Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Eberle Celebrates Thirty Years With Rolex Kentucky

This devoted volunteer has experienced firsthand the changes at the Kentucky Horse Park from the 1978 World Championships though today.

She’s met royalty, heads of government and top riders and horses from around the world. For Virginia “Ginnie” Eberle, these cherished memories result from her volunteer efforts with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event from its beginning at the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at what was then a new Kentucky Horse Park.

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This devoted volunteer has experienced firsthand the changes at the Kentucky Horse Park from the 1978 World Championships though today.

She’s met royalty, heads of government and top riders and horses from around the world. For Virginia “Ginnie” Eberle, these cherished memories result from her volunteer efforts with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event from its beginning at the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at what was then a new Kentucky Horse Park.

Eberle has been volunteering at Kentucky for 30 years, having only missed three years since 1978. She’s acted as chief of endurance day personnel, chief of fence judges, chief of hospitality, area steward on endurance day and cross-country fence judge.

Even while she lived in Portland, Ore., for nine years, Eberle traveled to Kentucky each spring. Now she’s back in her native Ohio, living near Cincinnati.

“A number of the people who volunteered early on at the Kentucky event are with us still today [as volunteers],” said Eberle. “I’ve developed many wonderful friendships with the fence judges and other volunteers. I look forward to seeing friends from across this country and from all over the world every year. I would really miss them if I didn’t volunteer.”

Before being tapped as chief steward of the endurance day personnel for the 1978 World Championships, Eberle was co-founder and District Commissioner of the Miami Valley Pony Club (Ohio) and served as secretary, and then later as the general manager, of the A-rated Greater Cincinnati Horse Show for more than 10 years. She also foxhunted, earning her colors with the Camargo Hunt.

Eberle’s parents, Jasper and Margaret Reed McClure, owned American Saddlebreds. Eberle remembered at the age of 5 being put up in front of her father’s saddle on a five-gaited horse named Cavalier. “I was bitten. I wanted to ride from then on!” she said.

Her father was a physician in the U.S. Air Force, so as a young woman Eberle rode at the various places her family was stationed during World War II. After the war in 1946, her parents purchased a mare named Nellie for Ginnie. Nellie came with a surrey and a full set of harness, all for $500.

After she married Lee Eberle, the couple purchased a farm near Cincinnati and raised Welsh Mountain ponies and crossed their Welsh stallion on Thoroughbred mares. Their four children—sons Christian, Guy and Kurt and daughter Karen—had varying degrees of involvement with horses.

By the time Eberle started volunteering at the Horse Park, her children were grown. Christian and Kurt dabbled in ponies, but Karen rode through college and went on to work for several professionals, including Michael Matz and Karen Healey.

“She currently has her own business taking care of dressage horses at a private stable in Encinitas, Calif.,” said Eberle. “She also volunteered at the 1978 World Championships. My husband’s sport was sailing, although he did do a great job showing our pony stallions in hand.”

Always Reliable

Edith Conyers, event director of the 1978 World Championships, asked Eberle to serve as the chief of personnel for endurance. Conyers told her that she could secure her own volunteers (a system still in use).

“She was always totally reliable, making many visits before the events to be sure that her plans were perfect, and they were,” said Conyers of Eberle.

Eberle traveled to Lexington every few weeks beginning in the fall of 1977. She recalled the little tenant house, which is no longer there, on Marks Lane that served as the office for the 1978 World Championships staff.

From the window in their office, Eberle and Edith’s secretary Jane Hodgkin observed the cross-country course being built. “We watched the Head of the Lake obstacle take shape and trucks filled with small trees, bricks, stones and fencing go by the house,” she said.

Eberle met Kentucky Governor Julian M. Carroll during the spring of 1978 when he held a meeting with the staff and stewards of the World Championships.

“The Governor walked in and said, ‘Good day, my name is Julian Carroll, and my business is the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Is there anything I can do for you?’ I asked if there was any possibility I could get some enlargements of aerial views of the park. He said, ‘How big?’ I said as large as possible. When the enlargements arrived at our office they were so big they nearly filled the wall from ceiling to floor! I was able to mark all of the cross-country fences, all of the penalty zones, all of the crossover gates—everything. I was so grateful.”

