When did your interest in horse sports begin?
I was first introduced to riding when I was four years old. My family was living in Bronxville, just north of New York City. My mother and grandfather took me to a county fair and let me take a pony ride. In those days the rides were on the lead line in a field, and my pony broke away and took off running around the field. When they finally got us stopped, my mother and grandfather were ashen, but I was still on (thank goodness for the horn on western saddles) and laughing my head off. My mother told me I drove her crazy for the next two years wanting to stop and visit every time we passed a pasture filled with horses.
When I was six years old, my family moved back to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I began taking riding lessons at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club from Miss Violet Hopkins who was, and still is, highly regarded as a dressage trainer and riding teacher. I certainly was very well grounded in dressage before I started jumping. But jumping was most intriguing to me, so I started training with Chuck and Emmy Grant (now Emmy Temple), who had a stable of dressage horses, hunters and jumpers. Prior to getting my own horse, I rode and drove a sleigh with their pony “Yonkers”, named after Yonkers Raceway since he was mostly Standardbred. He was a good jumper, and I even fox hunted him, although pacing more often than galloping.
My first horse was a cranky gray mare named “Kid Gray.” Victor Hugo-Vidal, who was judging the Detroit Horse Show, told me “if that mare ever smiled, her face would crack”. But I learned a lot on her since she had to be an all-around horse, showing in the hunter, jumper, equitation, and dressage divisions. I even qualified for the AHSA Medal and ASPCA Maclay Finals on her: she was my mount the first time I competed at Madison Square Garden (we used to commute back and forth from the Garden to the New York Armory where the PHA Dressage Medal Finals were held).
When I was twelve, I saw a movie at the Hunt Club about the USET, called (I think) “Ambassadors on Horse Back.” I told Emmy that I wanted to ride for the USET someday. Fortunately, I had a trainer who believed in me and who responded that anything was possible, but that making the Team would require a lot of dedicated training and hard work. I agreed. Emmy took me to Europe when I was fourteen to visit Saumur and the Spanish Riding School. We also spent several days watching the legendary dressage figure, Jean Paillard, training. All in all, it was quite an education for a young girl, but still the hunters and jumpers held my interest.
You became involved with the Team even while you were doing the equitation, didn’t you?
At age sixteen I began riding with Gabor Foltenyi, a Hungarian horseman who had come to this country at the same time Bert de Nemethy did. My first jumper, purchased from Bob Freels, was a stout, bay mare that I renamed Sisembra for the Portuguese resort where my parents were vacationing when I wired them to ask for the money to buy her. She was a careful jumper with a wonderful mind, a very good “school master” for a junior.
A year later Bert de Nemethy held the Midwest Screening Trials for the USET at the Bloomfield Open Hunt following the Detroit Horse Show in June of 1965. I had just graduated from high school, and two weeks later I found myself headed for Gladstone for a training session with Bert. In addition to Sisembra, I had a chestnut gelding named Magnifique, purchased the preceding winter from a dealer in Ohio. He was fairly unbroke and a bit of a rogue. Although Gabor thought Magnifique was going to be very difficult, he turned out to be the horse on which I won both the Medal and Maclay Finals.
After the session at Gladstone, I was invited to remain there at the training center. I started showing my horses as well as the USET’s Ksarina in the Green Jumper Divisions in the East. Just prior to Harrisburg, the USET received a gray mare named “Night Spree”. Bert asked me if I knew how to ride a hunter. Little did he know that I had spent a whole summer showing hunters trained by Gerry Baker for J. Basil Ward out of Ohio. I had also done a lot of catch riding in the Ladies Hunter classes, including Gene Mische of Imperial Farms, who had a wonderful working hunter named “Beau Mac”.
So, I got the ride on “Night Spree” for the Fall Circuit. She won several ribbons in the Regular Working Hunter division at Harrisburg and Washington. It was on to New York. I was still training with the USET, but Bert decided that stabling my horse with the Team at the Garden would be inappropriate since I would be competing in the Medal and Maclay Finals (in those days both championships were held at the National) . That was unanticipated, so I quickly had to make other arrangements, and I ended up stabling with Max Bonham Stables from Michigan.
