Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

First Coast's Other `Sport of Kings'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

First Coast's Other `Sport of Kings'

Article excerpt

In Jacksonville, the phrase "the sport of kings" usually

elicits images of hundreds of anglers in their yearly pursuit of

king mackerel.

Kingfish tournaments aside, however, the real sport of kings,

equestrian show jumping, is slowly catching on in the

Jacksonville area.

About 1,000 people attended the North Florida Hunter-Jumper

Association's winter show yesterday at the Clay County

Agricultural Center near Green Cove Springs. Proceeds will

benefit the Jacksonville zoo.

Spectators watched as U.S. equestrian team members and other

top-level grand prix contestants rode powerful mounts over

difficult series of vertical jumps in an outdoor arena.

The riders guided their horses to the obstacles haltingly or in

a sprint, then leaned forward to aid the halfton animals' leaps.

The horses panted and snorted, waved their tails and bobbed

their heads crazily.

Ernie Powell's No. 1 love is NASCAR auto racing. He would

rather have been at the track yesterday. But like so many others

in the crowd, he was impressed.

"My stepmother got a ticket; I probably wouldn't be here

otherwise," said Powell, 34, of Lake City. "But now that I'm

here, it's interesting. It's something different."

Selling the concept of horse as spectacle in an area so

consumed with football, fishing and golf is a challenge,

conceded Buster Browning, a board member and past president of

the hunter-jumper association. But it's happening, he said. The

numbers show it.

A $25,000 grand prize was awarded yesterday. It was a fraction

of the awards in Palm Beach, Ocala and elsewhere, Browning said.

But it was the highest purse ever at the Jacksonville event.

The number of grand prix riders also climbed from 10 last year

to 18 this year, and the attendance was the highest ever in

Jacksonville. The association is searching for a major sponsor

for next year, hoping to increase the purse to $50,000, Browning

said. …

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