Betty Oare: It’s Been A Good Life, So Far

Photo courtesy of Betty Oare

by Ann Jamieson

Starting Out

Betty Oare first entered a horse show when she was about four. Her father, legendary Arthur Reynolds, Sr., ran the Metamora Hunt Club stable, that hosted the show. Riding a pony named Tiny, Betty competed in a leadline class, like most kids in their first show. However, there was a problem. She and Bucky were in the same class, and there was only one saddle to share between them. Bucky, as the elder sibling, got the saddle. Betty rode bareback. Bucky won. Betty came second. Back then, Betty says, “people didn’t show so soon. You learned to ride at home, in the fields, and cross-country, and then go hunting a little bit.”

At the time, the family lived in Tryon, N.C., where Betty was born. Her dad, who served as huntsman for the Tryon Hounds as well as running Metamora, soon developed a horse business on his own. “We would come home from school, have a snack, and go out the back to ride. We didn’t do cheerleading or anything like that because our sport was riding,” recalls Betty. It was a family affair. “My mom organized everything and got us to the horse shows. She was very supportive.”

Betty and Bucky with Tiny. Photo courtesy of Betty Oare

Besides Tiny, there was another little pleasure pony named Smoky. He would take Betty up across the backyard hill and into the field after she came home from school. But when he got tired of her, he went right to the barn and let her off. He’d put his head down and he was like “Okay, I’m through with you. There was nothing I could do,” remembers Betty.

After the two little ponies, she graduated to Gypsy. “She was a small horse, probably had some Morgan in her. She was really wonderful, taught a lot of children to ride, as well. She was the first one I went cross country on, and started learning to hilltop.”

Her dad, a renowned horseman, was the one who taught Betty and Bucky how to ride. In addition, Gordon Wright came to Tryon every year for a few weeks and gave them some lessons. “That was a real treat for us and he and Dad became good friends.” Eventually, he bought a place in Tryon, but by then the Reynolds had moved. Gordon always called Betty his “eager beaver” because she liked to gallop so much. “I still do,” she says.

Tryon

While Tryon is famous now for its International Equestrian Center, it was a very horsey area from the start, well known for its hunt country and beautiful trails. 

The hunt country was split in two by a highway when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.  While in the army he had been part of the first convoy to cross the United States. It took two months. In Germany during the war, he learned to appreciate the value of a good highway system and brought the concept to America. 

While the new highway cut the hunt country in two, and a new hunting area had to be created, it was still populated with scores of lovely farms, and fields to ride in. The original horse show grounds, Harmon Field, where the annual Tryon Riding and Hunt Club Horse Show was held, still holds horse shows there to this day. 

The Tryon show was the first “real” show Betty rode in, beyond her initial lead line class. While a one-day show, it was still a big deal. Focusing on both horses and hounds, it was called, naturally enough, the Tryon Horse and Hound show. Hounds were exhibited on one side of the grounds, while horses showed on the other side.

The whole town took part. Businesses would close their shops on Wednesday at noon, and there was a big barbecue for horse show attendees. Competition took place in a hedge ring, or on a little outside course. Often you would jump from one ring to another, and there were scores of wonderful trophies to win. 

It wasn’t only local people who attended. Many families from the mid-west and Wisconsin had farms in the area, and would come to Tryon to hunt, and ride in the show.

Betty recalls, “That’s the horse show that I always wanted to ride in, and Bucky too.”

Today, most people think of Tryon International Equestrian Center and the huge shows held there.

“It’s so beautiful,” says Betty, “the Equestrian Center surrounded by mountains.”

But it’s not only the Equestrian Center; the town of Tryon itself is charming, and there is still a large population of horse people who live there. Since it was where she grew up, every time Betty visits Tryon, “It’s like going home.”

Betty received a very special honor when the Tryon International Equestrian Center was built. Mark Bellissimo called and asked if it would be okay if he named one of the rings for her father, or for the family, as they wanted to incorporate history into the Center’s design. All four hunter rings were named after people involved historically with Tryon: the Gordon Wright ring, the Reynolds Family Grand Hunter ring, the Jarrett Schmid ring, and the Carter P. Brown ring.

Betty and Gypsy. Photo courtesy of Betty Oare

Betty won her first trophy on Gypsy at 13, in Asheville in a recognized show put on by the SPCA. At the Tryon Junior Show in an equitation class, Bucky won a big engraved trophy for first place and Betty (who is two years younger), won a smaller “tin can” trophy for fourth place (the trophies were presented in lieu of ribbons). It was engraved Tryon Riding and Hunt Club. 

