A horse show in Southern California should look like a Hollywood spectacular, and the nine-day Santa Barbara show, which ended recently, is held in what must be the most gorgeous and colorful setting in the country. The pampered box-seat spectators, warmed by infrared heat against the evening chill, can watch the horses against the backdrop of the mountains of the Coast Ranges, and the pampered horses are put up in unusually commodious stalls. With almost unheard of unanimity, exhibitors agree that Santa Barbara is the best show in terms of facilities and scheduling on the California circuit.
The deft programming is done by Allen Ross, the show manager. He has definite ideas on how such an event should be run, and he puts them into practice. Ross believes that a show should move, then end at a reasonable hour, such as before 11 at night. Thus Santa Barbara is one of those rare events where the timetable is believable. Ross can time the program with precision because he schedules the hunter or jumping events for late afternoon and eliminates all but 10 who go in the opening class of the evening performance. Ross, of course, has one big advantage at Santa Barbara—there are no classes for children. Over 150 entries in a children's class, as happened at an earlier California show this year, can play havoc with scheduling. Instead Ross holds a separate junior show, the largest in the country, in the fall.
But programming alone does not totally account for Santa Barbara's popularity. The beauty of the grounds, with flowers, shrubs and even an equestrian monument at the entrance, adds to its success. This opulence is paid for by the state. Ironically, horse racing, a sport that has almost nothing in common with showing horses, supplies the money. Part of every pari-mutuel dollar goes to the state agriculture department, which in turn disburses funds to fairs and shows. The state pays the prize money, $125 for each class, a fact that turns non-California horse-show managers ulcerous with envy. As a result it is not difficult to find local people willing to add their money to the state contribution to assure good stake prizes.
Fittingly, some of the competitors this year looked as though they came straight from Central Casting—and, in a sense, some of them did. For example, Trainer Jimmy Williams of Pasadena, as handsome a man as ever graced a screen, has been in pictures, either as Tyrone Power's double or as a stunt rider. With his attractive wife, Marcia—inexplicably called Mousie, as she neither looks nor acts the part—Williams brought 35 horses to the show, the biggest string there. "That," says Mousie, is almost a vacation. We took 72 head to an earlier show." Mousie, incidentally, is Williams' sixth wife. "If you start in on Jimmy's marriages," Mousie says, "that would take up the whole column."
The Williams' trained hunters are all finished, off with a typically Western touch; they can stop and spin like stock horses, a type Williams showed for many years. California born, he was raised around his father's stables. As the son of a dealer he learned how to ride every kind of horse. After he was wounded in World War II he was sent to a riding center in Florence where he studied dressage, then took a horse-and-mule act on tour as part of an Army entertainment troupe. Back in California, he surprised the cowboys by applying dressage principles to stock horse training.
Williams has also done well with hunters. "You can work six hunters in the time it takes to school one top stock horse," he says. "And I want my horses trained so it's like pushing an electric light switch."
That training had its rewards at Santa Barbara, as horses from the Williams string collected a most impressive array of tricolors, including the green working hunter championship and reserve, the second-year green conformation hunter championship, the working hunter championship and the conformation hunter AHSA championship. With Assistant Trainer Ken Nordstrom aboard. Notice Me was the jumper stake winner for the second year in a row as well as the reserve champion. There just wasn't too much left over for anyone else.