National Geographic : 1954 Nov
New York Again Hails the Horse 697 Founded 71 Years Ago, the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden Climaxes Some 1,500 Smaller Shows Across the Nation BY WALTER B. DEVEREUX President, National Horse Show Association F New Yorkers hear the hollow clip-clop of horses' hoofs today above the screaming whine of tires, it's only a faint echo of a day long past on the city's streets. But each fall, for eight action-packed days and nights, the horse reigns again. Seventy-one years ago, if you had stood in Madison Square, you would have been liter ally surrounded by horses. Perhaps you would have been one of a throng of excited, smartly dressed persons crowding into the original Madison Square Garden, on that blustery October night, to witness the launching of the first National Horse Show. In the minds of many, the event ranked in importance with the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge that same year. New York City, proudly boasting nearly 2,000,000 people, was far from a one-horse town. Hoofed horsepower drew creaking horsecars, swaying hansom cabs, rumbling drays. In fact, if you did not walk or trust yourself to the then comparatively new smoke belching, steam engine-powered Third Avenue "el," you rode on or behind a horse to get to the Garden to see the show under the sputter ing arc lamps of the era. "Hotels" for Horses in Manhattan Today the horse has virtually vanished, not only from New York's humming avenues but from nearly every American street. The horses outside the present Madison Square Garden are limited almost entirely to those of mounted police keeping the crowd in order. And yet the same National, still dedicated to the improvement of the equine breeds and just as thrilling, hard-fought, and glamorous, is going more strongly than ever at more than the Biblical threescore years and ten. Few Broadway extravaganzas cost more to produce than the National Horse Show ($300,000). Nor do they entail any more feverish labor; almost as soon as one show ends, preparations for the next begin. Invi tations are sent, via the Department of State, to foreign jumping teams, and negotiations for special exhibitions get under way. One problem is arranging for stable space for some 500 horses in the middle of almost horseless Manhattan Island. Since the base ment of Madison Square Garden has space for only 394 stalls, some of which must be reserved for tack and groom quarters, 90 more are set up in a National Guard Armory 50 blocks away, and still others in tents on a near-by parking lot. After the stalls are brought in from a Bronx warehouse, it takes 50 men three days to put them up. By Sunday night, before the Tuesday-morning opening, all the stalls are ready and a welcome mat of straw lies waiting for each horse. Under the straw, to keep the animal from slipping on the con crete floor, is a layer of heavy building paper. Nail-free Straw, 900 Tons of Earth No detail important to a horse's comfort is overlooked. Last year, for example, when Brig. Gen. Alfred G. Tuckerman, the eleventh president of the National (page 714), went to give the stalls a final check, he chanced on a nail in some of the straw. Forthwith he had all the straw removed and inspected; nails and horses' hoofs are bad company. Not before every nail was gone would he allow a single horse to come down the ramp. Early Monday morning, while the grooms are busy feeding, watering, or rubbing down their horses in the basement, a fleet of dump trucks and 25 men go to work upstairs, mov ing in 900 tons of earth. A mixture of loam and clay, the dirt makes a springy, shock-absorbing carpet 10 inches deep. It's the same dirt, incidentally, that is used at the Garden by the rodeo and circus and it is stored on a lot between times. A special crew sprinkles and harrows the dirt carpet before each performance and combs it for stray metal with a magnet. Finally, at 6 p.m. Monday, when the dirt has been rolled to a smooth finish, the arena is opened to the horses for exercise. Starting at 5 o'clock the next morning, they work out in turns, so that by show time they are in top form, ready to go.