Reflections from some of the National Horse Show’s most legendary participants.
Rodney Jenkins: I had a horse called Arbitrage; he was like 5 or 6 years old. I was on the USET team that year , and he was my third horse. None of the team guys wanted to go in the puissance, so Bert de Nemethy asked me to take him in for a couple rounds, so we participated and didn’t look bad.
Woody Johnson of Johnson & Johnson owned that horse, and [he was there and] had people up in the box with him. I thought I’d go a couple rounds—up to 6′ or something. At about 6’4″, I said, “Maybe we should stop,” as the horse was young, and I didn’t want to ruin him. But Bert and the Johnsons really wanted me to continue.
I said all right, as he felt good enough to do that. So I go again, and he jumps clean. Well, to make a long story short, this happened four or five times. We’re at 7’6″ now, and my heart is busting out of my chest every time I run him down there. [But I go again, and as] I turn the corner, this sucker starts grabbing the bit! He’d never grabbed the bit in his life. I think, “This fool is going to try and jump it.”
I get him together and think, “There ain’t nothing I can do but go with him!” I shut my eyes! I mean, I could not tell you from the time he took off to the time he landed what happened. All I know is that he jumped it.
After that I went outside and sat down next to one of them old pillars where you warm up, and someone said, “Rodney, you got to go in for the presentation.” I said, “Man, I can’t even get off this ground!” I was so weak in the knees, I couldn’t move.
Anyway, that horse didn’t turn out to be the greatest horse in the world in the Grand Prix, but he was fine. And he gave me my Garden story!
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Mary Mairs Chapot: It was a special thing to show at the Garden because it was in the city, and there was always a party somewhere—either a horse show party or one elsewhere afterward. At the time we were expected to go to some of them to represent the team. That has long gone by the wayside.
In reality, you only had a couple of horses at the horse show, so you’d get up early in the morning and exercise a little bit and then could sleep the whole day if you needed to!
The after party was very, very nice, and in New York it got to be where you could go in your riding clothes, which was a lot better than going to the embassy parties in Washington [D.C., during the Washington International Horse Show], where you had to look the part!
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Robert Ridland: The Garden was the Garden. It was our biggest show of the year and was what we always pointed for.
The first grand prix I ever won was at the Garden, and I believe it was in 1971 on Almost Persuaded. Wherever you win your first grand prix is always a memorable one, but to win it at the Garden makes it twice as memorable.
I rode on the team several years during the ’70s, and then after my stint on my team, when I was riding privately for Pinon Farm in Santa Fe, N.M., we came back to the Garden on the 100th anniversary , and it was really cool! I ended up being leading open rider, and that was special for me. Obviously it would be for any rider, but to do it at the centennial of the show at the Garden was really cool.
Every night after the show was over they had an exhibitor party across the street at the Statler Hilton [now the Hotel Pennsylvania]. They usually had it up on the top floor of that, and that was always fun. Everybody always went to it. It started around midnight, and they always had breakfast. I could eat breakfast every meal of the day, so I was in heaven with scrambled eggs and whatever at midnight! I just loved it.
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Buddy Brown: I grew up within an hour of NYC, and all my life, the only time I enjoyed going into the city was for the Garden. I remember just being in awe watching the jumpers. As a kid who loved horses, it was like going to Disney World—it was cool as hell.
The Garden is a monumental place to compete or have a concert. I think any athlete in any sport that knows about the history of MSG wants to be part of it. It was a thrill for sure. Harrisburg, Washington and Toronto were all nice, but the Garden was definitely special.
Logistically, it was a bit of a nightmare. As special as it was, you had to make a lot of sacrifices, because most of us were showing in the President’s Cup on Sunday night in Washington, D.C. The horses had to ship, all the equipment had to be taken down and set back up. Pushing those carts up five stories worth of ramp [the ground floor of the Garden was actually the fifth] and things like that, getting stuff up and down in a timely matter and unloading the horses down there on the street one at a time, all that kind of stuff. It was like an all-night adventure and a definite sacrifice to make it work, but showing and winning there was a big feather in your cap.
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Michael Matz: I enjoyed going to the Garden, and I especially enjoyed the international competition. I took a lot of pride in representing the United States, and it was nice competing against the other countries. It was different than the people you’ve been showing against all the time. It was a nice situation.
Logistically it was a little complicated. The only time you could really get your horse out was if you got up early in the morning—that was the only time you could get in the ring to ride, so it was a lot of late nights and early mornings.
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Michele McEvoy Grubb: One year in the early 1970s, I was in the jump-off of the open jumper stake class. I was last to go on Mr. Muskie and clear over what my mother thought was the last fence when she stood up and screamed, “Go, Baby, Go!” to an otherwise quiet audience.
Realizing her mistake and that I had another fence to jump, she then screamed, “Oh my God, she’s going to kill me!” The entire audience laughed loudly, and luckily I cleared the final fence and went on to win the class. Though the crowd cheered for the winner, they cheered loudest for my mother and her obvious faux pas!