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Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | The closest I have personally been to a horse in the past 30 years was when I was a kid in St. Louis, Mo., and got thrown off one. I didn’t break anything but clearly got the message that this was not a career path I should focus on. The last short Jewish person to ride a horse into the sunset was Billy Crystal, and when I think of horses, my first thought is of Groucho Marx in “Horse Feathers,” followed closely by Jane Fonda in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” It shows you where my priorities are – but the truth is I don’t think much about horses, except how to avoid stepping into it.

Well, until last week when I attended an evening at the charity horse show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. If you have never seen grown people dressed up in gorgeous costumes riding beautiful animals around a ring with a three-piece orchestra in the center playing music, you have definitely missed something.

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous words, “The horse crowd are different than you and me.” Yup, they have a lot more money. Just one of these gorgeous horses can easily cost more than a Ferrari. Now I know why the symbol on the Ferrari is a horse. But unlike the car, they eat every day, they can get sick, they need trainers and grooms and trucks to transport them, and they come with silver saddles. Some of them pull little buggies in which the beautiful horse people are sitting – not exactly the Budweiser Clydesdales. The good news is at least you can’t get a ticket for going 175 mph on the straight away.

The horse charity show was a benefit for the Helen Woodward Animal Center and the Don Diego Fund, a nonprofit that supports scholarships for students interested in agriculture. What is clear to me, however, is the real passion these participants feel for the event and their horses. Like figure skating, the judging seemed to me a bit sketchy (the French judge was very tough), and for a novice, I could not really tell who was prancing and who was cantering. I was impressed by the athletic ability needed to compete. All the riders were in great shape.

Now, I think jodhpurs are the next big idea for the jeans industry. They looked “mahvelous,” and the outfits were as good as anything on a New York City runway show. But in the end what I saw was a grand passion for great animals and a very formal competition that inspired people to participate and care deeply. It was truly beautiful.

The camaraderie was quite delightful. Of course, it helped that there were liberal amounts of champagne and nibbles at the various stable cocktail parties.

What you have to love about San Diego is the incredible diversity, the various and varied interests and passions of the citizenry from show horses to beach volleyball. If you can’t find your passion in San Diego, you aren’t looking very hard.

What a wonderful place to live.

Neil Senturia is married to Barbara Bry, Voice Editor in Chief.

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