That also left me without a coach. So I walked the courses by myself. Max made sure my horse was well cared for and beautifully turned out and that someone was available to set fences for me. The weekend events turned out to be a hat trick for me, winning both the Medal and Maclay Finals on Saturday and Sunday respectively, and then winning the Irish Mist Trophy for Regular Working Hunter Appointments on Saturday night on “Night Spree”.
A journalist named Judith Blackwell called me after the Garden to request a photo and information for a winner’s page in her magazine, “HORSES”. When I informed her that I did not have a coach, she insisted that I come up with one. I had to call Bert and convince him to let me list his name. Finally he agreed. Even though he did not formally coach me at the Garden, he watched all of my rounds and was not without comment.
What was equitation like back then?
My recollections of the courses at the Garden are that the fences had no wings, the oxers were square and frequently jumped in both directions, broken lines were more often than not at 90 degree angles, and the striding on those turns was more optional. In the Maclay Finals ride-off, we had to canter directly into the ring and jump a vertical followed by a 180 degree rollback to a triple bar that was right next to the first fence. A great deal of emphasis was put on turns rather than bending lines. But the basics required for good riding were the same as they are now, although today less emphasis is on pace and more is on smoothness and soft adjustability of your mount. The preferred position of the hand was definitely the straight line from the bit to the elbow. The top equitation riders of that era all had very soft “following” hands.
Trading horses was a test that was used a great deal, and it was always revealing. I traded horses with Sue Bauer [now Sue Pinckney] at the Garden, and we both had to ride horses that were a little difficult. I remember waiting at the in-gate on her horse when another competitor came up and said that she had been traded on to this horse a lot that year: I must not take a hold of his mouth. It was an unusual display of sportsmanship, and the good advice paid off. A year earlier, at the Castle Park Horse Show in Michigan, I had to trade horses in the Equitation Championship on to a Saddlebred. The switch was great fun and very educational.
Then did you go right to the Team?
I had been riding jumpers for only a year prior to training with the Team, so I was very fortunate to have been properly trained first by Gabor and then by Bert. I had to replace experience with learning quickly, and the many hours of schooling through gymnastics gave me a very good foundation. Not to mention the “killer” hours on Bert’s lunge line riding dear old “Royal Beaver”, a former Three-Day Event horse-cum-school horse. Beaver was not too energetic, so you were numb after an hour of collected work without stirrups. But we all developed a great seat, leg and hands, and knew how to properly collect a horse.
Training over natural obstacles was another new experience for me at the USET. It was very much needed before competing in Europe where practically every ring had banks, ditches and water; virtually none of our U.S. arenas, let alone private stables, had them.
My own two horses were not international caliber, so I was forced to sell them. The mare went to Puerto Rico where she was jumper champion for many years; the chestnut gelding went on to a dressage career. I was assigned to ride Fru and Ksarina on my first European tour. Fru was a very hot little Irish bred mare owned by Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Butler, and Ksarina was a fast, but not always honest, mare that had been donated to the Team by Miss Eleanor Sears. My lack of experience to draw on probably worked to my advantage because I had no fear or preconceived limitations, I just followed Bert’s instructions.
It was riding Fru that I won the first Grand Prix I competed in, at Cologne, Germany, and then went on to place second behind Kathy Kusner on Untouchable in the Grand Prix of Lucerne, Switzerland. Ksarina also won her share of top ribbons in the speed events.
That fall, I rode Mr. & Mrs. Whitney Stone’s “Trick Track” to win the President’s Cup at the Washington International Horse Show. It was an incredible year for a rookie, and certainly what I learned from this experience is that you must have a sound training program for horse and rider, and you will be successful in competition when both you and your horse trust in that training.
