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March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Jumping Out Of A Barn

Cross-country courses in the '70s were a bit more primitive!

A great event horse will take his rider down to any fence, ears pricked and enthusiastic. But what if that fence involves jumping out of the window of a hayloft? 

For Terry Gibson and Cat, that kind of jump was no problem as they cruised around the intermediate three-day course at the Quebec Championships in Dunham, Quebec in September 1974.

“I posted [the photo to the Facebook group Equestrians Back In The Day] and got quite a few responses, from people thinking it was crazy to people thinking it was cruel,” he said.

Gibson, who was 25 when the photo was taken, bought Cat when the horse was about 14. An unknown breed, Cat came to Gibson from Denny Emerson so Gibson could gain experience at the upper levels. The Quebec Championships was Gibson’s first intermediate, but he knew he could trust Cat, who had carried Emerson to his first advanced horse trial in 1971, ironically over that same fence.

“Back then he was considered a grade 1 horse and I had to ask permission to bring him down to intermediate,” Gibson remembered.

The famous “barn jump,” as it was known, was featured on the advanced and intermediate course. A wooden ramp led up to the hayloft level and horses galloped up the ramp, across the wooden floor of the barn, then jumped over a two-foot lip and dropped down on a pile of dirt.

“It felt like being in a hayloft,” said Gibson. “After galloping in this dirt cross-country, suddenly it’s ‘Boom, boom, boom.’ Coming into the barn, Cat came back to a trot. I remember coming through there thinking, ‘Wow,’ because it was echoing and the barn was empty.

“Then there was just this hole in the opposite wall. From the top of it, jumping out, it looked really far down because it was a pile of dirt against the side of the barn. The pile of dirt was sloping away, and the photo doesn’t show how much sloping there was after it where we landed. He just popped out the window.” 

Gibson remembered he was a little tired by the time he reached the fence, but couldn’t remember what number it was on course. “The cool thing about it was that as soon as he jumped, it seemed so far down that my instinct was to throw my hand back and grab the back of the saddle,” he said. “That was a big joke with a lot of people back at the barn afterwards, ‘Hang in there!’”

According to Gibson, the jump caused a few eliminations and he and Cat unfortunately picked up a couple of stops later on course.

Brown kept Cat for about a year and then sold him to a young rider who competed him at the preliminary level.

“He came from out west,” he said. “He used to be shown as an open jumper. He was a little bit tricky to ride. You had to be aware. You couldn’t move too fast around him or he’d start to freak out, even grooming him.

“He would usually jump anything,” he continued. “Denny said at one point he rode him over a six-foot fence. For a little horse from out of the west, that’s pretty good. He was just a horse that, back in those days, I was learning the ropes at the higher levels on.”

Gibson, Strafford, Vt., picked up riding while working at a stable in Ohio when he was growing up. He joined the U.S. Army for four years, and when he got out, he decided he wanted to ride again. He eventually made his way to New England and got a job working at Huntington Farm for Read and Essie Perkins, which was one of the biggest eventing barns in the country at the time.

He trained with Emerson and eventually made his way to the now-defunct Morven Park Equestrian Institute (Va.), where he graduated from their working manager program alongside other riders earning their trainer certifications. “[Emerson] steered me in the right direction. ‘You need to learn to ride and go to Morven Park!’” Gibson said.

Gibson, now 66, worked at Huntington Farm for two years, during which the photo was taken, then decided to finish college and start a family. He retired in late 2012 after 20 years as a cardiac nurse, but continued to ride and breed horses throughout his career.

One notable horse he bred was the stallion Murmac, a Thoroughbred by Emerson’s Core Buff. Murmac’s son, Maxsen’s Sword, is the grandsire of Whitney Weston’s advanced horse Rock On Rose and Buck Davidson’s homebred Petite Flower, winner of the Galway Downs CCI*** (Calif.) in 2013.

In the 1990s, Gibson became interested in Anglo-Arabians and in 1993 leased the famous stallion Quartermaster to compete for a few years at the preliminary level. Quartermaster has since sired several eventers. He’s the dam-sire of Daniel Clasing’s Houston, who completed the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** last spring.

Gibson hasn’t evented in a few years, but he’s enjoyed watching the progeny of his horses compete while competing in lower level endurance rides himself, which Emerson inspired. He’s hoping to get back into eventing with a Quartermaster mare he owns when she’s finished as a broodmare.

“I went to Rolex last April to watch Houston go with Daniel Clasing, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’” said Gibson. “I still have a lot of respect for those horses that go galloping around those big fences.

“I’d be intimidated, but I imagine Cat would have done it. It used to be that you got through dressage to do the fun part. We used to get bonus points for going faster than the allotted time! It was kind of wild and wooly, now the dressage is really important. Those were back in the days, sort of doing it by the seat of your pants.”

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