Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023

From The Magazine: Who Were The Greatest Hunters Of The Past?



As a young junior, I just remember Waiting Home ridden so beautifully by Peggy Augustus. Whether he was really that beautiful or not, in my eyes at the time [he was]. [At the Ox Ridge Hunt Club Show (Connecticut)] he would be stabled right down the first aisle in the main barn. I used to like walking down there just to look at him in the stall. He was a coppery, bright chestnut with a white blaze and one white sock behind. He was big, beautiful and filled out everywhere—great head and neck and great top line.

Cap N’ Gown was such a big winner. Gene Cunningham showed him. He never lost anything. He was champion year in and year out at all the major shows. And I got to ride him in the ladies’ classes two or three times, and then I rode him in one division once. He was a Cadillac. When you’d go to the jumps, he was like locked in, fired at every jump. He’s really known for his conformation because he was so attractive and correct, as well as talented.


Cap N’ Gown and Gene Cunningham were the pair to beat in the 1960s. Budd Photo

Gene had another horse called Old Dominion who was also a very nice horse. He had him at Madison Square Garden, and he was champion with him. And this wonderful guy Paul that worked for Gene was so excited that the horse he took care of was champion. He looked up at the banner and said, “Look at that, Mr. Cunningham! Says ‘Champion Madison Square Garden.’ Look at the three blues and two reds. That’s pretty good.”

And Gene said, “You know Paul, that is pretty good, but back when I was riding Cap N’ Gown, they would have been all blues.” And Paul, without hesitation, said to Gene, “But Mr. Cunningham, Cap N’ Gown had a much younger rider.” Gene liked to tell that story on himself.

Isgilde was the first warmblood I ever saw. She just had such a smooth performance with so much power and scope. She was very accurate and very careful and held her own balance really well on the way to the jumps. A lot of times with the warmbloods, they’ll have a great trot, but they won’t really have such a great canter, [but not her]. When she came on the scene, I didn’t even think “warmblood.” When you saw her jump, you didn’t care what she was.


Many people remember Isgilde as the first warmblood on the hunter scene, and Kenny Wheeler rode her to numerous championships in the 1960s. Chronicle Archives Photo

Gozzi was such a consistent winner and performer [in the ’70s]. He had a lot of different riders during his career—between Kenny Wheeler and Bernie Traurig and Caroline Clark. He was just a very able, very crisp jumper.

Aldie Belle has a very soft spot in my heart because she was one of the first horses that really put me on the map. She was a little black Thoroughbred mare, about 15.3 at the most. She hated to touch the jumps, and she was as brave as could be. Even against all those big horses, she was champion time in, time out at the major shows and up in Canada and all the way up and down the East Coast. She was so small next to all the other horses showing in the 4′ division, it looked like I was riding a pony. But she had a lot of spring and a lot of heart.


People always ask me, “What was your favorite horse?” or, “What was the best horse you ever had?” Now that’s a really tough one because they’re all so different. Of all the wonderful horses that I had—and I had some great horses—Fleetford, when he was on, he had everything. He had the looks; he moved unbelievably well, just wore his ears locked forward. When you’d watch him moving, it looked like his feet weren’t even touching the ground; he floated around. He was a very good jumper. He was fantastic in the handy classes. He won in all the major shows for me.

These horses were all good jumpers, and that’s so important. To have such consistency show after show after show, and sometimes with all kinds of different riders, was very impressive. It’s amazing when you think you’re working with two live beings and have to have everything go in sync. It’s not good enough just to meet the fence well. You have to meet the fence with your horse in the right balance physically and mentally, in the right pace, in the right rhythm, in the right frame, jump it cleanly in the right style. Everything has to be poetry, fence after fence without changing anything. It has to look effortless yet crisp. These horses mentioned are those that came closest to painting that picture.

Based out of Southern Pines, North Carolina, Patty Heuckeroth rode and trained numerous horses to American Horse Shows Association Horse of the Year honors, including Li-Ke and Show Hunter Hall of Fame inductee Aldie Belle. She was the AHSA Horsewoman of the Year in 1970 and was inducted into the Show Hunter Hall of Fame in 2007. She’s been awarded two North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association Horsewoman of the Year titles in addition to the J. Arthur Reynolds Horsemanship Award at Upperville (Virginia) in 2011.

This is part of a longer article that ran in the August 2020 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse in our Readers’ Choice Issue. To see which horses Ralph Caristo, Walter “Jimmy” Lee, Ernie Oare and Linda Andrisani chose, please subscribe.

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