Only four years ago the triumphant fine harness horse on this week's cover, The Lemon Drop Kid, entered an auction ring in St. Louis and changed his destiny. As he burst into the arena, catching a wheel on the gatepost, the horsemen gathered to appraise him nodded sagely; what they had heard was true. The Lemon Drop Kid, spectacular as he looked, was as wild as a March hare—which was why he was up for sale.
As Lemon worked that day he did more things wrong than right, and the bidding was slow. It finally crept up to $5,500 and there it stayed. The auctioneer pleaded and wheedled, but the high bid made by Irene Zane, manager of the Sunnyslope Farms, held. Crushed, Floyd Shofner, the horse's breeder and owner, took the microphone and flatly announced, "No sale. I'll take him back to California before I let him go at that price. Why, $7,500 would be rock bottom." Irene Zane looked across the crowd at Jay Utz, Sunnyslope's trainer, who raised his eyebrows in question. Both trainer and manager turned and looked at Mr. R. B. Christy, the farm's owner, who was seated in the stands. Christy looked at the rafters, then slowly nodded yes.
By any proved standard, Mr. Christy's gamble was a long one. Back in Puente, California, where Lemon was foaled, he started life as a disappointment. Not only was he a washed-out beige in color, but he had a blemish from the way he had been carried. Floyd Shofner, for the first time in his 25 years of breeding, dropped a foal from the futurity. The son of Cameo Kirby and Miss Chatterbox was a dud.
But appearances were deceiving. By the time Lemon was a yearling Shofner and his daughter Ella Mae looked again and saw something highly explosive in the youngster. His color had deepened—he was now a rich, golden chestnut, with a flaxen mane and tail—and his motion was as brilliant as his coat. The blemish had disappeared. He had been named Master Chatter at his birth, but his appearance was so arresting that the Shofners felt a new name was needed. Damon Runyon provided it—The Lemon Drop Kid. As Runyon readers will recall, The Lemon Drop Kid laughed last.
November 11, 1957
Naming him, however, turned out to be a far easier task than breaking him. Lemon had few law-abiding inclinations. In fact, he left a trail of broken buggies and jog carts that would have dismayed a man of lesser faith. But, under Trainer Marty Mueller, Shofner's trust was justified. As a 3-year-old shown by Mueller, Lemon was a sensation. "Not as far as his manners went...," Mueller recalls, "but there was that something about him that made you sure you had your hands on the best in the world every time you touched him.... He's a horse that is always trying to do better."
But before Lemon could go on trying to be better, Mueller departed to go into business for himself, and the Shofners were left once more with their problem. Their new trainer was afraid of Lemon, so the horse quickly reverted to his earlier, lunging habits. He was too wild in his ways for Ella Mae in ladies' classes, so Shofner faced the cold facts: the gelding whose looks and way of going caused such rare tingles of excitement was so full of the devil that few men dared to sit behind him. Shofner decided to sell.
So when R. B. Christy made his purchase in St. Louis and took Lemon home to Kansas, Trainer Jay Utz faced the challenge of finding the key to a great performer who was used to having his own way. Besides his wild lunges, Lemon also had the unpleasant habit of grabbing one side of the bit. Jay set patiently to work. When the weather was bad he rode him. "It was like being on a horse that was trying to climb a ladder," he recalls. Most of the time, however, he drove—for, despite the advice of experts who claimed that Lemon's mane and tail should be trimmed so he could be shown as a walk-trot, Jay was determined to keep him in fine harness. "He's not a horse you can force," he explained. "You've got to talk him out of things.... He sure keeps me thinking."
Then came the spring, and Lemon, 5 years old and no longer a junior, was ready for open classes. It was decided to go to Topeka and discover if Lemon behaved as well in company as he did in his own backyard.
The debut was agonizing. Once there, they barely got him into the ring. It was one of those nightmare evenings where everything went wrong. Lemon stood shaking in the shafts with an advanced case of stage fright. His tail switch slipped and had to be retied. Then the overcheck broke and there was time only for hasty repairs with a shoelace before the class was called. But, once in the ring, everything was right. Lemon, as the saying goes, went as if the ground weren't good enough for him, and he has been going that way ever since.
Undefeated in championship classes since 1955, Lemon, now 8, faces more years of triumph and glory. In fact, some enthusiastic horsemen predict that he won't be defeated for another four or five years. Once, two years ago, he was placed second in an open class, a decision so questionable that the audience booed the winning horse and fellow exhibitors chastised the judge.
All success brings changes, and Lemon is no exception. He has been transformed from a Peck's bad boy into a prima donna who could give even Maria Callas some lessons in being temperamental. No tie stalls for him, as are sometimes offered at small shows where he is exhibited solo as a special treat: he must have a box. And once, when he was placed in a box stall with no tail boards, he spent the night busily rubbing his tail against the stone wall until he had an embarrassing bald spot. Lemon had to wear a wig until the hair grew out.
He is just as particular about his stablemate as he is about his stall. He has developed a grand attachment for a five-gaited mare named Stonewall's Princess, and when she isn't there he paces and nickers in lordly anguish. But heartbreak turns to outrage if, when the mare is returned to her stall, she is fed and watered first. If his peevish squeals for attention are ignored he becomes more vehement and kicks the walls of the stall. If this rouses no interest he turns downright sulky and gets to work methodically shredding his blanket.
Saucy and serious
Lemon also gets a deep satisfaction out of teasing new grooms. He will leave the stall with newcomers like a perfect Little Lord Fauntleroy, but then, as quick as a snake, he will clamp his teeth on arm or shoulder. He doesn't really bite. He holds on long enough to see how easily they scare.
