• U.S.

Animals: Dragoonettes

4 minute read

The National Horse Show, held annually in Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, has long been the No. 1 sport event on the U. S. social calendar, partly because the high jinks and hubbub which always accompany it afford occasion for a discreet parade of fashion and public display, partly because it is one of the few sporting events in which women can compete on an equal footing with men. But it was not until the 1920s, when the horse had lost its last stigma of practicality, that the Horse Show, with two exceptions an annual event since 1883, actually came into its own.

Nevertheless, the Show remained a costly affair, intelligible and entertaining only to those who were showing horses themselves and to their particular social circle. Six years ago the Horse Show’s directors decided to go in for showmanship, try to attract the general public. Since 1935 the National has consistently made money.

Last week, with more features, more color, more competitors than ever before, the National Horse Show Association opened its 53rd show. In spite of decolletage, diamonds and decorative elegance on view in the boxes, the most colorful costumes were in the ring. This year the Horse Show had brought to Manhattan its most successful feature to date, 40 members of Canada’s crack cavalry unit, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, senior regiment of Canada’s Army.

Noted as one of the British Empire’s most picturesque army units, the Dragoons in their regular full-dress regalia—black-plumed gold helmets, white crossbelts on scarlet tunics, long white gauntlets, blue pantaloons with yellow stripes, lances fluttering with red and white pennants* (see cut) outshone all the rest of the Garden’s splendors. The fact that the Dragoons have been chosen to escort King George & Queen Elizabeth on their visit to Canada next year gave them an added glitter. To the music of Scottish folk songs (Bonnie Dundee, The Campbells Are Coming) and Irish jigs (Rory O’ More, Donny Brook Boy), the knight-like Dragoons and their sturdy mounts cut centaurian capers with the precision of the Radio City Music Hall’s famed Rockettes. For their grand finale they charged the length of the ring. Their director, Major D. A. Grant, explained that training the horses to keep time with the music was a job that took a year and a half of patient effort. Eventually, however, they learned to alter position and formation by taking their cue from the music. Musical rides are of no more military value than a Virginia reel but, ever since the Life Guards first made them popular in the British Army about 1880, many British cavalry units have taken them up.

The man most responsible for putting new blood into the National is its stocky, high-strung manager Edward (“Ned”) King, Manhattan socialite who once worked as cartoonist for Rider and Driver and the World-Telegram, started managing the Horse Show five years ago. His conversation is as horsy as the show he runs. Instead of saying: “Please say that over again,” Ned King invariably says: “Please come back to the post.” Of horse shows and horsemen he philosophizes: “Most people are like horses. Some are stayers, others sprint and too many are incorrigible. We ought to have a saliva test.”

Since extra features such as the Dragoons have had much to do with the Horse Show’s present success, Manager King and the Horse Show’s directors have hired the Dragoons to appear at every evening performance and at four matinees during the run of the Show this week. The fact that the Horse Show Association has publicized their presence so widely is one indication of what is happening to the National. The Show is becoming less & less an exhibition, more & more the kind of colorful pageant that the riding academies of oldtime Vienna put on before the War.

*Used by all dragoons since the original dragoon regiment was formed in Hungary during the 15th Century.

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