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Leaping to aid college students

The Columbia Classic Grand Prix horse jumping competition at Howard Community College was delayed a day by stormy weather, but based on yesterday's turnout, organizers were optimistic they would still raise tens of thousands of dollars for student scholarships.

Rain and wind from Isabel forced the college to postpone the event, which was originally scheduled for Saturday. The change allowed volunteers to put up a large tent without fighting the wind and provided more time for the ground to dry.

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Moving the date was a difficult decision, said HCC President Mary Ellen Duncan. "This is the major source of scholarship money for the students," she said, and organizers did not want to hurt attendance.

There were fewer riders than in past years: 14 entries each in the junior and grand prix classes, with several riders entering more than once for a chance at $45,000 in total prizes. But donors filled the big tent for food, drinks and a view of the competition, while hundreds of spectators bought $10 bleacher and $5 lawn seats.

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Many were horse fans taking advantage of the opportunity to see some of the world's best jumpers sail over bars, walls and fences at the Columbia Classic.

"I've been watching it on TV since I was a kid," said Ginny Morgan of Columbia. "It is nice to see them in person." Morgan, a rider who works on a Clarksville horse farm, said the Columbia Classic gives the community "an opportunity to realize what wonderful animals [the horses] are."

"It lets people know there are other sports besides football and baseball," said Chris Jeffers, a Columbia musician who accompanied Morgan to the event.

Despite the recent storm, the course of 16 jumps set up on the college lawn along Little Patuxent Parkway "was perfect for the level of competition," said Joe Fargis, an equestrian Olympic medalist from Middleburg, Va. He took first and third in the grand prix, riding two horses.

"When it is muddy like this, you have to be careful," Fargis said. "It is commendable what [the course designers] did under the circumstances."

Unlike most grand prix-level jumping events, the Columbia Classic is only one day, which means riders can walk around the course, but do not get practice rounds. Fargis noted that is similar to Olympic competition and a good test for competitors.

Joy Slater, 50, of Unionville, Pa., also enjoyed the one-day format. She won the Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic competition. "I can come down, do the jumping class and go home after," said Slater, who took first place on Shindig, a Dutch Warmblood gelding.

"I've really had a good year this year," said Slater, who placed second at several previous Columbia Classics. She said the secret is just "riding the right horse at the right time."

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Last year, the Grand Prix raised about $210,000 for the HCC Educational Foundation and drew about 5,000 spectators. This year, about 1,200 tickets to the donors' tent were sold before the event, said event chairman Michael Nagle. All 1,000 raffle tickets for a Mercedes-Benz car sold out as well.

"It is surprisingly entertaining," Nagle said. "It is really a beautiful thing to watch. The horses are just gorgeous, and the athleticism is very interesting."

Before the junior class, Erin Spencer, 10, Caroline Wensel, 11, and Chelsea Klein, 10, were watching the riders warm up and sharing their critiques.

"I like comparing how they trot and canter, and [seeing] which is smoother," Erin said. "Also, which one is prettiest and which is going to win."

Chelsea has been hearing about horses from her mother, a former equestrian, and wants to learn to ride. Erin and Caroline, who live in Monkton, take riding lessons and have tried jumping.

The girls haven't tried any 4-foot-10-inch barriers - the tallest faced by riders yesterday. Still, Caroline said, "it kind of feels like flying."

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There were plenty of other diversions as well. Two jumps were set low so children could try leaping over them on foot. Plus, there were vendors, pony rides and a demonstration of Goshen Hounds.

Willard Powell, a rider from Florida, entertained the crowd as "The Lone Indian Chief," combining Native American traditions and showy maneuvers on horseback. As a finale, he stood on the backs of three horses trotting side by side and rode them through a ring of fire.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his wife, Kendel, were honorary chairs, and Kendel Ehrlich awarded the ribbons in the junior competition.

Guest celebrity artist Grace Slick, a former singer with the band Jefferson Airplane, had to cancel when her travel plans were interrupted by Isabel. But the Margaret Smith Gallery, which had Slick's paintings and drawings on display, plans another appearance by the artist next month.

"I think it is just a good wholesome family event," Nagle said.


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