On the Rail with Nancy Jaffer: Major New Show? — and Comeback for Eros

EquiSearch Exclusive: Nature abhors a vacuum, and so, apparently, does the horse show world. A group of heavy hitters, including HITS circuit manager Tom Struzzieri, former American Horse Shows Association President Jane Clark and Hampton Classic director Tony Hitchcock, met Monday May 6 in Clark’s New York office to discuss the possibility of holding a new fall show.

The departure of the National Horse Show from Madison Square Garden “leaves a bit of a void,” said Tom, and he’s looking for a way to fill it.

Moving the National to Florida means the Northeast could use another show, in either September or November, this group figures, depending on dates available from “some pretty nice venues” they’re investigating.

One is the Fleet Center in Boston, which Tom said is owned by longtime equestrian Jerry Jacobs. While the Center is not as famous as Madison Square Garden, the ambience surrounding the show would be similar, in that people could stay in nice hotels in a big city and eat at fine restaurants during the show’s run.

Details about the hunter/jumper fixture are sketchy at this point, but “we hope to make it as many days (long) as we can,” said Tom, who added it will not be a HITS show.

“This is a horse show for the people and by the people,” stated Tom, who has long promoted the concept of a national championship for hunters and jumpers. It is unlikely this would have that title, though. Tom’s disagreements with USA Equestrian President Alan Balch were legendary during the period that Tom headed the National Hunter/Jumper Council.

The new show might not even have to be recognized by USA Eq, he said — which means date recognition would not be a factor — and added that drug testing could be arranged on a private basis.

Time is getting short to do this show in 2002, Tom noted, saying that if it doesn’t come together in the next 10 days, the group will be looking to stage it in 2003.

Anne Kursinski has won many competitions in her life that were bigger than the $45,000 Garden State Grand Prix, where she swept first through third places last weekend.

But this one meant a lot, in that she believes it signaled a comeback for Eros, who has been a faded star since he was injured in the 2000 Olympic trials.

Few people can match Anne’s record. While others pursued big-money grands prix, Anne’s goal was always the Olympics. She was the alternate in 1984 with Livius, then rode Starman on the 1988 silver medal team, Cannonball on the 1992 Barcelona squad and finally, Eros as part of the silver medal effort in Atlanta.

She has been cautious and caring with the chestnut Australian thoroughbred, now 15. Is that too old to be a top flight jumper again, I wondered. She pointed out the horse would practically be considered a youngster by Britain’s John Whitaker, famous for winning with mounts in their late teens and beyond.

Eros’ victory in the class was a double-clear, matching the performances of her runner-up, Indeed, and third-place Escapade, though both were slower than their more experienced stablemate.

Before Escapade went in the ring, as the last of Anne’s horses to start in the tiebreaker, Eros — who has always worn a warning red ribbon in his tail — lashed out with a heel in the direction of the bay Hanoverian.

“He said, `Don’t you even think of beating me,'” Anne laughed.

Eros probably didn’t help Escapade’s big personality problem, which, according to Anne, is a lack of self-esteem.

“He has all the ability, all the talent, all the scope. But he’s a worrier; he’ll have something down because he’s looking at the grandstand or watching the jump crew,” she observed.

Though Eros had 4-faultitis in Florida, Anne believed he was coming back, and Garden State proved it to her.

“Yes, we’ve had kind of a slump and I pray that it’s really behind us,” she said.

Her voice was filled with emotion after her victory, as she said the key was “if you hang in there and do what you believe…I’ve just done the same thing I’ve always done.”

That means taking her time. Eros’ back injury is now mended. Indeed, who once seemed so promising, had a herniated testicle that caused him to stop at jumps. He was gelded 18 months ago and these days, she said, “he has a whole different attitude. He feels like the Indeed I had four years ago, remember? He was a genius as an 8- or 9-year-old.”

Eros is a definite for the Word Equestrian Games selection trials this summer. Anne now lives in Kingwood Township, N.J., but she’s a native of California and is eager to go back there at the end of July for the WEG squad competition.

Will Indeed come along?

“I can’t wait to keep going and see how far he wants to go these days,” she replied. As for whether he’ll be entered in the trials, “he’ll tell me,” said Anne, a phrase that only a true horseman or woman can understand.

Aside from Anne, just one other person — James Benedetto on the up-and-coming Cacique — made the Garden State jump-off. The field of 25 that tackled the tough course set by Anthony D’Ambrosio Jr. at the Sussex County Fairgrounds included defending champion Nona Garson on Rhythmical, Peter Leone with Lataro and Beezie Madden aboard Innocence. So this class was no pushover.

On the other hand, Eros still has a lot more to prove. He’ll be going to the new $100,000 Keswick, Va., grand prix, and then probably on to Devon with Indeed. Anne has been out of the limelight for awhile, and it would be nice to have her back. There are few riders anywhere in the world who have her experience, and that’s something that’s always a help in the big championships.