As steward of endurance day, Eberle was in charge of choosing the volunteers.

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“We had about 3,000 applications from people all over the world to volunteer on endurance day at the Championships, with over 1,100 applications for fence judges alone. I thought, ‘How am I ever going to figure out who would be good fence judges?’ ”

With the help of Maj. Gen. Jonathan Burton, Col. Donald W. Thackeray and others, she narrowed down the list to 418 volunteers—area stewards, first and second fence judges, doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, veterinarians, mandatory flag judges for roads and tracks, outriders to pick up scores, starters and timers, scorekeepers, announcers, controllers, communicators, interrogators and security personnel.

Last-Minute Improvising

But even the best-laid plans can go awry.

As Eberle walked the course early on the morning of endurance day at the World Championships, one of the young mounted stewards approached her, telling her that cows were still out in one of the pastures that the course ran through.

Eberle found the herd manager, who told her to have mounted stewards herd the cows into the upper corner of the pasture away from the galloping track and that the cows would stay there the rest of the day. “And they did stay there,” she said.

Then, as she was going up the road toward the black steeplechase barn, Eberle noticed hundreds of spectators streaming through a gate that wasn’t supposed to be open to the public.

“Two police officers were stationed in the wrong place allowing this to happen,” said Eberle. “I talked with the officers and convinced one of them to move to block the gate, but then there was another spot where people were walking through to an area where they were not supposed to be. It just so happened that some mounted stewards were coming down the hill, so I shouted to the spectators, ‘If you love America and you love eventing, please follow these riders over there behind the ropes.’ ”

The next day at breakfast, Prince Philip of Great Britain (then president of the Fédération Equestre Internationale and Queen Elizabeth’s husband), stopped Eberle and told her, “Good job directing those people on the course yesterday.”

“I said, ‘So, you heard me shouting like a fishwife in my good old Pony Club instructor’s voice?’ ” asked Eberle. “He replied, ‘You didn’t have a megaphone? I thought you had a megaphone!’ ”

She had another encounter with Prince Philip on show jumping day.

“Since my busy day was the day before, I was all dressed up and thought I would slip down past the announcer’s tower to sit and watch the show jumping. I had just about made it past the back of the tower, when I felt someone grab my shoulder,” she said.

Fritz Bauchwitz, the announcer, asked if she would serve tea to Prince Philip and his group, who were upstairs in the tower. Bauchwitz introduced Eberle as chief steward of endurance day and said that she would serve tea.
“Lord Rupert Neville, the prince’s equerry, said, ‘I must say, do you feel as if you have been demoted?’ ” recalled Eberle.

Lord Neville asked if Eberle knew where he could get some chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick, as the Prince especially loved them.

“I said that we called them Eskimo Pies and that I would try. I gathered the supplies for serving the tea from the Governor’s tent assisted by a driver and Jeep from the security force, and then I saw a mother and daughter walking by with Eskimo Pies. They directed me to a vendor, and I explained to him that I would like to purchase a whole box. At first he said he could not sell me a whole box, but when I explained that they were for His Royal Highness Prince Philip, he gave me the box saying that they were free with his compliments.

“When the tea was finished and we picked up the trays, all that was left were the empty ice cream sticks,” she added.

By the end of endurance day, Eberle and her volunteers were tired but jubilant.

“When several of the stewards and other volunteers and I reached the steeplechase barn to put things away, they poured champagne over me like they do at the football games when you win,” she said.

James Holloway, first president of EEI, had high praise for Eberle. “She is a gracious, charming, attractive lady who is a good conversationalist,” he said. “Whatever we gave her to do, she did extremely well. I can’t say enough good things about Ginnie. My wife says that if Ginnie was applying for a job, you’d be lucky to get her.”

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“How Lucky I Am?”

