There's an Argentine criollo saying that nothing is as untrustworthy as a palomino horse. That may be true in Argentina, but when the 74th National Horse Show came to its dramatic end in Madison Square Garden last week, Hugh Wiley's big palomino, Nautical, had proved himself trustworthy enough to win more classes than any other international horse there—namely, six.
Since there are 12 international competitions during the National's eight hectic days, Wiley and Nautical, competing on the U.S. Equestrian Team, did far more than make a do-or-die, one-day stand. Theirs was a sustained drive against a most worthy group of competitors—20 riders of seven different international teams. The pair started right off by winning the first international event on Tuesday afternoon—the West Point Challenge Trophy. But then the Irish, in the person of Lieutenant W. A. Ringrose on Ballynonty, stepped ahead by winning the next two classes; and when the Irish faded, it was Dawn Palethorpe on her Earlsrath Rambler who forged ahead, followed—and supplanted—by Ted Williams on his aptly named Pegasus.
But if anyone thought Nautical was living up to the proverb, they were wrong. For the next four days Wiley and Williams swapped victories. By the last night, not only were they tied for the individual championship, but the U.S. and England were tied for the team trophy.
The situation could scarcely have been more dramatic. In the show's closing class, the double tie had to be broken. According to the conditions of the event, each country was allowed to enter three horses, each to be ridden by a different rider. The best aggregate score decided the winner.
On the first round, the U.S. and England each went clean—three faultless rounds apiece. With the obstacles raised, the U.S. and English riders each had to go again.
The crowd was so tense that no one thought to give the customary ovation accorded each rider as he makes his salute. Frank Chapot on Pillbox went first—and clean. England's Dawn Palethorpe was next'; her Earlsrath Rambler played too hard and knocked down one bar. U.S. Captain Bill Steinkraus took First Boy around with care for another faultless ride, and Pat Smythe followed to duplicate the achievement for England. Now it was up to Hugh and Nautical to finish the affair.
The silence was so profound as Wiley entered the arena that his horse's breathing could be heard in the farthest seats.
It remained so for 36.2 suspenseful seconds. Then, as Nautical crossed between the finish standards to complete a perfect ride, the crowd stood up as one to cheer as horse-show crowds have seldom done before.
Williams, whose Pegasus has been three times England's leading jumper of the year, conceded. Wiley received the new, individual championship award. The U.S. team picked up the trophy for the best team of the show, which for nine of the last 11 years has been Mexican property.
Lost amidst the unrestrained joy over the American victory was the man who for almost 20 years has dominated international jumping in the Western Hemisphere—Mexico's General Humberto Mariles. For the first time since 1939 he was leaving New York without a single first place. Not only that, he had had several falls.
What had happened? Reluctantly, toward the show's end, Mariles had confessed that he had the flu, but he continued to climb aboard Chihuahua II. "What else can I do?" he asked. "If I say I am sick everyone will believe I just make excuses because I don't do well at the show. Chihuahua is ready—but he cannot do it alone."
On the last night, while England and the U.S. fought their climactic duel, Mariles rode and fell again—but before that he got the scare that sent him to a specialist the next day. Turning wide, he momentarily lost all control and thought he was going over the rail and into the crowd.
"That man should never have been near a horse," said Dr. Lewis Dunn after examining Mariles the next morning. "He was riding on sheer courage." Mariles, it developed, has an infection of the middle ear that was so bad that at times he could hardly balance himself enough to walk. He will be unable to ride for an indefinite period.
Although the triumphs and troubles of the international riders were the focus of the show, the other divisions were not without their stars. Riviera Wonder, for example, the soaring gray horse owned by Bernie Mann and ridden by Al Fiore, won the jumper championship for the third year in a row, and the Delaine Farm gained the Watson Amateur cup for no less than the sixth time. But the big talk among the saddle-horse crowd was Dodge Stables' new walk trot mare, Belle of the Dell. Actually, the mare had been shown all season, but in fine-harness. At Harris-burg, however Earl Teater, Dodge Stables' veteran trainer, trimmed Belle and put her in the three-gaited classes. There, as well as in New York, she was champion. It seems sale to predict she will continue collecting championships for some years to come.