To quote a Chronicle of the Horse article, “Betty Weibel is Show Jumping’s Best Friend.” She is an expert, advocate, and fan. When you sit down to chat with Betty Weibel about Show Jumping, it’s like encountering the driving force behind the Sport. She knows the history. She knows the participants.
“The first show jumping grand prix in North America was held right here at the Metroparks Polo Field,” says Betty. “A bronze Ohio Historical marker at the Field recognizes that impact. Today there are 350 grand prix so when fans and competitors enjoy the big event at Hampton Classic, the American Gold Cup or the grand prix at the National Horse Show they can thank Cleveland!”
It’s hard not to ask a million questions of Betty, particularly about the history of the Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show. I’ve always wondered how it all started. It’s an event, but it’s the people behind the event that keep it going. It’s to them we owe the credit.
For starters, tell me a little about yourself.
“Over the years I have been fortunate to be able to combine my equestrian life with my career as a journalist and public relations professional.Today, I am a principal in Yopko Penhallurick, a public relations agency based in Chagrin Falls, Ohio which has received top national honors for our work. A graduate of Lake Erie College, I served on the Board of Trustees for the Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show, as well as Board member of Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center and the Ohio Humanities Council.”
What is your history with horses?
“I have ridden all my life and shown (hunter, jumper, and equitation), rode in Ireland with Irish Kellett and earned my BHS instructor certificate, judged and taught. I have written for the equine publications Chronicle of the Horse, Primedia, Horse & Pony, etc, as well as covering equestrian for The Chagrin Valley Times and promoting horse sports during my career. After I entered the PR field, I oversaw public relations for the national American Grandprix Association (AGA), managing media and sponsor relations for the 30-event national series, as well as other top show jumping events including the World Cup, and I worked for the Winter Equestrian Festival during the winter circuit.During that time I also did equestrian commentary for ESPN.”
What is your history with CVPHA.
“I grew up a fan of the horse show and later rode there in the Amateur hunters. I handled PR for the show in the 80’s working for a PR agency in Cleveland, Carlton & Douglas, where I also handled the AGA. I began volunteering in the 90’s and helped with PR. When the show took a year off and made a comeback in 1996, that is when I really became involved in helping with the organization and management, as well as comeback publicity, which led to my being co-chair with Karen Schneider, and years of serving on the Board until the mid-2000’s. After that, I continued to consult and assist behind-the-scenes. I had nearly 50 years of archives stored in my office files including old photos and press clips which led to my decision to preserve that history through a book.
“I was fortunate to work with and learn from some amazing horsemen over the years and I had an opportunity to interview many of them. I wanted to preserve their stories and sentiments, as well as a fantastic collection of photos. Although grand prix show jumping is relatively young in America compared to Europe, in nearly 50 years so much has happened and the sport continues to grow and evolve. And it all started right here in Ohio.”
Tell me about your new book documenting the history of the Grand Prix in Cleveland.
“It is published by The History Press and will be available June 10 at independent and chain book stores, tack shops, retailers and online. It is 176 pages and has 70 photos.
“In order to tell the story of the Cleveland Grand Prix, I had to start many years earlier to explain ‘Why Cleveland?’ and the incredible horse sport hub that was in Northeast Ohio – Ohio Cavalry, racing, hunting, polo, and early horse shows. The first Cleveland Grand Prix was innovative because it came at a time when civilian show jumpers had taken over our country’s international representation following the cavalry’s withdrawal after the 1948 Olympics. European outdoor courses were long and complex with a wide variety of obstacles, and the major competition was known as the Grand Prix. By introducing the first European-style outdoor show jumping Grand Prix in Cleveland in 1965, organizers played a critical role in developing the sport of show jumping in America, and our future Olympic teams. The book is a sport history that includes a rundown of every Cleveland Grand Prix victory and takes the reader to present day.”
Who’s on the cover? And why?
“Good question. I posted that on Facebook for the new Cleveland Grand Prix page and people loved it. The History Press artists designed the cover from a number of photo options I provided and did a great job of capturing the range of amazing riders over the last 50 (almost) years. At top is Olympian George Morris aboard Brussels who won the Cleveland Grand Prix in 1984. Continuing clockwise is Olympian Greg Best aboard Gem Twist who won in 1987. The only non-winner represents our top local riders – trainer Gabor FranciaKiss aboard Royal Blue. The final photo is the first winner in 1965,Olympian Mary Chapot aboard Tomboy. I wouldn’t sign off on a cover that didn’t have Mary on it!
What are your thoughts on the future of the CVPHA?
“As I explain in the book, taking a year off, rebuilding a hard-working board that wants to retire, finding new sponsor support, and making a strong comeback have been a part of the history of the Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show. Right now sponsor support is key and whoever steps up to save the day will be a hero not just in Ohio, but in the entire horse world, as all eyes are on our area to see what happens. It is my hope that the 50th anniversary and this book will help people understand what an important part of our history this show is and why people need to support it and save it.”
For more information: go to: www.clevelandhorseshow.com
To order her book go to: http://www.amazon.com/Cleveland-Grand-Prix-American-Jumping/dp/1626195250/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402336546&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Cleveland+Grand+Prix