Absolutely the only thing that everyone agreed about at Devon, Pa. was that it shouldn't have happened to a horse show. Not that there was any complaint with the show itself—almost 750 of the country's top horses and ponies were on hand for seven days of competition before record crowds which, as one exhibitor explained, is a little like holding the World Series first and then playing out the season. But the incident that all agreed to regret opened the show of Tuesday night, forming a cloud that assumed, during the days following, the dark proportions of a tempest. The storm center was a shocked and surprised amateur rider named Bill Steinkraus, captain of last year's U.S. Equestrian Team, who could never quite believe it all had happened.
Steinkraus, who had come to Devon at his own expense, with two horses on loan to the U.S.E.T., was competing as a private citizen. This, however, was not made clear in the program, so that many people assumed he was present officially. The rumpus really started when Mrs. John Galvin's Night Owl, with Steinkraus aboard, tied for first place with Mr. Samuel Magid's Little David, ridden by Shirleye Weinstein. Neither had made a fault. Now, according to the American Horse Shows Association Rule Book, all ties for first place must be broken by a jump-off. Little David went first, making an excellent round with a two-fault total.
Watching this, Billy Steinkraus decided that the price of a possible win was too high. He announced that he would concede. He thereby followed precedents set by many fellow horsemen, but to some of the spectators it was analogous to the home team not playing the last half of the extra inning after the visitors had broken the tie.
"Not at all," reasoned Steinkraus. "It's like a veteran boxer who is willing to lose some rounds on points in order to win by a knockout later."
June 16, 1957
The steward pointed out the rule to Steinkraus, stating he must jump as Shirleye had. Billy knew the rule; in fact, he had written it, and by his interpretation Little David had jumped, earned first, so the tie was broken. It was his privilege, he asserted, to take second place. "I just don't want to go that deep into the horse this early in the season," said Steinkraus, who had jumped off and won with Night Owl the evening before.
The stewards persisted and he finally offered to go in with the proviso that Night Owl could make three faults and be taken from the ring. The suggestion found no favor with the officials, who then huddled, argued and finally announced that the awards would be made later. When they were, they were coupled with the news that "Night Owl of the United States Equestrian Team" had been disqualified from the class for a violation of the rules.
To Steinkraus, this was a double blow. In the first place he had lost an earned award; in the second place, though he was not at the show as a member of the team (which does not at the moment officially exist), vituperation was nonetheless directed against him for letting the team down. "Each year I've given $1,000 to the team," shouted one apoplectic contributor at Steinkraus, "but this year I'll give $5,000 if they kick you off it!"
Some horsemen took a different view. A petition, started by Samuel Magid, owner of Little David, was circulated and promptly signed by 17 of the 22 riders in the class; it stated, in effect, that the undersigned were in agreement with Steinkraus' action. But the officials stood firm.
Then Magid took an even firmer step. He put up his money and filed a formal protest against the action taken by the show against Steinkraus.
"They keep telling me I'm a Boy Scout," said Magid, "but someone has to do something, because there are some people that have gotten the impression that Billy is a bad sport, and he's not."
The show officials decided to take the safe way out and sent the protest on to New York for perusal, although at first it was nearly refused on the technicality of being two hours and 15 minutes late. But then, if possible, things became even more complicated.
On the last night of the show, Magid's horse, Little David, held a comfortable lead in points for the championship. The only horse that could possibly defeat him was David Kelley's Andante, who had been moved up a notch at Night Owl's disqualification. Andante would have to win the stake and Little David be completely out for this to happen. Unlikely as it seemed, this is just what did happen. Little David, veteran of 11 consecutive years at Devon, blew up and could win neither money nor points. Andante, under Kelley's skillful handling, made a brilliant, faultless trip to win the stake and the championship with the one small point garnered by Night Owl's disqualification. Kelley, wearing a wide grin and a black eye (received when his horse's head hit him) was awarded the tricolored rosette.
Thus Devon ended, with some people happy, many unhappy, and a big problem to be solved. Now it is up to the American Horse Shows Association to pass difficult judgment on a protest that started over a rule interpretation that inadvertently decided a champion.
Their eventual decision will clarify a rule, but no decision, no matter how just, can take back the ugly, angry words that flew at Devon about the U.S. Equestrian Team.