When the United States Equestrian Team staged its three-day competition for the Wofford Cup at Colorado Springs recently, considerably more was at stake than possession of the handsome gold trophy. The USET committee was present to select, presumably from among the Wofford winners, a squad of six riders to train for the three-day event in the 1959 Pan American Games. As a cup competition, the Wofford was both a surprise and a success; but as a selection device, it was ironic comedy. All the wrong people won.
The cup itself was captured by Jonas Irbinskas on the Wofford family's Passach. Irbinskas is a fine rider and a worthy champion, but he is of no use to the USET because he is a professional and therefore ineligible for Pan American competition. Second place went to Mrs. David M. Davis, third to Miss Camille Stahl and fourth to Mrs. R. G. Rolofson. As far as they and the U.S. Equestrian Team were concerned, it was: good ride, wrong sex. Alas, ladies, like pros, are not eligible. Thus, the red-faced USET selection committee had to reach down to fifth place to get the first candidate for its team.
Naturally, these hard-riding ladies, along with two others who were among the 14 finishers in the exhausting three-day test, hastened to point out the absurdity of the international ruling which prohibits women from membership on either Pan American or Olympic three-day teams. For the USET committee, their victories had another connotation: the inadequacy of available, eligible male riders. One gloomy committee member said wistfully: "I wish I were God, so I could change their sexes."
Actually, the Wofford debacle may make it easier to change the antique rule. Women have done well on both Olympic dressage and show jumping teams, but the world rule makers still insist that the three-day (first day, dressage; second day, endurance; and third, stadium jumping) is too strenuous for females.
This is strictly a male view, as "Georgie" Davis emphasized. "The course was not hard," she said. "But what is the future of three-day riding for a woman if we can't get on the team? As it is now, there is no compensation for the risks." Mrs. Davis was pleased with her second in her maiden try at the cup, and particularly pleased with her mare, Gipsy Hill, which had the only clean round in the third day's stadium jumping. "I didn't have a doubt in the world that the mare would finish," Georgie said later. "She finished 10th last year when my husband rode her—and since then has had more training." A 29-year-old mother, Georgie was sidelined in 1957 awaiting the arrival of her third son. Her husband, an Aurora, Colo. veterinarian, pinch-rode, as it were, his wife's horse.
Tiny Marissa Rolofson, 22, the wife of another Colorado veterinarian, also would like a chance at international competition. Mrs. Rolofson won the admiration of most officials, not only for her skill and stamina, but also for the fact that she managed to place fourth after her No. 1 horse, Prairie Brush, which produced one of the highest dressage scores the first day, succumbed to a near-fatal stomachache. On the absolutely green Echuca Boy, Marissa still finished ahead of three former Olympic team members. An inexperienced pair, Camille Stahl and Miss Butch, took the No. 3 spot. Miss Stahl is a college freshman from Monterey, Calif.
The third-place ribbon might possibly have gone to Jeb Wofford, son of the late Colonel John Wofford, in whose memory the cup is given, but he was disqualified on the last day for not "following the trace of the course." The disqualification, regardless of its merits, opens another skirmish in a three-year-old feud between Wofford and the USET.
The feud began at the Pan American Games in Mexico City in 1955, where Wofford was a member of the three-day team. He became involved in a dispute with officials over the handling of a horse, and in its angry wake the USET ruled Wofford ineligible for any U.S. team. Wofford sued and this year arrived at Colorado Springs with an injunction in his pocket declaring him eligible and stating that he should be treated without prejudice. When the disqualification bell sounded, Wofford was out of the stadium in a flash and on the telephone to his lawyer.
Whether this action temporarily cowed the committee, or whether it was just a case of slim pickings, Wofford subsequently was named to the six-man squad, along with Michael Plumb, Walter Staley, Wilson Dennehy, Ernie Simard, the other also-rans, and Bill Haggard (who also was disqualified). Of this squad, one committee member remarked bleakly: "If we weren't already committed to the Pan American Games, I'd call the whole thing off."
Unappeased, Wofford filed a protest (the committee says it was not filed correctly) and declared: "This squad is going to be cut before the games, and I don't want this disqualification used as the excuse if they drop me."
Although Wofford and the three-day candidates were giving the USET some headaches, it was a horse of another color with the Prize of Nations Team. This team, composed of Billy Steinkraus, Hugh Wiley and Frank Chapot, had a summer of successes in Europe the likes of which no U.S. team, even back in the "good old" Army days, had ever had. Individually, they won 21 first places plus a team event. Moreover, they were regularly meeting and defeating the best riders the world has to offer, and if the Olympics were to be held tomorrow, they would be the easy favorites.
Billy Steinkraus, 32-year-old team captain from Westport, Conn., won the most individual honors—eight—mainly on Miss Eleo Sear's gray gelding, Ksar d'Esprit. And another gray gelding, Mrs. W. Joshua Barney Jr.'s Master William with Hugh Wiley aboard, won the King George V Cup, England's highest individual honor. The day after the big win Wiley's other horse, the flashy palomino Nautical, fell during the Prince of Wales class, breaking several of Hugh's ribs. But by the next event, Dublin's classic show, Wiley, taped and determined, came back on Nautical to win both the high jump and the puissance classes.
George Morris, a 20-year-old from New Canaan, Conn., was the youngest and newest member of the team. He more than earned his keep, doing his biggest winning, like Nautical, at Dublin, where he took three individual first places and each one on a different horse. This will be a tough record for anyone, newcomer or veteran, to duplicate.