Horse Hero Clarence Honey Craven

Clarence Honey Craven

The first question anyone has about Clarence “Honey” Craven is how and when did you acquire your nickname?

I had it as long as I can remember. It comes from an old vaudeville song from a time before I was born, “Honey Boy.”

When did you first become involved with horses?

I’ve always been around them. My father was a coachman, long before the automobile. If you had to go to a train station or dockside to pick someone up, you’d hire a vehicle and one or two horses. My father worked for Harris Upham, the big brokerage firm that had an office in Brookline, Massachusetts. That’s where I was born, in 1904. The birth certificate says September 8th. I say September 9th, but I won’t argue with the government.

On the way home from parochial school, I’d stop at a blacksmith shop owned by a man named Jack Shea. I’d go with him up to the big estates like the one Whitney Stone’s father owned to pick up the horses and take them back to the shop. Sometimes I’d ride them down to the shop bareback. That’s how I got started with the horses. I was 12 or 13 at the time.

I went to high school for a year, then went to work at Jamaica raceway galloping horses. Then I went to work with a man who took me to Canada. That was still galloping horses, at Woodbine racetrack. My next job was back in the States, working for Bill Naughton, who trained hunters and jumpers for Charles Van Brant Cushman, in Pomfret, Connecticut adjacent to the Hartford Academy.

When did you become associated with the National Horse Show?

In 1926, the secretary of the National was a man named W. Reginald Reeves, a great amateur coach driver. He came up to me at a horse show in Rochester, New York that was put on by the heads of Eastman Kodak and asked if I wanted to become the assistant to the ringmaster. Mr. Reeves was a great judge of human nature. He said, “young man, you’d do well to go to somebody and learn to sound the bugle – the ringmaster isn’t too dependable.” That was poor old Dutch White.

When I was offered the great sum of $10 a day, I said the horse show should pick up my tab at the hotel.

The first year, 1927, was fine. However, on the first day of the second year Dutch went out for lunch and never came back. He got on the bottle, the poor guy. And that’s how I became ringmaster.

I was self-taught on the horn. What a fool I made of myself learning, but at least I could get a sound out of it.

How did you become manager?

Ned King, who had been the manager, called me as asked whether I was going to the American Horse Shows Association convention in New Orleans. I hadn’t planned to, but Ned said, “I’d advise you to go. Whitney Stone [National Horse Show president] wants to talk to you.” Uncle Whit, as he called him. So I went. It was held at the Roosevelt Hotel there.

Josh [W. Joshua] Barney was chairman then. I met with them, and out of a clear sky Whitney said, “we want you to manage the National Horse Show.” I told them I never managed a horse show in my life. But Whitney Stone said, “I spoke to Ned Irish [president of Madison Square Garden], who said you’re so well liked you’d get all the cooperation in the world from the bull gang.” That’s what they called the Garden crew.

Going out the door, Whitney Stone said, I hope you can see your way clear to take the job.” And I said, “If I do, I want no part of the social life. Then I asked for four months to think it over because I had a nice job at the London Harness Company in Boston managing the saddlery department.

Whitney Stone said that would be all right, adding “Don’t let money come between us.”

The president of the London Harness Company said he didn’t want to lose me. I flew down to New York and had dinner with Josh and Priscilla Barney and told them what I wanted. But I said I didn’t want to take a man’s job away.

Josh said I wouldn’t be. The show and Eric Attabury, its present manager, weren’t getting along. You remember him? “Don’t call me an Englishman – I’m a Rhodesian.” The National had a three-year contract with Eric Attabury that was about to expire.

I had over heard things as a ringmaster, so I said to John, “Your gentlemen judges put things in my mind that I’d like to straighten out. For instance, they talk among themselves and say ‘What about Liz?’ They were judging people, not the horses.”

Mr. Barney replied, “well, who would you invite to judge?”

I said, “Well, I don’t know all of them, but I’d like to invite Monsignor Melton to do the jumpers. He’s very popular.”

Mr. Barney said he didn’t know whether the board would go along with that. I said, “Right away we’re disagreeing.”

