New Jersey-Zone 2: The Heartbeat of Horse Shows in the 70-90’s

Nona Garson and Peppermint at Middlesex held in Johnson Park, N.J

Part 2. Major “A” Shows In the 80’s-90’s

BY Pearl Running Deer

It’s the 80’s and 90’s and horse shows are in full swing. Many equestrians travel to the east coast for competitions, usually in New Jersey. After all, the top three trainers for the jumpers were here.

Gladstone was the place to visit. You never had to leave the state to qualify for Harrisburg, Washington International, or The National. New Jersey had all the top “A” shows to qualify.

In Part 2 and Part 3, we will talk to some of the riders who went to these shows, some that still go today.

Pearl Running Deer: We named our horses after films and hit songs. Thoroughbred horses were the thing. We didn’t use step ladders to mount our horses. There was only one “A”. Not 2 or 3 “A’s”. No charge for schooling. Jumper classes were: Pre-Preliminary, Preliminary, Intermediate, and Open Jumper. Classes were measured by feet not meters.

Nona Garson won NJPHA an NJHSA in her pony days though her young adult career. She trained the gold medal winner at Young Rider Championships. As a rider in Grand Prix, she has placed at the Garden, Devon, Harrisburg, Washington, and others. She has represented the U.S. team in Pan Am games, the World Championships, The Olympic Games and the World Cup Finals. Garson runs The Ridge in Tewksbury and in Riverview, New Jersey as well as in Wellington Groves, Florida.

NG: “I think the most exciting show from my childhood in New Jersey was the Middlesex Horse Show. I was so excited to be announced as the youngest rider in The Johnson Park Jumper Classic for several years in a row. The Johnson Park Jumper Special was a huge class that could have 40-60 horse and rider combinations vying for then what was a huge prize of $15,000.00. The show was a charity event that benefited the local hospital. The park would be totally filled with people sitting around the Grand Prix field. It was originally a 2 round class with a jump off.

For me it was so exciting to get the chance to compete against the USET riders who were my idols. Frank and Mary Chapot, Carol Hoffman Thompson, Rodney Jenkins, etc. At 13 years old, I took over the ride on the Open Jumper, Tora ll, earlier that spring. I was so
honored that my trainer, Alex Iby, let me ride for owner Sven Danielson.

In hind sight, I think I got the job because I was the only rider, Alex had at the time in the barn. But it all worked out pretty well, and my Open Jumper career was underway with my Junior Jumper, Peppermint, stepping up as well.

The first time I rode in the classic, I was still in jodphers. My father didn’t want to invest in tall boots till I was done growing. (Little did we know I would never get taller than 5’2.) That year at Middlesex I had gotten some nice ribbons earlier in the week in the smaller
classes. Then Mr. Danielson asked Carol Thompson if she would catch ride Tora in the big class. As I was so young, I had never jumped any classes that big before. Then the nicest thing happened. Carol told Mr. Danielson, that I was doing a great job and he needed to support me.

She wouldn’t take the ride, it wasn’t right to take me off. I ended up placing third in what at that time would be considered by today’s
standards my first Grand Prix. My career went on from there. I guess the rest is history. And I will forever be indebted to Carol, who I hadn’t even met at that time, for allowing me the chance to prove myself.

PRD: We watched Knots Landing and Lifetimes movies in the evening. At the shows, the stands were overflowing with spectators. Networks started covering the shows as we watched AGA tour and the Budweiser Grand Prix on Saturdays.

Archie Cox was a junior rider competing on the national level in 1985. He was the first male rider in ten years to win the USET gold medal. Riding for the equestrian team in NJ Drew University, he repeatedly captured individual and team regional and national Intercollegiate Horse Show Associate titles. When he moved to California, he worked with top trainer Karen Healey. Cox now owns and
teaches at Brookway Stables in California.

AC: Seeing Coppergate Farm and Tom Florio were always a high point of many riders’ summer horse show series. For me, coming from Long Island with my mom driving the station wagon and the two-horse trailer, I was always filled with excitement crossing the George Washington Bridge because we were about 45 minutes from a sure to be magical few days.

As a fourteen-year-old horse crazy boy, I got to see the great trainers and horses who always flocked to Coppergate in the summer. Joey Darby, Jimmy Toon, Frank Madden and Bill Cooney were like movie stars to me and to see everyone enjoying the show was like going to Hollywood. The outside course seemed to go on forever atop the rolling hills of New Jersey. Anyone who drove through the gates was always greeted and welcomed by Mr. Florio and his wife Lydia. 

Archie Cox and Robert Hoskin’s “Bogart”, 1984. Photo courtesy of Archie Cox.

The days of yesteryear are gone but the memories my mom and I have will last our lifetimes. Equestrians owe so much to the Florio’s.
Cheers to Coppergate memories!

Part 3: More Stories on the major shows in New Jersey.

Pearl Running Deer was one of the first Native American riders to compete on the circuit in the 80’s-2002. Her trainer was Maurice Honig from the French Equestrian team. From 2003 to 2013, she was a high fashion model at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. In between, she worked with film directors as an assistant. She founded a nonprofit Turtle Island Equestrian Inc., which started a Native American Equestrian Team. Ms. Running Deer also is a Freelance writer.