This has been a season of plenty for horse shows, with most of the major fixtures on the tight fall circuit boasting more horses and spectators than ever before. Kansas City's American Royal (now in its 62nd year) attracted full houses every one of its nine days. The Royal had a record 1,200 horses and ponies entered, and New York's National (now in its 77th year) had more horses than places to put them. Even the struggling young Washington, D.C. event drew its largest audience to a considerably improved show. The only major show that suffered a decline in attendance and prestige was the Pennsylvania National in Harrisburg.
At New York's National in Madison Square Garden, it was no surprise that the U.S. Equestrian Team dominated the international jumping events, the featured division of the show. Fresh from their silver-medal triumph in Rome, the Americans also won championships at the Pennsylvania National and Washington International shows that preceded New York. But their gala mood, though not their winning streak, was ended when Trail Guide, the only horse owned by the team (the others are loaned) was killed while jumping off for first place.
Ironically, it would have been the last show for the 21-year-old gelding. The USET had planned to retire the veteran campaigner with ceremony at the National, but American horse show rules forbid a formal retirement to be held at a show in which the horse is also competing. Trail Guide, who had been the top International horse at Harrisburg, who had not knocked down a fence during the six days of Washington, who had been the low-scoring American horse at both the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, was needed by the team. So retirement was postponed.
With Rider Frank Chapot aboard, Trail Guide won the Garden's opening event. Then, later in the week, he tied for first place with three other horses for the Good Will Challenge Trophy. The fences were raised and the jump-off began. The U.S.'s George Morris on High Noon was clean, and so was Canada's Tom Gayford on Blue Beau. But the chunky Canadian horse could not better High Noon's time. The Venezuelan horse (third in the tie) knocked down two fences, so Trail Guide had to have both a clean and fast round to win. He cleared the first two fences without fault but at the third, a double oxer, he tripped on a rail, fell and never moved again. Chapot scrambled to his feet, unhurt, but Trail Guide's neck was broken.
Behind the scenes of the National there was trouble of another kind. The Vivisection Investigation League had a summons served on the assistant secretary of the National Horse Show Association, 82-year-old Bert Ingram. The charge: allowing horses with set tails to be shown. Later, Trainer Frank Bradshaw and Dodge Stables Manager Earl Teater were picked out of all the 50-plus saddle horse exhibitors to be handed similar papers. In reviving this old law, which had been ignored as pointless for nearly 20 years, the league obviously was less interested in equine welfare than in embarrassing a rival humane organization, the ASPCA, which polices the show. The anti-vivisectionists already have one case pending against the ASPCA—they are trying to compel the ASPCA to change its name, claiming that an organization that hands over surplus animals to laboratories for scientific research is fostering cruelty rather than preventing it. The summons was served on the show's second day, which was also the ASPCA benefit night, so the league's motives were transparent enough. As for Teater and Bradshaw—well, most people do not receive as tender care as both of them lavish on their horses.
If any of the six Colonel Boyles in the Army or Air Force was on hand for Kansas City's American Royal show, he had the pleasant experience of hearing his own name mentioned with admiration and coupled with applause. But alas for the good officers, the glory was earned by still another Colonel Boyle, one whose name appears on quite a different type of register. He is a 5-year-old chestnut stallion (named for the Kentucky county, Boyle, in which he was bred) and is the reigning sensation in the fine harness division, a field long dominated by The Lemon Drop Kid (SI, Nov. 11, 1957).
The exceptional Colonel, undefeated this year, added the Royal championship to his victory list and, as he left the ring, the vanquished included the old king, Lemon himself, who has not died but who is just aging away.
It was Lemon's last show for Sunnyslope Farms, a name he made famous in the horse show world. The 12-year-old gelding has a record un-equaled by any fine harness horse. Four times he was world champion, and many felt he should be retired. In fact, Manager Irene Zane wanted to do just that, but Sunnyslope's owner, Mr. R. B. Christy, died last spring and did not leave a will. He did leave some 20-odd heirs and an estate reputed to be worth $12 million. The heirs, not horsemen and more interested in cash than sentiment, decided to sell Lemon to the highest bidder at public auction last week, so the champion was back in the Royal's ring to prove he had some mileage left.
He had enough to persuade Mr. O. D. Wilmoth of Salina, Kans. to buy him for $6,000. Trainer Jay Utz, who drove Lemon in his heyday but had to quit after a heart attack, is now well and willing to drive the horse, so the old familiar combination will be seen again in the show rings.
Lemon's sale brought out buyers of a sentimental nature—a Hawaiian admirer sent a long-distance request for his harness, another paid $55 for a set of Lemon's old shoes, and still another purchased the horse's tail set to hang in his office as a memento.
The Royal's five-gaited stake, the class that ends the nine-day show, was a horseman's dream come true for Trainer Lee Roby of Greenhill Stables.
Greenhill's Afire had won the gelding stake, and Daydream the mare stake. With two blue-ribbon winners, Roby had to decide which one to ride in the championship event. Afire was a tested campaigner, but Daydream, a blonde-tailed chestnut mare, was iffy. Several years ago she had foundered and had been turned out as a brood mare. Roby bought the 7-year-old mare for the same purpose, but then, as she seemed over her unsoundness, he started working her again. This year, though often uneven in her performance, she has been a mild sensation.
So now Roby had to choose. Stake night came and Roby stall-walked, making up his mind. Both horses were groomed, tacked and ready to show. At the last moment Roby decided to give the mare her chance at the championship, and Daydream lived up to her name, working with élan and purpose. On her way up to receive the victor's blanket of red roses, however, she started acting like something less than a dream horse. In a fit of pique, she would not accept the winner's roses, and wouldn't even perform the hesitating, lofty slow gait which she can do so brilliantly. Possibly overcome by stage fright at her first major victory, she just wanted to get out and go home.