He said, “I’ll tell you what: give me a list.” I did, and the committee selected every one of them. But there was one thing I couldn’t do: select the foreign judges. The Horse Show Committee invited them because they were invited back to shows overseas. You know, one hand washes the other.

What was the show like in those days?

In those days the National was at the old Garden, on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. The horse show ran for eight days, from Tuesday through the following Tuesday. No so many hunters and jumpers as now. Most of the classes were for the hackneys. Driving classes. Moneyed men competed, great gentlemen like Amory Haskell, Tom Watson of IBM, and Albert Dick of A.B. Dick office machines. There was saddle horses classes and breeding classes for hackneys and for thoroughbreds. There was some show jumping, with army teams from Germany, Ireland, and of course the United States team.

The footing was part clay, part regular dirt. It was stored under the viaduct at 125th Street that was owned by Consolidated Carting and stayed dry all the time. The dirt was put in on the 49th Street entrance, and the horses came in on 50th Street. The arena was on the street level, which made putting in the footing easier than hauling it up five stories like they do at the present Garden.

The bull gang was headed by an ex-prizefighter named Dutch Something. Cauliflower ears, a flattened nose – a real pug. He made sure the dirt was down right. They used a roller to flatten the dirt, but I put a stop to that. No rolling, just raking

I brought in Vince Wholley as my assistant. I knew him from when I sounded the horn at the Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Vince was a young guy around there. He sounded the horn pretty good, but he had a drinking problem.

That was the one concession I got from the Garden: I could name the assistant manager and the judges, but I had to submit a list. I’d give them maybe six names. Until then there were no professional judges until I managed, except for the saddle horses. The saddle horses had three judges, and there were three for the hunters. I cut back to one for the saddle horses and saved all that expense. It saved time too. I got it down to two judges for the hunters. Why? Because three judges would get together and as who do you like? who do you like? and so on. The conferences took too long, which is why I cut down to two judges.

I started the idea of a jumping order. Before that, the order was up to the starter, Eddie Bouchard. He wore a cap, like a chauffeur’s cap, that said “starter” on it. Bring him a drink and you could go whenever you liked. Or slip him some bills — he made more money that way. [Morton] Cappy Smith always liked to go last. On the other hand, Mrs. [Priscilla] Barney liked to go first so she could go back up and watch the class.

Hunter appointments classes were lovely classes when they were done right. Some judges would open sandwich cases, some wouldn’t. One year a judge opened a case that hadn’t been opened in two years. The odor knocked him down.

Which were some of the great horses and horsemen you remember?

The greatest hackney pony at the time was King of the Plains. Until Mrs. Wheeler’s longtail pony Mark of Success came along, I never saw an individual like him.

Saddle horses? You could name a whole lot. Among the walk-trot [three-gaited], Nancy Highland and Roxy Highland. There was Lucky Lindy, owned by John R. Todd of Todd Shipyards (Christine Todd Whitman, Governor of New Jersey, is from that family).

Prince Charming was the best hunter I ever saw. A fabulous mover. He was ridden by Joe Maloney, a good rider and a great judge. Among working hunters, Isgilde was fabulous as a hunter and an open jumper.

There were just so many colorful characters. One matinee Gordon Wright was showing a jumper. He had just had one of his books published., and when his horse stopped at a fence, [the jumper rider] Joe Green, who had a voice that could carry, yelled from the In Gate, “Hey, Gordon, what chapter is that in?!”

One Irish team rider – I can’t remember who – was riding a horse that stopped. The rider landed sitting on the ground and yelled at his horse, “You, dirty bloody rip – you would bring me here to do this to me?”

Arthur Godfrey [the radio and television personality] did a dressage exhibition on his palomino Goldie. Godfrey was a real prima donna. He charged $15,000 to perform, and when (horse show president] Walter Devereaux gave him the check, Godfrey looked at it to make sure the amount was right instead of just putting it into his pocket. No class. The next year Godfrey held us hostage. He was an Arabian horse fancier, and we had to put in the Arabs, a costume class.

