Brendan was one of my mistakes," said Patrick Butler, a generous supporter of the U.S. Equestrian Team. He made the remark in New York's Madison Square Garden at the National Horse Show, the last and most prestigious event on the U.S. calendar, and he was referring to the chestnut gelding being awarded the Professional Horsemen's Association Trophy, a prize based on points earned in PHA classes throughout the year. Butler was not lamenting Brendan's success but the fact that the horse no longer belongs to him. He had bought the gelding as an international jumper but sold him to a Mexican team member for $10,000 when it was decided that the horse was not going to make the grade. Then came the 1967 Pan-American Games, where Butler's horse Untouchable, with Kathy Kusner in the saddle, was jumping off for the bronze medal against Captain Manuel Mendivil Yucupicio on Veracruz—none other than the erstwhile Brendan—and to Patrick Butler's chagrin, his reject was the winner.
Redheaded Rodney Jenkins, the young professional from Orange, Va., was in the ring with Brendan this year; Jenkins not only rode him, it was Jenkins who had bought Veracruz back from the Mexicans, changed his name to Brendan once again and then sold him to Harry Gill. Now, at the Garden, Brendan had clearly overcome any identity crisis and Jenkins the effects of an ankle broken in two places at the Ox Ridge show in June. In one hunter class, for example, Jenkins rode horses one, two and three, and the division championship had to be decided by a coin toss between two of them. In another class, with three open jumpers—Harry Gill's Brendan and Idle Dice and Hunting Woods Farm's Main Spring—Jenkins again finished one, two, three, and he went on to end in a first-place tie in the puissance.
This class, in which a horse must broad-jump and high-jump, was available for the first time to both international and national riders. The international turnout was the lightest in four years, with only three teams, Argentina, Canada and the U.S., competing. Since some of their first string had been left in quarantine, Argentina was at a disadvantage, but Canada and the U.S. had horses that had jumped high, wide and handsome before. Ten international and 12 national horses started the puissance, but as the jumps were raised and broadened, the ranks thinned. By the time the wall got to seven feet and the spread 6'9" wide and 5'6" high, the field had been reduced to six, three of them ridden by Jenkins.
The first to go was Bill Steinkraus, the U.S.A.'s only Olympic Grand Prix equestrian gold medal winner, who still holds the Garden record for jumping Bold Minstrel over 7'3". This time, although his horse Fleet Apple cleared the spread, he pulled down the wall. Then a horse called The Hun, who looked as if he had started out to be a dachshund, only to have nature change her mind in mid-creation and turn him into a horse, pulled down both fences.
Brendan and Jenkins were next and cleared the spread, but when the chestnut refused the wall, Jenkins withdrew. Rob Ridland, the USET's youngest and newest rider, got Almost Persuaded over the spread but pulled blocks off the wall. Jenkins and Main Spring followed, were clean over the spread and then were the first to leap the wall. There was a suspenseful pause while Jenkins changed horses and reentered the ring with Idle Dice. He had the class won with Main Spring, so would he withdraw? He did not. Moreover, he duplicated the performance, tying himself for first place at seven feet.
The crowd responded with most unhorse-show-like stomping and screaming as Jenkins returned to the ring, electing, as a rider may in these circumstances, to call it a draw. No one could recall such a feat in horse show history.
Jenkins was also the runaway winner of the Leading Open Jumper Rider challenge trophy, a silver coffee urn whose public career he has rendered remarkably brief. This was only the third year the trophy has been offered, and this was the third year Jenkins had won, thus retiring it.
"Isn't it too bad," said one spectator, "that that boy has to work for a living?" He was referring to the fact that the international riders who represent this country are generally amateurs. In that division, Jenkins' counterpart was Neal Shapiro, a 26-year-old from Glen Head, Long Island. Riding Nirvana and Butler's Sloopy, Shapiro won only one class—on Nirvana—but he was consistently in the ribbons. He usually is, and in Europe last summer he won the Grand Prix of Aachen with Sloopy. This was tantamount to winning the most important individual trial before the Munich Olympics, and the Germans reportedly offered Butler $100,000 for Sloopy. He turned them down to keep the horse available to our Olympic team.
In the Garden last week it was Sloopy's consistency rather than his brilliance that contributed to Shapiro's individual championship and the slender six-point victory of the U.S. over Canada for the team title. Sloopy never did take a class, but a batch of seconds and thirds helped Shapiro to finish with a 34 in the individual standings, 10 points ahead of teammate Carol Hofmann; Robert Ridland and Canada's Barbara Simpson tied for third at 22.
On the seventh day of the National's eight-day run, Canada took the Nation's Cup for the first time since 1959, but the U.S. team went into the final international class, the Grand Prix of New York for the Devereux Perpetual Challenge Trophy, leading Canada 76-72. The U.S. came out of it ahead 80-74, with Argentina fetching up the rear with only 36 points. Shapiro and Sloopy turned in a perfect ride but came in third. "I realized I had to be very careful," Shapiro said. "I just wanted a clean performance—I wasn't trying to win on time. Sloopy isn't a speed horse, but he's a good, solid worker, excellent for Grand Prix competition."
Later he added, "Sloopy's a character, the best horse I've ever ridden, but he's not satisfied to just stand around in the stall. He's always trying to play, and if you're not looking he'll give you a nip, then gaze off into space with an innocent 'Who, me?' look when you turn around."
Shapiro, on the subject of Sloopy, was positively garrulous compared with Rodney Jenkins on the subject of Brendan. Jenkins might safely be termed laconic. When asked about the latest PHA champion, he thought for a moment and observed, "He's a nice horse."