I rode for another year and a half with the USET, completing another tour of Europe where I was leading lady rider at Cologne. I won prizes in speed classes on Ksarina and rode Fru and Toy Soldier in grand prix and jump-off classes. I was named as alternate rider for the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg; I watched from the bench – and enjoyed watching — since, fortunately, no one was hurt, lame or ill.
As the next quadrennial approached, Bert accompanied me to look for a new horse, and we bought a horse from Carl Knee named Caneel Bay and renamed ACA (for Acapulco, my favorite resort at that time). I was sick the following spring and was unable to go on the tour to Europe. It was then that I met C.Z. and Winston Guest, and moved to their estate on Long Island to train and show both their horses and mine.
Is that when you turned professional?
Yes. Following that show season, I decided to not return to the USET. I moved back to Michigan and started training at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club. That winter I was contacted by Sallie J. Sexton to ride her show horses. Off I went to Bryn Du Farms in Granville, Ohio, with a young pupil in tow, Katie Monahan (now Katie Monahan Prudent). It was a very busy show season as we campaigned her horses for AHSA Horse of the Year titles.
It was also a tension-filled time. Sallie was the most outspoken proponent of the newly-instituted AHSA drug testing program. We were constantly threatened by anonymous phone calls and mailings. A warehouse-trained German Shepard named King accompanied us to the shows and had the run of the barn aisle at home. He was vicious and knew how to protect his territory. Two plainclothes guards were also part of our entourage. One we knew, but the other never identified himself, even to us. However, I knew he was around because I would get messages such as: “It took you too long to rummage for your car keys in the parking lot last night. Have them out and ready next time.”
Thankfully, we survived without any major incidents. The Cowardly Lion ended up Reserve Horse of the Year in the Regular Working Hunter Division, and Excalibur was third in the standings. After that season, I returned to Michigan, while Katie continued to ride for Sallie Sexton and for C.Z. Guest. I sent Katie my horse, ACA, on which she won the AHSA Medal Finals under the tutelage of George Morris.
Back at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club, I developed a string of show riders and horses, most notably, Scott Nederlander, who was also riding for Ronnie Beard at Winter Place Farms. At that time, I also became a licensed AHSA judge in the hunter, hunter seat equitation, and jumper divisions. When I criticized the jumper courses at the Detroit Horse Show, they offered me the job for the following year, which launched a 20-year career of designing jumper courses.
But that didn’t end your involvement with the Team, did it?
Following my divorce in the fall of 1980, I received a telephone call from Bill Steinkraus, the Team’s president. He told me that Bert de Nemethy would be retiring, and he wondered whether I would consider moving to Gladstone to take over the show jumping activities. In April of 1981, I became the USET’s Director of Show Jumping Activities. Duties included organizing the training and competition schedules for the Team’s show jumping team, overseeing the young horse program at Gladstone, and serving as Team Manager for the Olympics (1984 and 1988), Pan Am Games (1983 and 1987), and the World Championships (1985 and 1989). I worked with Jack Le Goff, the Three-Day Event coach, to create and design the courses for the USET Talent Derby, which started in Hamilton, Massachusetts, and later moved to Gladstone, New Jersey. I also instituted the USET Medal Finals, which later expanded to the East and West Coast, and is now known as the Talent Search.
The first year we held the Medal Finals, very few of the riders really understood the flatwork, and even fewer could handle the gymnastic exercises. Those tests were more demanding than anything equitation riders had been asked to perform prior to that time. The next year, however, the young riders arrived prepared and it was clear by their performances that they had been doing their homework. It was truly gratifying to see that this event was impacting in such a constructive and positive way on our future international riders. As the event has evolved over the years, it continues to raise the standard of riding in the equitation division.
The young horse program at the USET was discontinued after a few years, since we were putting our resources behind the clinics and international competitive experience of our riders.
You went from the Team to the AHSA, didn’t you?
