Kathy Kusner (above) is the prettiest champion in the world. If you prefer blondes or redheads or tall willowy girls or girls with violet eyes, you may protest "prettiest," because Kathy has brown hair, is 5 feet 4, weighs 103 pounds, and her eyes are brown. Moreover, after her performance in the international jumping at last week's National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden she must be considered the best woman rider in the U.S. and the best of her sex in competition anywhere.
The international events have been the feature of the National for 57 years, and last week they drew teams from Canada, Ireland, Chile and Great Britain as well as the U.S., and an individual entry from Mexico. Kathy, riding superbly on Patrick Butler's seasoned Untouchable and newly imported Aberali, won the sash as leading rider on the show's first day, and she wore it straight through to the final performance seven days later. She became international champion with a thumping margin over her closest competitors, finishing with 42 points to Mrs. Frank Chapot's 28 and Gail Ross's 26.
"I'll ride horses forever," Kathy said eight years ago, when she was 18, an exaggeration attributable to youthful enthusiasm but also an accurate reflection of her unswerving devotion to the sport. That same year she set a still-standing record with a jump of 7 feet 3 inches on a little gray mare named Freckles. Since then, refusing to go to college and avoiding all other distractions, she has ridden off with a remarkable string of championships all over the world. For a period, to acquire varied experience—"not just the glamour part," as she put it—she apprenticed herself to Steeplechase Trainer Mike Smithwick, cleaning stables and tack, exercising horses and walking hots. That paid off in race victories on the flat and over fences in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
In 1961 she became the first of her sex in a decade to earn a place on the U.S. Equestrian Team and helped the team win a gold medal at the Pan American Games. At the Tokyo Olympics, however, she finished 13th in individual scoring—"which doesn't earn any medals," she remarked. Possibly because of her utter absorption in horses, Kathy has never developed ease in getting along with people, her shyness often taking the form of arrogance and outright rudeness. "Wouldn't the world be a lot simpler if it were full of horses?" she once plaintively protested to her father. A preference for horses over people may be responsible for her astonishing success in the highly competitive show world. As a rider, at any rate, her sense of timing, her courage and overwhelming drive enable her to leave the show ring regularly with the right color ribbon, and impel a happy group of owners to offer her excellent mounts.
November 14, 1966
New York's National and, before that, Kansas City's American Royal both attracted more spectators and entries than ever in this most successful season in history. In New York the U.S. jumping team was by far the strongest, the talents of Miss Kusner, Bill Steinkraus and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Chapot achieving victories in eight of the 11 international events. Canada won three. Two British newcomers, Anneli Drummond-Hay and Althea Roger Smith, did surprisingly well in several classes, but the Irish and Chileans were disappointing. They were referred to by some observers as "the demolition squads" as the rails flew from under their horses. Only the Canadians offered any challenge to the USET's dominance, their most dramatic victory coming in the puissance class, when Jim Day on Canadian Club equaled the high-jump mark set by his teammate Tom Gayford four years ago. With the wall at seven feet one inch, there were three entries qualified to try: Canadian Club; Gail Ross, also of Canada, on The Hood; and Frank Chapot on San Lucas. Last year the U.S. combination had won the event at the same height. Canadian Club, who is in his first year in the jumper division, led off and cleared the wall. Then The Hood and San Lucas failed in succession as the blocks came tumbling down. So the relatively green horse was a decisive upset winner. The evening before, in the open jumper division, Russell Stewart on Airy Hall Plantation's Dear Brutus had cleared the same height with ease.
Among the saddle horses, the most eagerly anticipated class was the three-gaited stake, because Forest Song, the brilliant 3-year-old who had won the world championship at the Kentucky State Fair—the first of that age ever to do so—was to be shown. She had been sold after her Louisville triumph to 15-year-old Julianne Schmutz for a reported $75,000, and her new owner was going to show her despite the fact that stake classes traditionally are reserved for professional trainers. In addition, there was the question of whether veteran Earl Teater would show the Dodge Stables' undefeated champion, Local Talent. The two horses had never met before. Earl did show, and Local Talent was in excellent form—but Forest Song was invincible. At the canter she switched leads but was quickly corrected by her youthful rider. Judge Tom Moore asked for a workout but came to his decision quickly, awarding the championship to Forest Song, a truly exciting mare. Julianne became the youngest rider ever to win the stake.
The oldest exhibitor at the National, Miss Eleo Sears, had a champion as well as a reserve. Her green conformation hunter, Among the Stars, won the title, and her other horse, Up in Smoke, earned the reserve ribbon. Both were ridden by Dave Kelley, but Miss Sears, whose sight is failing, led the winner into the ring herself to accept the tricolor. Then this 83-year-old sportswoman turned toward the gate and broke into a jog trot to make her spirited exit.
One of the events held for years at the National, the AHSA Medal class for saddle-seat riders, was moved for the first time to the American Royal at Kansas City. This class, for which qualification must be earned in other shows, is one of the two top horsemanship events in the country, the other being the "Good Hands." To 13-year-old Andrea Walton of La Porte, Ind. it was important enough for her to fly from school in Lausanne, Switzerland to Kansas City. Andrea's horses, Georgia Denmark and Glorianne Stonewall, were already there, and she warmed up for the big event by winning the Royal's equitation championship on Friday night. "She not only has the talent," remarked one observer, "but she has brains. There's no waste motion or hesitation on her figure work. Everything is well thought out."
The judges in the Medal class apparently agreed with this estimate. After a series of excellent performances in the morning eliminations and afternoon finals, where individual workouts were demanded and done by her with great precision, Andrea was awarded the title. The fragile winner returned to the ring later for a solo ride before the biggest crowd ever to attend a night at the Royal. The riding talent in the Walton family is not confined to Andrea. At last summer's Indiana State Fair, where the riders are split into three age groups, her older sister Alison won the 18-years-and-under class, Andrea won the 13-and-under and little sister Barbé captured the under-10 class. In the same week, at the Ohio State Fair, their mother, Mrs. Mark Walton, was in the ribbons in the three- and five-gaited open classes—which must have established some sort of record for riding families.
Another riding family, this one on the professional level, that ran off with the ribbons at K.C. was that of Tom and Donna Moore. Showing for the Knolland Farms, Tom won the five-gaited stake on Hallelujah in a class that was hotly contested, while his wife took the three-gaited honors on The Cock Robin. Long a familiar name on show programs, The Cock Robin was the world champion ladies' and amateur fine-harness horse for many years. Now shorn of his mane and with clipped tail, he is starting a second career, at a ripe old age, as a walk-trot horse. Still, the little chestnut gelding made his usual cocky show to win his first championship in his new role.