Grand prix leaps to aid of students

Fund-raiser: Show jumping event helps pay for scholarships at community college.

September 22, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

The winner of the Columbia Classic Grand Prix show jumping competition yesterday credited the natural ability of her fairly inexperienced horse, while the winner of the Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic credited her older, seasoned horse as a key to her victory.

The action took place in front of thousands of spectators at Howard Community College. The annual event has raised more than a million dollars in scholarships for the school over the past 15 years.

Students, staff members and community members let out gasps and cheers as 60 entrants in the two divisions - including former Olympians and national and international champions - navigated the turns and jumps on the campus lawn in the heart of Columbia.

"It is awesome," said Tim McFadden, a contractor and musician from Catonsville who attended with his daughter. "It is like any top-of-the-line sporting event, and they hold it here."

The winner of yesterday's Grand Prix, Debbie Stephens, won the event in 1990 and has succeeded in numerous international competitions.

She had two clean rides (where the horse did not refuse a jump or exceed the time limit) on Cosequin's CEO, a horse she bred and raised in Glenmoore, Pa.

Raising a winner independently is very unusual, she said. Cosequin's CEO just started competing this year.

"This horse does more than you say," Stephens said. "He has this love of pleasing people."

Dana Waters of Valencia, Pa., said she is one of the older competitors at 42. She credited her horse Suerte's winning performance in the Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic to the animal's years of experience with her and previous owners.

She said Suerte's maturity allowed him to be calm in the face of noisy spectators, a somewhat hilly and grassy field, and ground hardened by Maryland's lack of rain - all challenging conditions for competitors.

Waters, whose husband is a horse dealer who competed in the Grand Prix, said she recommends "a fairly seasoned horse to come here."

Other show jumping events usually have days of warm-up events. The Columbia Classic only allows riders to walk their horse around the course before diving into the first round. The riders with no faults then run a shorter course in a "jump off" to determine the winner.

"It is a good test for a horse," said Oliver Kennedy, the show manager from Equestrian Sports and Promotions Inc. "That is one of the reasons riders like to come here."

Good atmosphere

Another reason is the fun atmosphere, he said. Although many competitions are not well-attended, the Columbia event draws a big, cheering crowd.

The college raised the Grand Prix stakes this year to a combined $35,000, with the first-place winner taking home $10,500. The amateur competition offered $10,000 in prizes, with $3,000 for first place.

More than 1,200 guests enjoyed food, drinks and seats in the donors' tent. Spectators who crowded the bleachers for $10 a seat were also close to the action, as were people on the lawn, where adults paid $5 and children could enjoy the show for free. The front row of lawn chairs and blankets was only a few feet from the riders.

Other features helped build the crowd, including actress Jane Seymour, who acted as grand marshal, and a raffle for a Mercedes-Benz car. The Margaret Smith Gallery in Ellicott City invited Seymour; her paintings are on display there.

Aspiring competitors

On the lawn, Tina Snyder brought a group of young riders from her equestrian school in Sykesville to see the professionals in action. At her Safe Haven Farm, many of the students are taking their first steps toward becoming highly skilled riders and jumpers.

"There are six I know are going to go all the way," said Snyder, who competed nationally until a back injury interrupted her career.

Her students missed a Baltimore County horse competition to attend.

They were having a ball jumping over a course of mini-jumps set up for children, watching terrier races and a Goshen Hound demonstration, and asking their favorite riders for autographs.

"It's amazing how high the jumps are," said Kelsey Boulier, 10, of Marriottsville. Fellow student Monica Gaebe, 12, of Ellicott City added, "They stay up in the air for, like, two seconds."

To date, the Grand Prix has brought the college more than $1.3 million, which has all been used for scholarships, said college spokesman Randy Bengfort. Last year, the Grand Prix raised $198,000.

`Makes a difference'

This year, for the first time, in addition to broader sponsorship of the event, individuals were invited to create $5,000 scholarships with names and designations of their choosing.

"People want to know No. 1 that their money makes a difference," said Kathy K. Rensin, chairwoman of the competition's board of directors. "As the economy has changed, more and more students are being educated at community colleges."

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