Unification News for September 1996
Tears, Gratitude, and Elation at the 1996 Autumn Classic
by Mark Turegano-Port Jervis, NY
"I ended up with 4 faults (penalties), but that's just fine!" said Debbie Stephens, after her performance in The $100,000 Autumn Classic Grand Prix Horse Show held at New Hope Farms on Saturday evening (September 7th). Debbie Stephens is one of the best equestrian riders in the field of show jumping in America and is a stunningly attractive world-class competitor who has won numerous international Grand Prix competitions.
Normally, Debbie would have been disappointed with the 4 fault performance. (The 4 fault penalty is assessed for having knocked down one rail in the event.) Had she left that one rail up she would have qualified for the jump-off round and a chance at the lion's share of the $100,000.00 in prize money that the contest offered along with many sought after points in the USET's computer ranking system.
But Debbie had a different focus on her mind. Debbie had eagerly volunteered this year, as she did last year, to spend a part of her day with two terminally-ill children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Make-A-Wish is the well known foundation that tries to grant terminally and severely ill children a "last wish," normally, a meeting or experience with a sports or entertainment celebrity. Two such children, whose "wish" was to meet some of America's best riders, were guests of The Autumn Classic this year, and Debbie, along with Margie Goldstein, two-time rider of the year and also a competitor at the Autumn Classic, had just spent valuable preparation time before the contest showering the two, 10 year-old girls (named Lisa and Morgan) with hugs and affection as well as toys and presents donated by corporate sponsors of Make-A-Wish.
Debbie was one of the favorites to reach the final jump-off round at this year's event but had absolutely no regrets about her performance. She spoke during an on-site interview after her jumping round and said that she could not help but think about Lisa and Morgan whose tragic lives she had now become a part of and about the immense good fortune that has come to her in her own life compared with the sadness constantly facing these unfortunate children and their families.
Margie was also touched by her encounter with the two girls, whom, she said, were so animated and joyful in spite of their affliction. One of the girls had been a fan of Margie Goldstein for several years and religiously watched her perform whenever she appeared on ESPN. At the start of the Grand Prix event, Lisa and Morgan were given a carriage ride around the New Hope Farms ring in front of the capacity crowd of 2200. At the last minute, a show coordinator persuaded Margie to ride in the carriage with the girls. Margie then went up to the girls and said, "Do you mind if I ride along?" The girls were stunned and beamed as they and Margie did several rounds in the carriage together along the perimeter of the course. The Make-A-Wish theme then streamed through the arena's speakers and there was not a dry eye in the house.
After the girls finished their ride and received their presents, which included special pins from the Orange County Executive (Joe Rampe), the girls, their parents, and the riders posed for pictures. Joe Rampe, the County Executive, was also invited to join in the picture. In a poignant gesture, he declined and said softly to one of the officials, still with a tear in his eye, "This is too important a moment for those girls and their families to have a politician in the middle of it."
The actual competition was one of the finest The Autumn Classic has hosted and featured 36 of the best riders and horses in the world.
Along with Debbie Stephens and Margie Goldstein were Lisa Jacquin (an Olympic Team Gold medalist in 1988), Tim Grubb (past member of both the English and American Olympic teams), Laura Chapot (Rookie of the Year and last year's Autumn Classic Grand Prix Winner), and Samantha Lam (a 21 year old Chinese-American sensation, who trained her own Grand Prix horse without the help of a professional, a rare accomplishment for a rider her age in the sport).
Of the 36 riders to start, 7 finished with clean (fault-free) rounds and earned the right to compete in the timed jump-off. Both Margie Goldstein and Samantha Lam made the jump-off but could not best 46 year-old Marc Jungherr, a long time Grand Prix rider who for 15 years had not won a major Grand Prix competition. Marc blistered his way around the jump-off course and beat his nearest competitor by a full two seconds on his 9 year old gelding, Roscoe. He was nearly as stunned as his fellow riders, who had not seen him in the winner's circle for a good many years, and who himself could scarcely believe that his horse had navigated the course in virtual record time.
A quiet, good-natured individual, Marc was patted and cheered by the other riders who shared in the thrill of his winning the $30,000.00 check that went to the evening's victor. In addition to the check, Marc received an exquisite, hand-crafted watch (valued at nearly $1,000.00) from Christian Bernard, a perennial sponsor of The Autumn Classic Show, and numerous bridles, jackets, and trophies along with those valuable USET and World Cup points that contribute greatly towards the year's final rankings.
The Autumn Classic, a six day event that takes place annually at New Hope Farms, hosted nearly 1,000 horses this year in one of the largest shows in the event's history and occurred remarkably smoothly while dodging the rains and winds of Hurricane Fran that veered west of the New York area on Saturday, the day of the heaviest schedule of competitions. The weary, but satisfied, competitors loaded up their horses, gear, and mobile furnishings during the late afternoon rains on Sunday and moved on to the next major event -The Gold Cup in Devon, Pennsylvania-with nothing but praise for The Autumn Classic and the spectacular grounds and arenas at New Hope Farms.
As a final thought, it is important to recognize two more of the major sponsors of The Autumn Classic Horse Show: Go World Inc., who has generously supported the show since its inception both with monetary sponsorships and travel vacations for winning riders and trainers, and the Ginseng Up Corporation, whose Ginseng Up soda has made a big hit with all the riders on the show circuit and has likewise been a strong backer of the show for the past 8 years. Without their support, the show would not have been able to obtain the recognition it has achieved in the riding industry, and we want to express our sincere appreciation to these two fine companies (along with Christian Bernard) for their generosity throughout the years.
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