“That was so special, so different.” She still has it in her trophy case, and looks at it every day.

Growing up, many of the horses Betty rode were Thoroughbreds. “The Thoroughbreds were so brave and so light on their feet and such good jumpers, but it’s a different ball game these days. People actually bred Thoroughbreds for the shows; they didn’t necessarily get them off the racetrack. 

“Navy Commander was by Admiral Tan by War Admiral, a very good bloodline. Freedom Rings was a Thoroughbred mare. Estrella wasn’t a Thoroughbred but went like one. We showed Thoroughbreds, we hunted Thoroughbreds, they were absolutely the horse of choice. You just didn’t know about the ones that come from out of the country back then.

“Most of the team horses for a long time were all Thoroughbreds as well,” she adds. 

Betty says “It was real fortunate for Bucky and I to be in Tryon when Gordon came and we had some lessons with him. On top of that in 1956 the two USET teams (show jumpers and eventing) came to train in Tryon. The trials were held in Tryon for the Olympics in Melbourne and we got to see that. They trained in Harmon Field, so we had the pleasure of watching William Steinkraus, Hugh Wiley, Frank Chapot, and George Morris ride. 

“There was a beautiful farm in Tryon called The Cotton Patch and there was a generous couple there that had hunting horses and they donated their property for the Olympic trials to be held on their farm. It was almost like an amphitheatre the way they did up the grounds.” Potential members of the team trained there all winter and the finalists were chosen at the end of the season.

“That was an exciting time in the town of Tryon,” remembers Betty, who was a high school sophomore that year.

The Virginia Circuit

Betty’s dad Arthur, Sr., was originally a Virginian, so he decided to return to his roots, and took his family to some big shows in Virginia when Betty was around 14.  They began with Culpeper. Betty remembers it was incredibly hot and she got a blister from her boot and just wasn’t all that excited about showing in Virginia. 

She points out that it was not the Culpeper that it is today; it was a different era. At that time, the ring was located in the middle of the racetrack.

She asked “Dad, are all horse shows in Virginia so hot? Maybe we should just go back to the shows in North Carolina.”

He answered, “No, we’re going to go to the Warrenton Pony Show next week. I think you’re going to like it.”

She did. It was a whole different ball game.

The Warrenton Pony Show is run by juniors and led by an experienced show manager. Competing with her mare Can Do, Betty had a great time. “It was a lovely horse show. They were so hospitable to us. We had picnics; we had ice tea and trees to sit under, it was cool.”

She said “Yes dad, I like this. Let’s come here again. I fell in love with showing in Virginia after that for sure.”

Bucky and Betty began to show regularly in recognized shows, competing on the big Virginia circuit. “We’d take some juniors on the circuit with us. The big four, Staunton, VA, then Hot Springs, VA, Deep Run in Richmond, and then we’d finish up at Warrenton, VA, which was at that time a big A show. People came from Kentucky and Ohio and South Carolina, it was a big circuit. They were three or four-day horse shows and a lot of them had night classes, it was very glamorous under the lights. The stakes were always appointments, and they held Corinthians (where contestants wear their hunt attire).”

The first one who encouraged them to compete on the big circuit was Francis Rowe. “She was a wonderful lady who was so generous to us. She said come on up to Deep Run and just stay at my farm.” 

They took her up on her offer.

Bucky initially showed the greener horses, while Betty’s dad would try to keep a nicer horse for her to ride in the equitation classes. However, “We knew it was our business, and some horses were sold. College was looming in the future.”

Can Do was one of Betty’s junior hunters, and she had a great deal of success with her. But she got sold “to a lovely lady in Aiken who gave her a good home.” Later Betty had “a mare named Will Do and Susan Bauer went on the circuit with us. She’s still a real good friend to this day. At the end of the circuit, she bought Will Do.”

Betty believes there’s still a trophy with the mare’s name on it at Ox Ridge Hunt Club. 

South Carolina

Every winter, Arthur would take the horses to Aiken for a few months. He loved Aiken. At that time Florida was not yet on anyone’s radar. They’d also head to Camden, South Carolina, as well as Southern Pines. “You could go from one to another, just hunting and showing,” Betty recalls.

