Here is a priceless look back at some archival footage filmed by Gordon Wright & narrated by George Morris of Mason Phelps’ the American Jumping Derby. This challenging and rugged derby brought the grit of European show jumping to the U.S. courtesy of Mr. Phelps. Held at his stunning family estate in Rhode Island, the Derby was truly a gem of the show jumping circuit from 1976 through 1988.
Take a step back in time with me and see how impressive Thoroughbreds were “back in the day.” You will see some of the famous hunters I was privileged to ride who were responsible for my 2009 induction into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.
The below video is of me aboard “Circuit Breaker” winning the Working Hunter Classic at Chagrin Valley, Ohio in the late 1970’s. What fun it was riding hunters back then. The working division really was a professional sport, especially the classics as depicted on this video. My father took this footage on his Super 8 Camera, and although not the best quality, it seems to be the only footage I can find of the classics. As you see in the video of the Classic in Chagrin, the fences were quite formidable. Beautiful wide jumps, 4′ to 4’6 in height, liverpools, and even triple combinations.
Brilliance or pace was really rewarded, and looking back I am even surprised at the pace we carried. This was a division of Thoroughbreds and they did rule the roost.
The classics died out for a long time and it’s nice to see them coming back in a popular way in the form of Derby’s. Maybe not as high as they were, but the fence designs are outstanding as are the quality of horses. Brilliance is again being rewarded. This is so refreshing, as for so long the “sleepy hunter” look in small rings with horses going like dead animals seemed to be the norm. What a great job the USHJA is doing with the derby’s and everyone seems to love them.
All of these horses are Thoroughbreds and show that back then, they really did “rule the roost!”