to quit.

Miss Brown, who did not learn to ride until she was in college, had no such difficulties. She outperformed last year's high-point rider in combined-training events, Denis Glaccum, to win her first three-day title.