It all started over a three-martini lunch as Jim Midcap, co-chairman of the San Antonio Charity Horse Show, and Colonel John Russell were searching for a crowd puller for this year's event. Somewhere among the drinks, Russell remembered that once he had ridden in a high jump in Aachen, Germany and had gone over seven feet to an enthusiastic reaction from the audience. Why not try the same class in Texas? Sure, pal, why not?—and that's just what they did. It was easily the show's most exciting event.
Midcap thought it was such a grand idea that he was willing to put up a grand for anyone breaking the national high-jump record. In fact, the show put up two grand; $1,000 for the lady topping the present mark of 7'3" set by Kathy Kusner on Tommy Jones's Freckles at Upperville, Va. in 1958, and another $1,000 for the rider, man or woman, who could break the 8'[13/16]" record set by Jack Peabody's Great Heart in 1923 in Chicago.
The high jump appears infrequently on U.S. show programs. It differs from the Puissance, which includes a vertical wall and a broad jump, in that it is scored like a high jump at a track meet. There is one fence, a slanting obstacle of poles with wings that act like a chute, and each horse gets three tries at each height until he is eliminated.
Few shows, of course, have that type of fence ready for use, so Russell's three-martini idea sent everyone off to the drawing board and then to the carpenters. The angles of the fence were worked out from the international rule book, and calls were made to the American Horse Shows Association in New York for proper specifications, which included bamboo poles wrapped in rope. Then came a nasty hitch; no bamboo of the specified size could be found in the U.S. At last some was located in Panama and arrangements were made to fly it up. The plane arrived in San Antonio, but the bamboo never did—that's right, just the way they lost your luggage last time. So wooden poles were tested, but when a horse took off wrong and belly flopped into the middle, broken timber flew to all points of the compass. At the present price of poles (about $5 each), that began to get expensive. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world on the horses either.
Finally, Russell had the idea of using plastic pipe stuffed with wood at each end for firmness. It was something new for the horse-show ring, but New York gave its O.K. and, about $800 later (not counting the plane trip for the elusive bamboo), the high jump was completed.
A good audience was on hand the night of the event, and so were plenty of competitors. Eighteen horses started, ridden by professionals, amateurs and youngsters barely in their teens. Still, the awards for record breakers looked so safe that Midcap hadn't even bothered to raise the cash.
The jumping started at 5'6", where all but two were successful, and when the height was raised to six feet only two more were eliminated. But the 6'6" fence, with its widening angle, took a heavier toll. Bob Beck, wearing a pink hunt coat and a white crash helmet, and looking like a lost astronaut, dropped out when the Modern Pentathlon Team's Sabre couldn't blast off. A teammate voluntarily withdrew and four of the junior riders and two on open horses also fell by the wayside.
That left six horses to face seven feet—three ridden by men and three by women. Teen-ager Cathy Browne on The Intruder, a gelding who had cleared every height on his first try; Teet Mallard and Jet Glory, who had done the same; and Mrs. Carter Christie on Take Ten represented the female side, and Midcap was hoping hard that at least one of the $1,000 prizes was going to be claimed. He didn't have to worry about collecting it, either. Several people in adjoining boxes, carried away by the excitement, were volunteering to write checks, then and there. "We want to give away that money," Midcap exclaimed. "It would be the best thing that could happen to the show. There's been so much interest—why I even got a call from a lady in California who wanted me to know that Freckles was living there now and doing fine."
Freckles can go on relaxing. The ladies came very close, particularly young Cathy Browne, but not close enough, and the half-Connemara pony, El Gato, was also eliminated. Only the Tidewater Farm's Norwich, with former U.S.E.T. member Bill Robertson aboard, and Sally Ann Dyer's Dear Brutus, with Jerry Castleman in the saddle, cleared seven feet. Dear Brutus, who recently changed hands, had set a Madison Square Garden record in the Puissance last fall at 7'3" but was obviously missing his old rider. Even so, as the fence was raised to 7'6", everyone rooted for him to make it and thus tie the indoor record set by Going Up with Freddie Wettach.
But the extra six inches were too much. Dear Brutus failed, and so did Norwich. On the scoring system of points awarded for the least number of tries, Dear Brutus was declared the high-jump winner at seven feet, which set no records but is still an impressive height. While Dear Brutus was collecting his trophy and the comparatively paltry first-prize money of $45 for an event that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, Russell and Midcap were having different views about next year's event.
"The high jump is a class that defeats a horse," said Russell. "You go and go until you get licked. I don't know about next year." But Midcap was enthusiastic. He was thinking about eliminations to cut down the excessive watching time for spectators and, more important, to weed out the chancier horses before someone was hurt. Most interesting of all for the competitors, he was also talking about more money; some decent prizes for the class itself, no matter what height is achieved. In the full flush of near-success, he mentioned increasing the award for new records to $5,000.
While Midcap worried about his three-martini class, Co-chairman Lafayette Ward, just out of the hospital, fretted about the saddle-horse division. As usual, it was sparsely filled. The Ward-owned chestnut mare Anne Marie, with Art Simmons aboard, became three-gait-ed champion for the second year in a row, and the Simmons-trained fine harness horse City Hall, with owner Mrs. E. H. Green at the reins, achieved the same distinction. Mrs. Green, possibly the most glamorous grandmother since Marlene Dietrich, had another stake winner in Spirit of '76, whom she bought just three weeks before the show. He took the five-gaited title.