Cleveland Grand Prix Memories, Grandeur Fill Weibel’s Book
October 2, 2014

"New people have stepped up and they are working very hard to get (the Cleveland Grand Prix) back." – Betty Weibel

As she walks around the Cleveland Metroparks Polo Fields, Betty Weibel sees the past.

At one end of the park in Moreland Hills, she can remember Harry de Leyer on Dutch Brandy, flying off the Osborn Bank during the Cleveland Grand Prix decades ago.

Nearby shimmers the memory of the 14-foot wide water jump, where horses of Olympic caliber occasionally splashed out of the ribbons.

More than 45 years of reminiscences crowd the green acres by the Cuyahoga River for many area residents who have returned, year after year, to watch dozens of fantastic horses leap over obstacles more than five feet high for their talented riders.

Weibel not only recalls many of the great memories of the Cleveland Grand Prix, she also shares them in a book she wrote, “The Cleveland Grand Prix An American Show Jumping First,” published by The History Press in 2014.

Her softbound book is littered with names familiar to the Cleveland hunter-jumper crowd, people who put their time, energy and money into starting and maintaining the first Grand Prix on the continent.

The grand prix was almost always held at the polo fields, Weibel said, from the first event hatched by D. Jerry Baker in collusion with Chuck Mapes and Leah Goetz (Stroud) at a show at Blue Lakes Farm in Newbury Township.

Financing was the first obstacle to be overcome, according to Laddie Andahazy, area horseman, Weibel wrote, but eventually sponsors came forward and 29 horses from six countries competed July 25, 1965.

Weibel’s excitement about the international event, modeled on those in Europe, comes through in her writing as she recalls the hundreds of horses she has seen perform over nearly 50 years.

The fact that the polo field was empty this July — lacking both the Cleveland Grand Prix and the Chagrin Valley Professional Horsemen’s Association Hunter/Jumper Show — cast a bit of a pall over the bright, warm September day as she talked about her book.

Then Weibel trekked, one more time, from the office site near the creek to the far end, where generations of grand prix fans have streamed through the gate off Route 87. It is a path she trod hundreds of times as one of the organizers of the historic event, and now is highlighted by a bronze plaque about the history of the grand prix.

The Cleveland Grand Prix was cancelled for summer 2014, partly due to the recent deaths of two of the area’s pre-eminent horsemen, Chuck Kinney of Newbury and Howard Lewis, Weibel said.

Both had been very involved in organizing and attracting sponsors for the PHA show and the grand prix, she said.

While their passing has caused some upheaval in the culture surrounding the events, a number of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers are working toward the summer of 2015.

“I’m optimistic,” she said. “New people have stepped up and they are working very hard to get it back.”

If they succeed, the July 12 event will mark 50 years since the first Cleveland Grand Prix in 1965, she said, noting there were a couple of other years the event didn’t come together, but always comes back as it will next summer.

“We hope to celebrate it throughout the country,” she said, which is why the date, July 12, 2015, is already listed on the website www.ClevelandGrandPrix.com.

One major problem organizers have faced has been the unpredictable weather in July. In the space of a week — or even a day — riders, horses and visitors can be baked or drowned, Weibel writes. Until the all-weather show rings were built in the last decade, the mud was a serious problem for all involved.

But that didn’t stop entries. The PHA’s Chagrin Valley Hunter/Jumper Show the week before the grand prix traditionally has drawn hundreds of entries a year from stables on the hunter/jumper horse show circuit as well as the day specially planned for local riders.

Many famous riders, active and retired, admire and attend the week of events and the grand prix. Weibel said she hears from them and is well-acquainted with some of them.

So she sent her book off to some who she thought would be interested and received some responses, one that is especially memorable.

World-renowned horseman George Morris called and left a message.

“I almost fainted,” she recalls. “He said ‘I love this book. People need to know the history of our sport.’ He called it a tribute to our passion.”

Morris coached United States teams to individual and team silver metals at the 2006 Fdration questre Inter-nationale World Equestrian Games. In 2008 he coached the team that won the team gold medal at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong as well as the team member who won the individual bronze medal, according to Wikipedia.

He is the chef d’equip for the U.S.E.F. show jumping team and considered the founder of hunt seat equitation, authoring a regular column about form over fences.

His input thrilled Weibel, who waded through stacks of documents from the Show Jumping Hall of Fame for her book. Much information was gleaned from Cleveland Plain Dealer “Horse World” columns written by the late Roland Kraus, owner of Dorchester Farms in Kirtland, she said. His daughter, Wendy Kraus, helped document the material.

“It could have gone on for five years,” she laughs, but Weibel kept her book a reasonable length by focusing on the reason for her project.

“It wasn’t enough just to write about the Cleveland Grand Prix,” she said. “My goal was to make sure our story gets told.”