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Where Riders Are POT to Trot : 'People Over Thirty' Horse Show Tries to Put the Fun of It All First

February 16, 1989|JANET BERGAMO | Janet Bergamo is a Piru free-lance writer

From the grandstand of the main arena an amplified voice requested: "Trot your horses, please."

A glance at the mounted group revealed many riders who were of voting age when Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. A few participants were growing up when the legendary Man o' War was retired to the stud farm in the 1920s.

Generally, the event Sunday morning had the standard hallmarks of an English horse show, American-style. Decked out in breeches, boots and hunt caps, competitors in the warm-up area took turns popping their sleek mounts over a practice fence.

Yet missing from the scene were the teen-aged females in the throes of horse fever who are usually found at a horse show.

The generation gap was deliberate. This was Foxfield's 17th annual People Over Thirty Show. Though the riding academy on Potrero Road between Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks is best known for its youthful riders, co-owner and founder Joanne Postel estimates that half of Foxfield's clientele is adult.

The original POTS gave these mature riders a chance to strut their stuff without competing against the exuberant bravado of 18-year-olds. Soon the show was open to all comers 30 and over.

Symbolically returning the services so often lavished on them by a legion of horse-show moms, young people served as grooms for their older counterparts. For a token fee, a POTS competitor could hire an under-30 Foxfield student to hold a horse or walk it, be a gofer or a cheering section.

Some of Sunday's riders compete regularly at top shows in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties. Others compete only for fun, and only at POTS.

True Sporting Event

This is in keeping with the philosophy that inspired Foxfield to start the show in the first place, Postel said. "Horse shows have become so much of a business," she said. "I wanted this to be a true sporting event."

Who are these people who rise at the crack of a chilly weekend dawn and pay to ride in circles, or risk their necks over fences?

Amy McAvoy, born in 1918 (when stalled automobiles were still greeted with cries of "Get a horse!") has a goal. "Right now I'm only jumping 2 feet, 6 inches," she said. "I'd like to get to where I can jump three feet."

David Hahn, film and TV director, drove up from Hollywood to ride at Foxfield. As a youngster, fear of failure and a dislike of pressure limited his participation in athletics. Riding, he said, was the first sport that came naturally.

"Communication is the real thing," he said. "You have to create with the horse, not impose your will."

Events Limited

Richard Reiner, an obstetrician, first rode when his daughter started lessons three years ago. Although he has been urged by his instructors to become more involved in the horse-show circuit, he limits his show competition to a few events at Foxfield.

"I can't be worrying about who's going into labor when I'm jumping a course," he said. "And I don't know if showing up at the delivery room in boots and breeches would be quite the thing." Reiner credited his knowledgeable mount for his rapid progress as a rider.

Not until she was in her mid-20s and the owner of her own interior design business was DeAna DiGioia able to afford the riding lessons that she always wanted. Then a year of hospitalization after an auto accident left everyone except DiGioia wondering if she would mount a horse again.

While still in a body cast, DiGioia requested her doctor's premission to ride. "I love the relationship with the animal," she said. "What you give, and what you get back." Now 34, DiGioia rides six days a week.

Sunday, her horse carried her to the overall show championship.

For many of Sunday's riders, mastery of equestrian skills began in adulthood, at ages ranging from 20 to 60. Some own a horse for the first time in their lives. Others rely on school-owned mounts.

After the show, the snack bar did a brisk business in carrots and apples for equine participants. And few riders left the arena without a satisfactory token for their efforts: All POTS ribbons, awarded to first- through 10th-place finishers, are blue.

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