Speaking of the WEG, the USET has been redoubling its efforts to get people to give money to get the horses to the Games. It’s taking donations targeted for specific disciplines, which it has never done before. That means it won’t go toward paying lawyers or anything else involved in its dispute with USA Equestrian over the sport’s national governing body status, a battle that seems to be more long-running than anything that was ever on Broadway.

A new wrinkle in the situation was revealed when USA Equestrian recently made public letters to and from various parties in the situation. Apparently, the actual merger of the organizations, agreed to in January by their board, had to be shelved because USET needed to be accountable for its debts. It seems it could only do so by becoming the USET foundation, rather than consolidating with USA Eq as the new National Governing Body, which would have meant passing the debt along. Under New York law, it seemed the best way to handle the situation would have been to have USA Eq stay as the NGB, but be reorganized along the general principles outlined in the January accord. They also would have been amended to provide for representation from the new administrative wing of the NGB, as well as the national and international wings.

At the moment, it’s all moot anyway. Things have been at a standstill since USET President Armand Leone asked the U.S. Olympic Committee either to open the sealed decision everyone HOPES the hearing committee reached last fall after testimony from both organizations on the NGB matter, or to re-start the talks along the tracks that were envisioned in January. The USET complained USA Eq President Alan Balch had introduced a new proposal that strayed too far from the original outline, and wanted an elected board, rather than an appointed board as originally conceived. The method for electing the board had USET leadership fearing their people would be out in the cold if it were enacted.

The USET’s budgetary problems have been well-publicized along the way, though its leaders say they’re working their way out of the woods with staff cuts, other economy measures and a vow never to get involved in deficit spending again. Meanwhile, USA Eq announced that while it did $300,000 better than what it had forecast during its January convention, it still has a $700,000 shortfall, according to its assistant executive director of finance, Ancie Hatfield. As with the USET, part of the reason was costs associated with the ongoing NGB fight.

Plans for the American Equestrian Games, which were to have debuted this October, have been put off for a year. Peter Doubleday, who was organizing them at the Kentucky Horse Park, said, “We didn’t know where the money was coming from and couldn’t justify it (the expense).” He added that Host Communications, which was promoting the games, “needed more lead time to do a nice job.”

The competition, which will run opposite the Capital Challenge show next year, is going to include all seven international disciplines, Doubleday said. Had the games been staged this year, they would have included only show jumping and dressage, at a young horse level, and some driving.

Meanwhile, staffers of the USET and USA Eq are cooperating on an initiative that would allow horses testing positive for EVA to enter countries that are part of the European Union. EVA (equine viral arteritis) is a virus that can cause neonatal foal death and abortion in mares, and the EU does not admit horses testing positive for it. A casualty of that policy was Todd Minikus’ stallion, Oh Star, who had to drop out of the World Cup finals line-up because he was positive for EVA.

Sally Ike, director of show jumping activities for the USET, said efforts to get the EU to change its stance failed.

“As soon as the USET was made aware of the situation, no stone was left unturned to try and get this policy reversed,” she explained. USET veterinarian Tim Ober contacted FEI vet Fritz Sluyter, and he in turn went to the EU with the problem, but was turned down.

Now, with the World Equestrian Games coming up in Spain this September, the need for a policy change is urgent.

The USET and USA Eq will work with the FEI to achieve that end, Sally said.

“Oh Star is a trigger point,” she noted, saying it was important to have “a policy for all horses.” She did not know of any other team possibilities at this point who were positive for EVA, but that can always change.

Times are tough everywhere these days. Sheila Johnson, the president of the Washington International show, observed after the National Horse Show’s departure from Madison Square Garden that there may be a day down the road when the big indoor shows cease to exist. Remember when the fall indoor circuit was a pillar of the show year? I’m hearing the Pennsylvania National and the Royal in Toronto are doing fine, but Sheila is frustrated that exhibitors are not putting their money where their mouths are and supporting a division or making some other kind of contribution to Washington.

“I’m not going to be their ATM machine,” she warned.

“There are people I write and call that I cannot get money out of who are very financially capable, and can roll out six or seven horses at the horse show,” Sheila said.

Washington “is $250,000 in the hole from last year because of Sept. 11, and we have to raise an additional $900,000 this year,” she said.

“People say they can’t afford $2,500 or $5,000, and then they blow it on something else. I am really scrounging for money.”

Sheila has always been generous to the sport, most recently giving to the Kentucky Horse Park and having its show jumping arena named in her honor. She introduced corporate sponsorship to horse shows from Black Entertainment Television, a company started by her husband, Robert. She said BET contributed $500,000 to $700,000 annually, but it has been bought by Viacom. When the Johnsons’ daughter, Paige, is out of juniors after next season, the sponsorship will end.

“If the industry doesn’t support itself, it may have to find a different way of putting on shows,” she suggested. “This could be time to get a reality check.”

Reality checks, of course, aren’t the kind of check that pays for anything. It seems there’s a need for cold, hard cash all around the horse world.

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