That horse needs a cage instead of a stall," said David Spector when he still owned a talented jumper named The Deputy. The chestnut gelding's nonlovable disposition was one of the reasons Spector sold him. But at the recent Spindletop Charity Horse Show in Beaumont, Texas, The Deputy, still nimble, though older and wiser, and appearing for the Switchwillow Stables, became the open jumper champion; his stablemate, Cricket, was the reserve. Switchwillow's owners went home to Austin with what every horseman dreams of—a clean sweep of all the jumper classes.
"Home" for the horses is 25 acres near an Austin subdivision. "I used to stand around watching my sister ride," said the stable's 22-year-old Phoebe Craig, "and I just knew I could do it, too. So Daddy bought some land and horses. He didn't know he was investing in a zoo. Everything here is a pet." Pets are what most show horses decidedly are not, but The Deputy, who at 10 is known as Old Man, and Cricket wander about like overgrown dogs. It took a while for Cricket to become so docile also. He was once a bucking horse on a rodeo string but not terribly good at it. In fact, he disliked his career so much that he was always jumping out of places to get away. Phoebe agreed to see if he could be trained as a jumper but almost regretted it when she had her first look at him. Even now he is an ugly horse, with a huge jaw and muzzle, and his hide is scarred from spur and rope, but he is no longer skin and bones. For the first few months he perversely refused to jump with anyone on him, but Phoebe kept working away. "He was so supple on the longe, so elastic," she says. "Even now he doesn't look good over a small fence."
To add to the difficulties, Cricket had an intense dislike of being closed in. When he was put in a stall he came out the window like a bullet. He kept escaping at night, jumping wire fences and adding more scars to his collection. He once cut his hindquarters badly, but he is so leery of the human race that no one could touch him in that area. He just healed up by himself. Because of his distrust of blacksmiths, he is shod only in front, even when jumping as high as seven feet. "He just likes to jump," Phoebe says. "He jumps in and out of paddocks to visit other horses or out into the subdivision to eat people's lawns. I just yell 'Cricket' and he knows he's wrong and runs home."
Phoebe is a great believer in turning horses out, a custom most trainers avoid for fear of horses getting hurt. In the summer the Switchwillow jumpers stay out all night and in the winter all day. Phoebe attributes Deputy's improved disposition to that freedom, plus some time spent in the East learning dressage.
Phoebe does not ride her jumpers in shows, frankly admitting that she became scared after a few bad falls. By happy chance a rider turned up at Switch-willow—Glenn Johnson, a classmate of her sister, who had ridden Western horses. "One day I had the urge to ride a jumping horse," he said, "so I called Phoebe and went out for lessons." Before long Glenn was riding in novice classes and, as one judge recalls, barely getting around the course. Two years later he was winning championships.
The Switchwillow group was not the only one to score a clean sweep at Beaumont. Trainer Dale Milligan's Bayou Park Stables won almost everything that was left on stake night, and earlier in the day one of his partner's students, Kerry Anne Bunde, won the saddle seat class, qualifying her for the national finals. Kerry Anne has shown three times at Lexington in the under 10 years of age class and won each time. She goes back for her fourth ride this year.
During his busy evening Dale drove Stingray to the roadsters-to-bike championship, took off his colors, put on his jacket and came back on Cherry Bounce to win the three gaited championship tricolor. After another quick change he was back in the five gaited Stake on Gay Aristocrat, a 5-year-old gelding who has been shown lightly. Gay Aristocrat also won, and expert hands predict he will come out of the gate later this year as world champion.