Olympic medalist Jimmy Wofford will be the keynote speaker at the 2016 Biennial Staff Seminar, April 22-24 in Chantilly, Virginia. The eventing Hall of Famer will talk about the skills and proper position for better, safer foxhunting.
Emily Esterson recently spoke with Wofford about his own experiences in the field and topics he plans to discuss at the upcoming seminar.
1) Give us some background on your foxhunting experience: When did you start? What do you remember about that first hunt? Were you immediately hooked? What horse or pony were you riding?
Answer: It was 1958, and the Culver Military Academy came to Traders Point, outside of Indianapolis. It was a drag hunt and there was a hunter pace on Sunday and hunt on Saturday. We all had these stubby little black horses, with roached manes and banged tails. We were put through a six-week course on etiquette so we wouldn’t embarrass the academy. So of course we showed up well before the meet time. Master Mrs. Burford Danner rode up to us, and said, “Good morning, boys,” and we said, "Good morning, Master,” in unison. “Now then,” she said, “I know what they have told you about not passing the Master. If you can get past me, you are welcome to try.” And she was gone like a rocket on that drag line. I was 13 years old, and although my father was a Master of the Fort Riley Cavalry School Hunt, it disbanded before I started riding, so I missed that experience.
2) In what way did foxhunting help you become the equestrian you are today? Is there any skill in particular that one learns foxhunting that makes one a superior rider?
Answer: Foxhunting teaches you what horses can do with their bodies that they will do naturally well, such as staying in balance, jumping at speed and going across rough unimproved countryside. Footing on a major event course these days is better than a master’s golf course, but every now and then you run into tough conditions.
3) And the reverse: Lots of foxhunters are loathe to work on skills, but what work should they absolutely do in the arena to improve?
Answer: The first thing to work on with foxhunting riding is how to remain connected with the horse without the reins or gripping with the heels. A lot of people ride to hunt, but at the same time, if they can ride their horse harmoniously, they have a better chance of being there at the end of the day. For example, today, the conditions are not optimal, yet this last run might be the one that people talk about for half a century or write poems about. And you missed it, through bad riding and poor horsemanship - your horse was not there at the end of the day.
4) Do you have a great training tip for someone who may be introducing an event horse to the hunt field?
Answer: Keep them back. Because a young event horse has been preselected to be athletic and aggressive, I like to have young event horses go out a few times, in the back of the first field or second field, and hunt them on a loose rein. Event horses do a great deal of arena work, but cross-country there are always situations where a horse has to think for himself. If the horse waits to be told what to do, it can make a minor situation into a serious one.
5) What topics are you going to cover in your talk at the MFHA's Biennial Staff Seminar this April?
Answer: Well, I’m going to talk about the position of the lower leg, how the rider adjusts the stirrup leathers, I see the Piedmont off once a week or so, and I see a wide variation in stirrup leather adjustment. We will talk about the reins and uses of arena work for foxhunters. If we can start them and stop them, and turn them right and left, that really is what you need. Still, it takes a certain amount of skill to control an 800 to 1000 pound animal, and if you have to pull up quickly, it's good if your signals are effective and your horse is responsive.
The MFHA Biennial Staff Seminar is open to all - you do not need to be hunt staff to attend. The weekend will also incude a tour of historic Huntlands mansion, a visit to the Middleburg Hunt kennels, the dinner with Wofford and many additional presentations. For more information, click here.