- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

There were no hockey players colliding on the ice and no one talking trash on the basketball court at the MCI Center last week. Instead, a civilized, mostly female audience crowded the arena to enjoy dozens of equestrian events, including show jumping, dressage exhibitions and good old-fashioned cowboy trick riding at the 43rd annual Washington International Horse Show.

"The show is in its second year at the MCI Center, and it's wonderful to have it here because it's such a good location. It's easier to attract people," said sponsor Sheila Johnson, who hosted a Grand Prix event dinner at the center's Acela Club Saturday night. (The show spent many decades at the D.C. Armory and later at the USAir Arena in Landover before landing at the MCI Center.)

Though the arena wasn't full, horse show spokeswoman Gina de Pasquale estimated 5,000 to 6,000 equestrian fans were in attendance Saturday night for the main show's jumping event, the $100,000 President's Cup, won by Australian thoroughbred Nonix Le Parc and rider Aaron Vale.

More than 1,000 tons of dirt were dumped into the arena for the equestrian event but not just any kind of dirt. It was finely ground and reusable limestone, valued at about $20,000.

Mrs. Johnson's interest in horses started about 10 years ago, when her daughter Paige, now 16 years old and an accomplished equestrian, said she wanted to learn to ride horses. Now the Johnsons, including BET founder Robert Johnson, who also attended, have about 25 horses at Salamander Farm, their 200-acre Middleburg estate.

"[Paige] could go to the top. She has the passion and talent for it," Mrs. Johnson said. "She certainly has financial and parental support behind her."

Her daughter didn't come to the event Saturday night she was at a Halloween party with her high school friends although she competed successfully earlier in the week.

Among guests at Mrs. Johnson's Red, White and Blue Party were publisher Austin Kiplinger, (who was inducted into the horse show's hall of fame) with his wife, Gogo, and his son and daughter-in-law Knight and Ann Kiplinger, both horse-show board members.

Other guests included board members and horse lovers Jorge Carnicero and wife Jacqueline, longtime Republican fund-raiser Wyatt Stewart III (whose show jumper, Shadwell, made it into the finals) and other horse-loving folk, including William Abel Smith and Sydney "Nini" Ferguson.

True to BET traditions, Mrs. Johnson had invited musicians Marshall Keys (saxophone), Scott Ambush (bass), Vinny Valentino (guitar) and Gilad (percussion) to entertain the crowd with smooth jazz throughout the night.

Even nicotine addicts anxiously awaiting their particular steed's event were well cared for. Before going out onto a chilly terrace for a puff, smokers were handed red horse blankets to shield against the cold winds.

After the President's Cup Grand Prix event, in which horses were required to clear 5-foot hurdles as quickly as possible, the arena was cleared for trick and bull riding as well as terrier racing.

The winning terrier was Hooligan, who readily outran his undisciplined, yapping competition. Equine extremist Tommy Turvey Jr. entertained the crowd with trick riding and roping but received the loudest cheers and applause for his simplest maneuver: riding 'round the ring with a large American flag.

@$:Among top bull riders were Steve Avery, Blaine Whipp and Eddie Winfield. Their goal: staying on the bull for at least eight seconds. Sounds easy, but it's not. At least a half-dozen cowboys got thrown before the eternal eight seconds were up, and several were lucky to make it out of the ring without injury.

"You feel like you can ride some bulls all day long; others are boot and scoot," Mr. Whipp said.

Nothing, of course, is going to stop these hardened veterans from going back for more punishment as the crowd roars its support.

"It's an adrenaline rush like nothing else," said Mr. Avery, who rode despite having broken a leg while competing earlier this year.

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