And back to the horse show business too. In the fall of 1989, I was contacted by Jim Wofford, the AHSA’s president at the time, and offered the position of Executive Director. During the three years I served in that position, I wanted to continue riding. At that time I fox hunted regularly with the Essex Fox Hounds and was elected to the Hunt Committee, and have been serving as Co-Chairman of the EFH Hunter Trials every October. I also started working as a consultant in the industry, working with the USET to create and launch a benefit event known as the Gladstone Antiques Show, and as Executive Director of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.
I was fortunate enough to be able to exercise horses on the weekends at Hunterdon, George Morris’s beautiful facility in Pittstown, New Jersey. Although I had known George for many years, it was the first time I had had the opportunity to train with him.
Meanwhile, a few fellow fox-hunters asked me to help them with their horses, and those lessons grew into a weekly clinic at a neighbor’s farm. Word soon spread, and I started teaching at a couple of locations. Now, I teach at four area stables and have over twenty clients who show, fox hunt, or event.
When I left the AHSA in 1991, I had a horse in training to be sold as a Preliminary Jumper. Training for the show season began in earnest that spring. It had been almost 15 years since I had shown a jumper over anything larger than 3’0″ schooling jumper classes. As the training sessions became more rigorous, I noticed that I was aerobically unfit and not physically strong enough to perform at that level. Little injuries, such as a strained shoulder or pulled back muscle, would get in the way of training. For the first time in my life I had to get fit to ride rather than ride to get fit. This was an important turning point in my life, as I undertook a regular fitness training program which would enable me to ride and ski for many years to come. My husband, George Tauber, and I both started training with a personal fitness trainer in our home (read: the basement has become a gym) three days a week, along with changing our lifestyle such as improving our diets. After age 50 you realize that you must treat yourself as an athlete in training in order to be competitive; if younger riders would take the same approach, they could raise their performance level as well. That applies to those already at the top, because that is when you need to be consistent to stay on top.
What are some of the differences between when you were showing “back then” and now?
With the hunters, no longer do you see rolling outside courses or even courses that are partially outside of an arena. More hunter rings have replaced that open real estate so that more divisions of hunters can be held. Since the striding between fences in an arena is limited, now striding and relative ease of getting down the lines is stressed more than the brilliance and pace of yesteryear. I think that a good jumper in the old days would still be a good jumper now, maybe even better, because the more regulated pace allows the horse to make a better bascule in the air.
I fondly remember some of the great outside courses, such as at Detroit, Chagrin, and North Shore. It was such fun to really gallop and jump — not counting strides, but just riding off of your eye. I really don’t remember many discussions with my trainers about “missing” a distance… I might have been a little too conservative or a little too bold, but we always seemed to settle into some kind of a usable distance unless the horse just plain “chipped” or “cheated.”
Recently, I heard that Fairfield has instituted a modified version of the old outside course, and that the riders really love riding over it. Rumor has it that North Shore may also make a comeback. I hope more shows will be able to do this because those courses require a slightly different style of riding, using pace and riding off your eye. Learning to ride them creates a more well-rounded rider, and besides, it is just plain fun!
I certainly don’t remember having numerous low hunter divisions for my green hunters. Thinking about it sent me to my archives to pull out an old Detroit horse show program and have a look. What did we have for the green hunters? At the major shows a first or second year green horse jumped 3’6″ and 3’9″, respectively. There were no such things as Baby Green, Pre-Green, Schooling or Suitable hunters.
I also remember that a junior hunter had to be ridden by a junior throughout the show, including in other divisions. If a junior had a green horse, a professional could not ride it in the Green Working Hunter. It took years to change that rule, but I think the change was for the better in the development of our young horses and riders.
As for jumpers, the courses and classes have undergone major changes since the early 1960’s. The Fort Riley Classic at the Detroit Horse Show and the Cleveland Grand Prix at the Chagrin Valley Horse Show were some of the front-runners in changing from simple jumper courses, many scored on rubs, to the more European style courses of massive fences lavishly decorated with flowers. The courses then evolved from massive grand prix fences to light and airy fences, with machine-cut round poles in shallow cups, planks in flat cups, and breakaway cups that are now being used on the back of spread fences. The emphasis today is on clean jumping rather than incredible scope (the fences are still plenty big, though). The courses now require a much more technical ride over distances that are either long, short, on the half-stride, or with options. Jumpers today must be very well schooled on the flat, and very careful. Water jumps are much more common at shows, and some events also include banks and ditches.