When it comes to showing, however, Lemon is all business. Every piece of tack, each strap, must be exactly where he wants it. If the backhand is a little too far forward, he'll twitch, twist and shrug until he gets it just right. Then, like a boxer on the ropes, he starts warming up, lifting first one leg and flexing the muscles in the forearm, next the other, until he is hitched. Then—into the show ring.
And on the rail, owners and trainers whose memories are long and jealousies often sharp, run down the list of fine harness immortals—Vanity, Noble Kalarama, Regal Aire—and acclaim The Lemon Drop Kid as greatest. They may sigh with envy but they watch him with pleasure and affection. Everyone knows it will be a long time—if ever—before there's another like him.
The Lemon Drop Kid, memorable as usual, just last week added another star to his championship diadem by again winning the stake at Kansas City's American Royal. And winning in Kansas City, as everyone well knows, is no small achievement. This year the show drew a staggering 1,124 entries, while at Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania National, which ran during the exact same days and cedes prestige to no one, drew close to 800.
That one owner could simultaneously win stakes at these two great shows seems slightly improbable, but that is exactly what did happen. In Kansas City, Lady Carrigan, winner of the World's Five-Gaited Championship at Louisville earlier this year, finished off an undefeated season with victory at the Royal. Garland Bradshaw was again in the saddle, but now he was riding for a different owner; 22-year-old Jolie Richardson of Atlanta had bought the horse from Molly Moody. "We got so tired of always being second to Carrigan that we finally bought her!" explained Jolie. "You know how it is: if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em." And as an indication of what there was to beat in Kansas City, there were 90—yes, count them, 90—horses entered in the stake. As usual, only a small percentage of those listed felt it worth-while, when the eighth day of competition rolled around, to put up a fight. Lady Carrigan, who is just as touchy to ride as The Lemon Drop Kid is to drive, might as well have been in a class by herself. The fight was for second place, and it was finally won by Susan Richtmyre's chestnut gelding, Red Gold.
Meanwhile, on the same Saturday, at the opposite end of the country, Jolie's other horse, the big bay Garrymore, was being shown at Harrisburg by Garland Bradshaw's brother Frank.
Garrymore too faced top stock, but, working like a picture horse, he pleased both crowd and judges. It came as no surprise when for the third year in a row he was named the champion five-gaited horse at the Pennsylvania National.
"Isn't it a coincidence," Jolie pointed out, "I was born on St. Patrick's Day and now I own the two top-gaited horses in the country and they both have Irish names!" She patted Garrymore fondly. "I don't know yet what we'll do about these two next year," she continued. "Garland will keep Lady Carrigan—he's the one who made her and he's the only one who can ride her. When I told Frank I'd bought her he said, 'Now don't you move her, don't you even change her stall! I've got enough troubles without taking her on.' "
Other exhibitors had troubles of a different order. Max Bonham, who rode Mrs. Hubert's Velvet Lassie to triumph in the tough $6,500 sweep-stake, discovered he had been suspended by the American Horse Shows Association for an earlier rule infringement and was thus ineligible to ride for the rest of the year. The international teams faced the biggest trouble of all, although it came in more attractive form. The English Equestrian Team (see box), on their first visit in five years, skimmed off the lion's share of the blues that in former years had been the almost exclusive property of Mexico's Brigadier General Humberto Mariles (SI, Oct. 28). The general made a fight (Mexico captured three blues) but found himself dogged by petty disaster—sick horses, a broken stirrup leather that cost him a class, a popped girth and, finally, two humiliating falls.
Affair of honor
As if this weren't enough, the general, whose temper is as famous as his equestrian technique, discovered the Chilean team in a rule violation. With some asperity he pointed out the infraction to the team's nonriding captain, Major Oscar Christi. Now it just so happened that these two didn't like each other very much anyway—they had tangled two years ago during the Pan-American Games. So Christi, in fine, untranslatable Spanish, warned Mariles to mind his own business. Mariles went on into the ring and made his ride. After the awards, he went on a private search for Christi. He found him.
When the dust of battle cleared, and sundry broken weapons, including a riding crop, had been removed, Christi, in tears, tattled. Major General Albert H. Stackpole, the show's president, stepped in and arranged a shaky peace by threats of expulsion. Both Mariles and Christi publicly denied that blows were exchanged. But, privately, the general still glowered; as for Christi, he was clearly bruised.
The U.S. team, against England's strong competition, looked first-rate. This year there is no star: all three riders—Bill Steinkraus, Hugh Wiley and Frank Chapot—are strong and their horses are ready. As proof, the U.S. team placed second—and some classes were lost not on jumping faults but on time. The Irish managed one win, but the rest of the teams were unable to manage any.
FOR BRITAIN IT'S THE LADIES 2 TO 1
The triumphant trio shown making a tour of the ring at Harrisburg, Pa. is the English Equestrian Team of Pat Smythe (left), Ted Williams and Dawn Palethorpe. Now in New York (Nov. 5 to 12) for the National Horse Show, they are odds-on favorites to duplicate their Harrisburg victory.
Other than the high quality of their riding, the British team has generated enormous interest because of the two women on it—the first time in the U.S. that an international team had more girls than men. The best known, and probably the best rider, is Pat Smythe. She, by the way, has jumped a horse higher than any woman and most men (she once took her Prince Hal over 7 feet 2‚⅛ inches; at the Sky-Hi Jump in Harrisburg the best was Miss Virginia's 6 feet 6 with Linky Smith aboard). She was also the first medal-winning woman in Olympic jumping. But Dawn Palethorpe, an alternate rider on the Olympic team, is riding hard behind her, and New Yorkers may well see a friendly distaff duel within the international duels.