When we brought in the international teams, we had course designers. General John Tupper Cole used to sit in the stands and direct the crew where to place the fences instead of standing in the ring. Then we brought in Arthur McCashin. He’d get in the ring and walk off the distances – he put some life into the job.

Bill Summers, a lawyer from Columbus, Ohio, put in the electric timers. Until that time, Gustavus Kirby, who was Willimina Waller’s father, did the job by hand. He was a great old guy who wore ribbon glasses. He’s shout out “44” or whatever the time was, and there was no arguing with him.

The head guy of the jumpers was an Army general named Guy Henry. He’d take no lip from anyone. The rest of them were so scared of [captain of the Mexican team] General Mariles. Not Henry, though.

Harry deLeyer was a great showman, but a tough guy to do business with. He thought everybody was against him. He’d say, “I didn’t hit that last fence – I’ll go see the judge.” I told him, “You’ll go see the steward first.” In those days stewards stood in the ring. The first steward I ever saw was Carlton Helmes, who stood in the center of the ring in his tailcoat. He didn’t know what was going on in the schooling area out back.

On 50th Street the day cop was Kelly. Fanelli was the night cop. Kelly helped me keep peace among the van drivers. I gave him $20 out of the gratuity fund. One year Kelly came to me before the show and said, “my wife just had a baby – the gratuity has got to get better.”

The horse show was more society back then. The idea was “Let’s get to the Waldorf,” which was where the horse show ball and the parties were. In those days the Garden had a black man who’d open the limousine doors. His name was Judge, and he knew everybody.

How about equitation back then?

There were no horse shows on Sundays. Ned King put in exhibitions. Joe Vanorio would do trick riding, and the Police Department’s riot squad would perform. I said, “let’s do something else on Sundays,” which is when we put in the Maclay and the Good Hands saddle seat finals, like we have now. We used to stable the overflow up at the Squadron A Armory on Park Avenue and 91st Street. We’d van the horses back and forth.

The course was four jumps around the ring. I’d draw the courses. That stopped when Csaba Vedlik judged, the year [1972] he found Leslie Burr, who was a dark horse. He started the tradition of judges designing the courses, before that, it was the four fences.

I didn’t pay much attention, so [the show committee] used to name the judges. That is, until I caught on. Hope Scott was a good judge, but I didn’t think she should have judged equitation.

Dr. Henry Chase, the National’s secretary, won the Good Hands when he was a youngster. That was his claim to fame.

Speaking of that, once upon a time some of the Maclay riders rode saddle horses… it wasn’t unusual to see horses rack down to the jumps.

Have you any other memories you’d like to share? Such as Devon?

I started at Devon in about 1936. Tom Clark was the manager. He managed a cattle farm and was a great horse show judge too. I was a ringmaster somewhere, and he asked me. I started by calling the classes. There was no PA system back then, so I’d ride Clark’s son’s polo pony over by the ring and find out how long until the next class. Then I’d gallop up to the barns. The saddle horse people didn’t want the sun to hit their horses’ coats, so they’d wait till the last minute.

I became ringmaster at Devon when Dutch White – the same guy from the National — got drunk and pushed me into the ring.

The man who sounded the horn on Dick Gimbel’s coach, Dick somebody, had a wonderful horn, a Boosey horn with a great tone. When he died, his wife came up to the Garden and gave me the horn. “My husband Richard wanted you to have it,” she told me.

The horn broke down into two pieces. At the Lake Forest show one year, I walked into the hotel with my suitcase and the horn. The clerk looked at me and said, “here comes the plumber.” I guess the horn did look like a plunger.

Those were the days of true sportsmen like Mr. [August A.] Busch and Mr. Clark. I was also ringmaster at Piping Rock on Long Island. F. Ambrose Clark had a coach you could hear coming through the woods. Mr. Clark would wait until the horseman got down from the back of the coach, then hand his reins to a groom, get down himself and walk over to shake hands with people.

Those days are gone.

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Clarence “Honey” Craven retired from the National Horse Show in 1991 although he retains the title Manager Emeritus. He now divides his time between Connecticut and Florida.

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