On the first night of summer at the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club show, Michigan's largest and most elegant event for saddle horses, Judge Bill Cunningham inelegantly donned long underwear under his dinner clothes. It was cold—cold enough to make spectators reach for winter coats—but the class that Cunningham was about to decide upon was genuine high-temperature competition, the five-gaited amateur stake. Although 11 mares and geldings answered the call, it was clearly a two horse contest: Dodge Stables' gelding Socko, ridden by 16-year-old Judy Johnson, vs. the mare Dream Waltz, a onetime world's grand champion and former stablemate of Socko, owned and ridden by 18-year-old Judy Marks. The two Judys on those particular two horses had met only once before—last year—and the mare was victorious that time. Thus the best saddle-horse class of the show had added excitement of a long-awaited rematch.
The riding was worthy of the occasion. Both girls put their horses through their gaits with the skill and determination of professionals, but after five gaits in each direction Judge Cunningham was still undecided. He called them out for a second look. He saw both working fast and in form, but he also saw Dream Waltz in some trouble with a canter lead (a weakness a different horse of Judy's had also shown earlier). That helped do it. Socko had evened the score and was the amateur five-gaited champion of the Grosse Pointe show.
Last fall, after years of fine performances, Socko seemed to have run out of steam. The time had come, a good many horsemen then thought, to let him rest on his laurels, and Socko, as ageless as Satchel Paige, had collected enough of those to make quite a luxuriant mattress. But Trainer Earl Teater wasn't so sure. He called in a veterinarian who found the blood count way down. The little gelding was sick. So, for the first time in five years Socko got a real vacation on pasture, vitamins and plenty of rest. At Grosse Pointe the vacation paid off. Socko also showed that his peace of mind was as good as his pace: while Judy Johnson bubbled with joy and Judy Marks dried her tears, he stretched out and went to sleep.
FRACTIOUS AND SPECTACULAR
July 13, 1958
A bit of Socko's poise would have worked wonders in the junior three-gaited stake, which was noteworthy for the fact that the riders seemed to spend about as much time on the ground as in the saddle. While horses balked, shied and reared all over the ring, show officials thumbed over the rule book to check the "bad manners" definition but decided it was equally a question of bad riding. "Line them up any way you want—just any way you can!" pleaded the announcer when the judging was finally over. Carmelita Emerald, owned and ridden by Mrs. A. E. Knowlton of Delaware, Ohio, came out the winner, her spectacular moments canceling her fractious behavior. "If that lady really learns to ride her," sighed one spectator enviously, "that mare could be the greatest walk trot out since Roxie Highland."
If the saddle horses starred, Grosse Pointe was, nevertheless, a well-balanced horse show. There were quality hunters, too, in all divisions. Most of the hunter classes were held in the daytime over the outside course and in the red-and-white-decked ring, and in the daylight it was perfect horse show weather—crisp and sunny. Fifteen-year-old Laurie Ratliff's Little Sombrero won most of the working-hunter classes and the championship but missed out on the working-hunter appointment class. That was won by 21-year-old Barbara Von Hoffman's post-entered mare, Star-Ridge. One of the judges studying Barbara as she received Alfred R. Glancy Jr.'s handsome trophy, a 19th century English silver wine ewer, complete with champagne, remarked in a puzzled voice, "That little girl was wearing everything she should have, but somehow none of it seemed to fit very well." Later, in happy tears, Barbara confessed—all her clothes were borrowed finery. What was more, her mare was in foal.
In the conformation-hunter division, Mr. and Mrs. John S. Pettibone's Duke of Paeonian was an easy champion—his sixth such title this year. A few years ago when Pettibone, a New Englander and no horseman, retired from the lumber business to Virginia, he was persuaded that he ought to have a horse. He didn't like to ride—his first and last encounter ended with a broken arm—but he did like to look at them. He enlisted the professional eye of Robert Kerns, and they bought his first horse—the Duke of Paeonian—from Liz Lunn. A college student, Betty Beryl Schenk, started to show him in ladies' classes, and the two got along so well that she now shows him in all events over fences. Mr. Pettibone is still content to just watch, but unlike many tyros he really has something to see.