Research by Marianne Taylor, Text by Tim Wickes.
It’s a lovely day in 1963 and the great Working Hunter, Navy Commander, and young Ernie Oare have had a fall in the Amateur To Ride class at the Oak Brook Horse Show. Betty Reynolds, the future Mrs. Oare, sees poor Ernie flat out in the middle of the ring, leaps the rail, and runs straight to…the horse. Of course. Navy Commander was that good.
Dial back the clock a bit further to the mid 1950’s. Betty and her brothers, Bucky and Bobby, are growing up on their parents’ farm in Tryon, NC. The parents in question, legendary horseman J. Arthur Reynolds and wife Edna, operated a show and foxhunting stable. When a man named Dr. Oliver Carmichael, President of Converse College, bought the famous Block House Farm next door, the wheels of history were pushed into motion.
For his up and coming show horse stable, Dr. Carmichael hired J. Arthur protégé Earl “Red” Frazier, and Red promptly went to work putting together a top class show stable. Once again, fate waved its wand. In March, 1960, Dr. Carmichael was forced to move back to his home in South Bend, Indiana, to run the family bank due to the death in a plane crash of his brother-in-law, Robert Oare. Red Frazier and the horses went with him. But, after that first Northern Indiana winter, Red had Carolina on his mind, and back he moved. All of a sudden, Dr. Carmichael needed a new trainer and J. Arthur Reynolds was the man for the job.
Putting Tryon in the rear view mirror, the Reynolds family headed north to South Bend, the Carmichael’s new farm “Laughin’ Place,” and the horse of Betty Reynolds’ lifetime.
A few years earlier, Red Frazier had found a nice, young grandson son of Triple Crown winner, War Admiral. Frazier trained him up, and started to show the horse called Navy Commander while still in Tryon and that first summer in South Bend. He was a nice horse, very nice, but not a superstar until Betty arrived. Although Bucky Reynolds was the Laughin’ Place rider, Navy Commander preferred Betty. And, like Fred and Ginger, Bogey and Bacall, a team was born.
Although Navy Commander was a big, galloping horse that loved Derby-like outside courses, he and Betty had their first huge win at Madison Square Garden in the $2500 (think $50,000 today) Working Hunter Stake class. The East Coasters knew that there was a new sheriff in town. They returned to be Working Hunter Champion in 1962 and 1964, and lost to the legendary Hall of Famer Isgilde in a hack off in 1963. In 1962, the pair was AHSA Working Hunter Horse of the Year after being Champion at Harrisburg, The Garden, and The Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. For four years in a row, they were Circuit Champions of the Virginia summer circuit. Four horse shows, four weeks in a row in the dog days of August, Glenmoore Hunt, Bath County, Deep Run, and finally Warrenton on Labor Day weekend. All of the big guns showed up, but Navy Commander and his faultless little pilot ruled the roost.
All of this brings us back to 1963 and Ernie Oare laid out in the middle of the Oak Brook ring with his sweetheart running past him to get to Navy Commander. Somehow, Ernie took this as a good sign, and the following spring, he and Betty were married, a position they still hold today. Ernie did not get around to Betty’s wedding present until the end of that summer in 1964 where, at the Warrenton Horse Show and with the blessing of his uncle, Dr. Carmichael, he gave Betty Navy Commander.
J. Arthur Reynolds, Bucky Reynolds, and Betty Reynolds Oare are all in the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. And, right there with them is Navy Commander, one of the greatest Working Hunters of all time. To Betty Reynolds Oare, he was her horse of a lifetime.