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Prestigious benefit horse show is largely a family affair

September 10, 1987|GERALD FARIS

Marian Scharffenberger's first volunteer job at the Portuguese Bend National Horse Show 20 years ago was making hamburgers and carrying coffee. This year, the Rolling Hills resident is on the committee that schedules show events.

Her husband and all six of their children, now grown, also have gotten involved in the show and that kind of participation is not unusual. For 30 years the show has been put on mostly by volunteers, including some entire families.

At this year's edition of the charity event, scheduled for this weekend at the Empty Saddle Club in Rolling Hills Estates--Scharffenberger's son, Jim, will be the on-duty physician.

Donna Kazarian of Rolling Hills, who was chairman of the show in 1976, has four grown sons who, as high school and college students, worked on the ring crew setting up horse jumps for the competitors--and putting them back together when they were knocked down. This year, she said, two of them will still be involved: Ken driving a water truck and Dan helping with the sound system.

A total of 40 families--all from the Peninsula except for one from Manhattan Beach--help put on the show, which started as a local attraction in 1957, but has grown into a nationally known competition for well-trained young riders, many with Olympic ambitions. Although most are from Southern California, there also are competitors from Northern California and Arizona.

Over the years, the show has raised more than $1.5 million for Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, and in the process has become a major event on the Peninsula.

"We work like dogs to turn the Empty Saddle Club into a country fair atmosphere, with clowns, food, drinks, ponies, puppets, story-tellers and a show," said Carole Diestel, chairwoman of this year's event, who said there is a committee for everything--"even a potty patrol."

While planning for the next show begins when the previous one ends, the real crunch comes in the last few weeks as entries have to be scheduled, program ads sold, tents and other equipment rented, bleachers put up and food and entertainment organized. At a recent work weekend, the Empty Saddle club was spruced up. On show days, there is traffic to direct and T-shirts to sell.

Through donations and program advertising, individuals and companies underwrite the show's costs, which are expected to be $100,000 this year.

The prizes also reflect the community. Ten years ago, N. E. Gibson, a Peninsula resident, donated a $2,500 prize for jumpers that bears his name. There is a perpetual trophy given by Andrew D. Shaw, who recently moved from the Peninsula. Penelope's Big Jump, named after the show's horse-head logo, is a contest for high-jumping horses in which the riders wear costumes and the winner gets $500.

Robin Serfass, a professional horse show manager who is doing the Portuguese Bend show for the first time this year, said the show compares to the Flintridge show that will be held later this month in the San Gabriel Valley.

"It is one of the nicest," she said. "It is primarily juniors and amateurs and is only three days, so it is not as big in number as some, such as the Del Mar National, which gets 600 entries. It is a small, very intimate, very prestigious horse show."

There will be 150 entries this year, many in the English-style hunter and jumper categories for thoroughbreds, although a day of Western events will include roping, penning and cutting horses. Events start at 8 a.m. all three days. Admission is free on Friday, $3 on Saturday and $4 on Sunday.

There has been a sharp jump in entries because the Portuguese Bend show won this year's medal finals of the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Assn. for riders aged 14 and under. Serfass said it is one of the 10 most important medal finals on the West Coast. Riders are judged on their form and harmony with the horse as they jump eight fences at a height of 3 feet 3 inches.

"It won this medal because it has a reputation as a quality charity show," Serfass said. "The ladies decorate the grounds and do a lot of touches that other shows do not do."

The horse show began because the hospital's Peninsula Committee needed a popular fund-raiser. It took its name from the Mediterranean ambiance of the white stucco Portuguese Bend Riding Club, where the show was held until a landslide in 1978 made the road too hazardous.

There was concern that the show might lose money, but it earned $8,500 for the hospital in 1957 and got bigger every year as the Peninsula's population and the show's popularity among equestrians grew, recalls Betty Learned of Palos Verdes Estates. She was committee president for the first few years of the show.

"A lot of people have horses and are interested in riding," she said. "Our timing was right."

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