As I have been showing a Preliminary jumper this year, I have noted that heights/spreads vary considerably from one show to the next, and yet they are all labeled Preliminary Jumper. As a result, I ended up over-facing my horse at one show. Now that the level system as been instituted, it is time to stop using the labels of Preliminary, Intermediate and Open (or Modified at some shows), and simply offer level classes as they do in Europe.
Are there any other issues that interest you?
The over-proliferation of 3’0″ classes in all divisions (hunter, jumper, and equitation) is a constant topic of discussion these days. There is no question that these divisions provide much needed income for the shows, but in the Jumper division at some shows this year it was impossible to find a class that was higher than 3’3″ but lower than 4’0″. Instead of offering four 3’0″ sections, it would seem to make more sense to offer increasing levels of jumpers, or classes covering two levels. The 3’0″ sections have become an end all for many horses and riders, rather than a developmental level.
Juniors are racing around at breakneck speed, rather than learning to improve their technical skills. The introduction of Optimum Time classes has helped to discourage racing over jumps, and should be utilized for these low classes.
In the hunter sections, we see more and more junior and amateur horses being prepared for their performances in the ring by trainers with the riders put on for the round, sometimes without even taking a practice fence in the schooling area. Are we teaching riders how to ride, or just how to show?
While judging throughout the country, one thing I have noted in all divisions is that some horses and riders are very well schooled and prepared for the ring, and others are still practicing rather outdated techniques. And, there does not seem to be much gray area in between. It would behoove all trainers to learn, whether through training or observation, to produce better riders and horses. Perhaps the time has come to offer special clinics for trainers so that the level of teaching and training across the country will be improved. This is especially important for the equitation and jumper trainers who are schooling potential international riders who may one day represent our country.
The proliferation of the 3’0″ sections may be linked to the fact that many people are not able to produce horses and riders that can jump in the higher sections. Putting aside individual financial interests, it is something we need to address as a sport.
Whenever I have the chance, I take my jumpers and jumper riders to Hunterdon to work with George Morris. Invariably, there are one or two other trainers taking instruction as well. Everyone needs a good ground person or instructor from time to time. I always come away from those schooling sessions with George having had my riding “tweaked” in some little way that makes what I am doing more effective. Working with horses is a continual learning process, and you can always learn something new if your mind is open to it. Sitting and watching the schooling area warm ups at shows can also be very enlightening. Pick out the trainers/riders who are winning at the show and see what they do, or listen to what advice they give.
Any concluding thoughts?
There is no question that training and showing horses requires a total time commitment. I am fortunate in that my clients are all amateurs with families or jobs, and we all agreed to select a show schedule that is mostly in commuting distance. I have also tried to limit the number of hours I teach and ride each day. That plan does not always hold up, but it does allow me time for other appointments when needed. I also work part time for the National Horse Show as Executive Director, so I need to reserve several hours each non-show day for office work. I like to garden, and must confess that this year most of my gardening has been done at night, sometimes under floodlights. (I don’t feel too badly about that though since most of my friends who also have extensive gardens do the same thing, and they don’t even own a horse.)
I am especially appreciative of the support my husband, George Tauber, provides in my current endeavors. As the former president of Miller’s Harness Company, he fully understands the sport and actually enjoys attending shows once in a while. We both enjoy skiing and travel and we block several times during the year for those pursuits, many of which include family on both sides. Judging also requires travel, so I do have to limit the number of judging engagements I accept each year, but I do enjoy it and will continue to judge as long as I am able. In between all of this I have managed to take a few computer classes and courses in drawing, painting and photography. When I retire I look forward to having time to pursue those hobbies further.