At Christmas, Camden hosted a junior show. They looked forward to it because it was a holiday show and they could stay overnight. The show organizers “were so gracious. There was an outside course with solid coops and post and rail fences. We had a mare that had come in from the New York area and the people had jumped her at 3’6″ and broken her green year. I showed her and jumped that outside course at 3’6” and we just did it. We didn’t think anything of it. My dad would not have had me do it if he didn’t trust the horse.

“I’m sure I would not do that now,” she laughs. “Now there are a whole range of courses from 2’3″ and up to help people get started correctly and safely.”

Back then,, there were many times at shows where equitation riders would be asked to change horses. So Betty’s dad “would always watch the horses. There was one mare at a show who was a little undependable and he told me just take second place.” Rather than riding the mare and risking an injury, he told Betty quite rightly to just settle for second. “She was a good mare but a bit undependable and he was sort of strict about things like that and he was concerned that things could happen. He was just a little protective of me as a girl. I’m glad he was.

“But hey, we’ve all had some spills.”

Indoors

At the first Washington International Horse Show, in 1958, held at the DC Armory, Betty won the Virginia Horse Shows Association State Equitation Finals. The two judges were Mr. Bert DeNemethy and Mrs. Hope Scott. “It was very exciting to go to that,” Betty remembers. She rode Can Do, and won the class. A fellow rider in the class was none other than Kathy Kusner.  

“We had great camaraderie. She’s one year older, but we rode a lot together. I was lucky to get the blue ribbon that day, as Kathy went on to become such a fantastic rider.”

At the Garden, Betty won a blue on Can Do in the hunt teams along with Bucky and Alice Frasier. They were called in second but when appointments were checked, they got moved up to first—as the other team had not followed the specifications correctly. “They were very strict about appointments,” Betty remembers. “Everything had to be exactly correct. It was so exciting, we were thrilled to win that!”

The following year, she won it again, this time with Kathy Kusner, and her friend Tory Buchen. The winners received a little gift certificate for a store in New York City. “Those are great memories,” recalls Betty.

Ernie

Before Betty knew Ernie, his aunt and uncle bought Blockhouse Farm in Tryon, well known for its steeplechase races. Looking for some good horses they came to her dad for recommendations. Arthur recommended Red (Earl) Frazier. Betty remembers following Red around on her pony when he worked for her dad.

Betty and Ernie’s lives crossed paths several times before they finally got together. Initially, Betty was in college and had gone to Ox Ridge for a show. Ernie was there, too. As Betty walked around the Hunt Club looking for her barn, she saw someone she thought was named Bill. “Hey Bill,” she said to Ernie.  

Ernie won a class on Colonymas (a half sister to Navy Commander), and Betty thought, “He’s kind of cute.” The following summer Betty and her family did the show circuit with a group, and Ernie joined them with some horses. Bucky and Ernie roomed together, and “became great friends,” says Ernie. 

That fall Ernie entered Chapel Hill. In May he came to Devon with a horse that Betty rode for him. They got “pinned” at that time with Ernie’s fraternity pin. During the National Horse Show, they got engaged.

When Ernie asked for her hand, Arthur said, “Son, it’s a life sentence.” He was right. They’ve been married 58 years now. 

Ernie used to ride in amateur steeplechase races. It didn’t exactly thrill Betty, because, while racing is fun, “It’s not fun to watch your husband run over jumps that don’t fall down.” Ernie had a really good timber horse named Allen BJ and together they won the coveted Seven Corners Owner-Rider series. Betty says he was “A wonderful horse, a very kind horse. I think if he stepped on you, he would have apologized.”

Ernie trained many race horses, both flat and steeplechase, but right now “It’s just show horses. He and dad had a lot of fun together.”

Although there is another member of the Reynolds clan, an older brother, “He always wanted to do normal sports,” laughs Betty.

The connection Ernie’s family had with Red Frazier proved particularly beneficial as he found Navy Commander, and Cap and Gown, the famous conformation horse, from a farm in Tryon, along with two other top horses. The horses all became residents of Ernie’s aunt and uncle’s new farm.

Cap and Gown was so named because Dr. Carmichael, Ernie’s Uncle, was a college professor. Gene Cunningham approached them about buying the horse, and he was purchased through Gene by Mary Sprague. Cap and Gown is now a legend in the Conformation Hunter division, and for all hunters. “He was a beautiful horse, a beautiful jumper and Gene did a great job with him.”

Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon!


About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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