The Goldern Era of Eventing
The U.S. three-day eventing team coach Jack Le Goff recounts the 1974 World Championships in Burghley, England, where American riders won both their first individual world championship gold medal, as well as team gold.
Jack Le Goff (1931-2009) was one of the most successful equestrian coaches in history, leading the United States three-day eventing team from 1970 to 1984 during what many consider the golden age of eventing. During his tenure, he helped the U.S. win Olympic team gold medals at both the 1976 Games in Montreal and the 1984 Games in Los Angeles as well as clinch multiple team World Championship medals.
In this excerpt from his biography Horses Came First, Second, and Last, Jack recounts the lead-up to the 1974 World Championships in Burghley, England, and the team’s wellfought victory, which secured not only the first individual world championship gold medal for the U.S. but also the team gold medal.
The team was planning to go to England early to get the horses and riders tuned up for Burghley with a couple of British events. Following the two selection trials, we had quite a good list of horses and riders from which to choose. The Selection Committee of Neil Ayer, Jack Burton, Jack Fritz and I put together a short list of Tad Coffin, Denny Emerson, Lornie Forbes, Roger Haller, Beth Perkins, Mike Plumb, Don Sachey and Caroline Treviranus and invited them to come up to Hamilton [the U.S. Equestrian Team training facility in Gladstone, New Jersey] to train. Bruce Davidson was named to the list but was given the opportunity to stay with Irish Cap in England, where he would await the arrival of his teammates.
On August 1, we shipped 14 horses and six riders to Wylie [England] to begin our challenge for the World Championships. At the top of the list were the horses that had shown the most consistency in the competitions at home. Added to this was their soundness. The horses with those criteria as well as having the best records and deemed most likely to complete the competition were the ones we selected. Apart from Mike Plumb, who had represented the U.S. in every Olympic Games since Rome in 1960, and Bruce, who had made his debut in Munich [at the 1972 Olympics], the riders were all newcomers to the international scene. Denny, Beth, Don and Caroline joined Bruce in England for the final preparations, working on the technical aspects of riding as well as the conditioning and the fitness of the horses.
The 1974 World Championships
Back in Munich, the British individual and team gold medalist Richard Meade, who was more “British” than most Britons,
At the top of the list were the horses that had shown the most consistency in the competitions at home.
asked me how I was getting along in the States. I told him that everything was going very well. “How is your English?” he asked [knowing that I was born in France]. “My English is coming along very well Richard, but God you have a funny accent!” I replied. Then he said, “Jack, it would be very good for the sport if some country, other than Britain, could win one of the big ones someday.” To which I replied smilingly, “Richard, you can count on me to make that happen.”
Now I had to put my money where my mouth was. The British were obviously the hot favorites, and everyone expected them to take the gold again, just as they had done at Punchestown [Ireland] in the 1970 Worlds and again in Munich at the Olympic Games. The night before Burghley started the organizers put on a fun evening of activities, which included a donkey race for the chefs d’equipe and some of the riders. Bill Lithgow, the British chef, fell off his donkey and broke seven ribs and spent the entire weekend in the hospital. While I had great sympathy for my friend Bill, I had to ask myself if this was a sign that luck was not with the British this time around.
After walking the course, I decided that the four men, Denny, Mike, Don and Bruce, should ride for the team and the two girls, Beth and Caroline, would ride as individuals. This had absolutely nothing to do with gender, as I have always believed that girls, provided they had suitable horses, could compete suc- cessfully against the men. Beth had had an accident while setting up the horses in the temporary stabling. She was carrying a heavy trunk and had slipped, dropping the trunk and breaking two bones in her foot. Nevertheless, being the resilient young woman she was, there was no stopping her riding.
Bruce and Irish Cap rose to the occasion in the dressage and performed better than they ever had before and at the end of the day stood in second place to the Russian Vladimir Laniugin on the stallion Tost. The team as a whole was second to the Germans with the French behind in third. The British were in fourth.
The cross country was big: bigger than any course most of the riders had ever seen. The order of go was Don and Plain Sailing, Denny and Victor Dakin, Bruce and Irish Cap, and Mike and Good Mixture. Plain Sailing was no
The cross country was big: bigger than any course most of the riders had ever seen.
stranger to Burghley having competed there in 1966 at the first World Championships with Rosemary Kopanski. With his experience, I felt he would be sure to get around, and Don could then pass on valuable information to his teammates. Unfortunately, Plain Sailing had a fall on the course, which put the pressure on the other three. Now, instead of going for personal success, the riders had to concentrate on what was best for the team and they all rose to the occasion. All three horses went clear with Mike posting one of the fastest
times of the day, all of which led to the U.S. being in the lead going into the final show-jumping phase. Mark Phillips and H.M. The Queen’s Columbus had gone into the lead individually with the fastest time, but unfortunately, Columbus had injured himself at the end of the course and was withdrawn the next day, a true heartbreaker for Mark. That left Bruce in the lead with Mike just 24/100 of a point behind. Beth Perkins had gone clear on Furtive, but Caroline Treviranus and Cajun had fallen, resulting in a broken collarbone for Caroline.
All the American horses passed the veterinary inspection thanks to the care given by all the ground staff of the U.S. team overnight. There was no doubt that the pressure on Bruce in the show jumping was enormous. Young Beth Perkins, broken foot and all, jumped herself and Furtive into sixth place overall. Mike jumped clear with Good Mixture to finish on 71.93. Just one second over the time would drop Bruce to second place. But he and Irish Cap kept it all together and jumped clear, and his score of 71.67 clinched not only the first individual world championship gold medal for the U.S. but also the team gold medal. I had achieved one of my ambitions. I had coached a gold-medal team in world- class competition. Now I wanted to add the Olympic team gold medal.
After the Americans had won, Richard Meade came and congratulated me. “Richard,” I said, “I don’t know if you have a good memory, but I want you to know I always keep my promises.” I am sure he knew to what I referred.
[President of the U.S. Combined Training Association] Neil Ayer, generous as ever, threw a grand party to celebrate our victory although I am not sure how many of us could remember much about it the next day!
Richard,” I said. “I don’t know if you have a good memory, but I want you to know I always keep my promises.” I am sure he knew to what I referred.
The Frenchborn U.S. coach Jack Le Goff was an icon of the sport of eventing, leading the team to multiple victories during his 14-year tenure.
HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (in overcoat), presents team gold medals at the 1974 World Championships at Burghley to U.S. eventers (from left) Mike Plumb on Good Mixture, Bruce Davidson on Irish Cap, Denny Emerson on Victor Dakin and Don...