After the championships concluded, American Horse Shows Association (predecessor of the U.S. Equestrian Federation) officials asked the leaders of Equestrian Events Inc., which had run the championships, to consider hosting an annual event at the Kentucky Horse Park in the spring. The Kentucky Three-Day Event was born.
In the 32 years since then, Eberle volunteered at all but three of these events, as well as many others held at KHP each year.

“It was special to be chosen to be a part of opening the Kentucky Horse Park and to watch it being built. Sure, it was exciting to be a part of the 1978 World Champion-ships, but it was also wonderful to watch the Park grow and the Kentucky Three-Day Event develop into what it’s become today,” said Eberle. “We now have a facility that can host the 2010 World Games and many association national offices at the Park.”

Her only regret is that with all of the development comes some congestion.

“We’ve lost some of the lovely open spaces of landscape,” she said. “But on the other hand the Park can be used not only for eventing but also for many types of competition with the addition of the new buildings.”

She said her cars have borne the brunt of the sacrifice in getting to the Horse Park each year.

“I’ve worn out two Volkswagens, a bright yellow convertible Super Beetle and a Cabriolet that I had for 23 years. Now I have a Kia,” she said. “The cars have suffered more than me.”

In 1992, after heart bypass surgery, Eberle stepped down as head of fence judges.

“They gave me a retirement party during the volunteer briefing and presented me a set of beautiful brass horse head bookends,” she said. “I continued to volunteer, but it was time to let someone else manage the fence judges. I felt I left the job in very good hands [with Carolyn Borgert and Rudy Vogt III]. I was sad to give it up, though.”

When Eberle “retired” from volunteering at Rolex Kentucky, Jane Atkinson, executive vice president of EEI, gave her a ceremony in the show jumping ring.

“Nigel Casserley, the announcer, began to say that I was leaving to go to Oregon to be with my son’s family,” said Eberle. “Tears started running down my face as Janie was holding up a beautiful pewter tray for me. She said, ‘Hey, shape up and take the tray we got you.’”

That retirement only lasted one year.

“In 1994, when I could stand it no more—I missed it so—I returned to Kentucky and the Rolex Kentucky event as a spectator. While walking across the field, I passed Janie Atkinson followed by her little Jack Russell, Spike. She said, ‘Well, heck, if you’re coming back, you have to go back to work. Find a quicker way to collect the scores and call me by next winter,’ and she and Spike walked away. I called her in early winter and told her my plan, which she accepted. I came back to Rolex Kentucky the following year, and we were successful in making it work,” said Eberle.

In addition to Rolex Kentucky, Eberle volunteers at many other events, and she enjoys watching the ponies and children in the beginner novice division. “It’s wonderful to see those same riders on horses a few years later as they progress up the levels,” she said. “It gives me a real kick to see this happen.”

But the big event each April keeps drawing her back.

“I’ve taken away a sense of pride in what we’ve accomplished here,” she said. “I’m privileged to be able to judge at Kentucky every spring. I think I know every creek, every ditch, every owl hole in every tree and every rut where someone has gotten stuck.

“It’s my joy, along with raising and taking care of my Chihuahuas,” she added. “Some days I just sit at the Park and look over the green fields and think how lucky I am. I plan to continue volunteering as long as my legs will carry me there.”

Tidbits

  • Virginia Eberle raises Chihuahuas as a hobby. She has three females and a male named Jasper Precious Little. “He weighs 2 pounds, 7 ounces,” she said. “I take him along to many events with me but not Rolex Kentucky because he does bark, and I wouldn’t want him to disturb the competitors.”
  • Eberle was a fence judge at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and a horse handler for the men’s pentathlon.
  • Eberle witnessed the making of the 1985 Columbia Pictures movie Sylvester, starring Melissa Gilbert and Richard Farnsworth, at the Kentucky Horse Park. The movie included aerial shots taken at the Rolex Kentucky event in 1984 and event rider Kim Walnes and her famous horse The Gray Goose (winners of the 1982 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event) as stunt doubles for Melissa Gilbert’s character Charlie and her horse Sylvester.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Eberle Celebrates Thirty Years With Rolex Kentucky ran in the April 16 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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