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High times at the National

A suspended rider who fought back made as much news at the Garden as the horses who set new records in a lively and exciting show

Rodney Jenkins, a redheaded, 23-year-old professional horseman from Orange, Va., has more top horses than any other trainer in his field; at the National Horse Show last week in Madison Square Garden he rode the working hunter champion, the conformation hunter champion and both the champion and reserve champion open jumper.

A troublemaker he is not, but last August he was allegedly caught poling a horse (rapping a horse on the legs so that it will jump higher). The rule book of the American Horse Shows Association states that a horse found being so trained "shall be eliminated from the next two succeeding classes in which it is entered. All such violations shall be...reviewed by the Enforcement Committee for such further action as may be deemed appropriate...."

The Enforcement Committee deemed further action appropriate: it barred Jenkins for 90 days, a punishment that most horsemen thought was outsized for the crime. "We all pole," said one trainer. "We just don't get caught."

Jenkins went to court and obtained a stay that enabled him to ride, and he came to the National in New York scheduled to ride six jumpers and three hunters. But the AHSA went to court, too, and during the National the stay was vacated, and again Jenkins was declared ineligible. There were murmurs among the exhibitors, and Jenkins' lawyer, claiming that the new AHSA debarment was technically premature, obtained another stay, permitting Rodney to return to the ring after missing a day of competition in the Garden.

The air still was not clear. Jenkins said he was thinking of filing a suit against the AHSA for damages, and his lawyer talked of a contempt-of-court action. The AHSA was in the position of not being able to enforce its own rulings and, to add to its woes, Peggy Steinman, whose horse, Not Always, Jenkins had been kept from riding in one class, said she might try to have all the classes that had been held while Jenkins was grounded declared null and void. That would cause enough headaches to keep an aspirin salesman in luxury for years, particularly since Peggy's horse won the championship anyway.

The point is, most exhibitors are not in sympathy with the association, and they think that the AHSA should reexamine the rule book. The exhibitors feel that if a competing rider were on the enforcement committee, they would get a fairer deal: clearly defined rules for infractions could be enforced on the spot without need for review.

At the National, in the midst of his legal battles, Jenkins cleared 7'1" in the puissance stake on In My Cap, which tied a Garden record. But so did Russell Stewart on Dear Brutus, who had won the class for the past two years, even though the big horse stumbled and jolted Stewart out of the saddle as they crossed the finish line. The wall was raised again, to 7'3". Never before had the Garden wall been that high in a puissance class, and the jump crew had to use wooden planks to build up the height. In My Cap almost cleared the wall but brought down a block with a hind hoof. Then Dear Brutus went over to set a new Garden record and retire the trophy.

The new record did not stand alone for long, since the next night, in the international puissance, Bold Minstrel, with Billy Steinkraus aboard, jumped the same height. Bold Minstrel is a 15-year-old gelding who won medals in the 1959, 1963 and 1967 Pan-American Games and a silver medal in the 1964 Olympics. "He's a geriatric miracle," said Steinkraus. His owner, Bill Haggard of Nashville, said, "I must have had 30 offers for him over the years, but I've never been tempted to sell. He's so pleasant, so gentle, so sweet. Come to think of it, he does have one bad habit. He likes to bite girls."