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Contest rewards riders' horse sense


On a day marked by threatening skies and high spirits, Kimberly Frey, riding Samoens, won the trophy and top prize of $9,000 in the 13th annual Columbia Classic Grand Prix, an Olympic-caliber horse-jumping competition and fund-raiser for Howard Community College.

The competition, which took place yesterday at the community college, featured a daunting course of obstacles, high-jumps, twists and turns. World-class equestrians vied for prizes ranging from $600 to the $9,000 grand prize. A total of $30,000 was awarded to Grand Prix riders.

As flags waved in the breeze and spectators sipped wine, Evan Coluccio riding Diejasper won the trophy and $2,500 top prize in the $7,500 Junior/Amateur Classic. In addition to the Grand Prix, there were also displays of Goshen hounds, pony club demonstrations and a parade of riders.

Equine educator Randy Bird demonstrated humane techniques for training horses and answered questions from the crowd. The ringmaster, Alan Keeley, provided vivid color with his top hat, scarlet coat with gold bars and coachman's horn.

"It's probably, visually, the most exciting sporting and social event in Howard County," said Padraic M. Kennedy, chairman of the Grand Prix board of directors and former president of the Columbia Association. "You see everyone you know - or want to know - here.

"It's an event very strongly supported by the business community and political leaders."

The Columbia Classic Grand Prix began in 1988, making it virtually an institution in a community Columbia's age.

"Circumstances were right for it," said Randy Bengfort, director of public relations and marketing at the community college. "People were looking for a place to have a Grand Prix. They saw the expansive lawns we have here and came and talked to us. For us, it was a way to stage a nice event for the community and also have a fund-raiser."

Since its inception in 1988, the Grand Prix has earned the college more than $1 million.

"It's far and away the single most important fund-raiser for the college, in a given year or in its history. It will probably net close to $200,000 this year," Kennedy said.

The money goes to the Howard Community College Educational Foundation, which provides scholarships to Howard Community College students.

For the riders, the focus was on the competition. A Grand Prix course must be challenging enough that few horses and riders can complete it with no faults. The jumps in the Grand Prix are from 4 to more than 5 feet high and from 5 to 6 feet wide.

Jumps include "combinations" - series of two or three jumps in succession - which test the skills of the horse and rider.

Although Grand Prix riders are allowed to walk the course before the competition, their horses run it without knowing the locations of the jumps beforehand. That adds a measure of unpredictability; several horses balked at the unfamiliar jumps yesterday.

Four former Olympians, Lisa Jacquin, Anne Kurskinski and Joe Fargis of the United States, and Alberto Carmona of Venezuela, competed.

Marylisa Nicholson Leffler, who competed both this year and in 1998, said the Grand Prix was "a big thrill. ... You get butterflies."

Leffler, who lives in Montgomery County, said she considers the Grand Prix a "hometown" experience.

"They always do a nice show," she said. "They have a nice tent, good food. They have beautiful jumps. A lot of people look forward to going each year."

Ginni Dreier, who now lives in California with her husband, Ryland Home President Chad Dreier, agreed.

"This is my favorite thing," she said. "I see my friends here. I'm glad to still be part of the community."

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