BY ANN JAMIESON
“Navy Commander was a brave, brave, Thoroughbred. Red started showing him and he was well broke,” remembers Betty. At the time Red had been training in Michigan but moved to Blockhouse Farm for the warmer climate.
Bucky, a little older and more advanced than Betty, would normally have been the one to ride him. But because Navy had a tender back, he preferred Betty’s lighter weight. “So I got the ride, and oh what a ride he took me on in my life. He was the bravest horse I ever rode. We did the working hunters, and he loved to gallop, and I loved to gallop. We did Ox Ridge, and Fairfield.”
A photo of Betty aboard Navy Commander was featured in the Chronicle of the Horse as an example of perfect form in both horse and rider. They were jumping a huge, airy gate. The photo has also been shared extensively on Facebook.
“He just took me around; he was a very brave horse, and a very bold going horse. We went to the Chagrin Valley Horse Show in Ohio, where they had the very first Grand Prix in America in 1965. It was a big, open course. Navy was very brave, and my father just decided ‘it would be fun to put him in the Grand Prix.'”
Betty didn’t know much about jumpers, but she trusted the horse completely. He went around like it was a working hunter class. They had one rail which Betty says, “Was my fault completely. We did the triple combination and I let him stand off it like you would in a working hunter class, and he had a rail behind. We went up and down the bank, we went over the water, it was so much fun.”
The winner of the class was Mary Chapot, riding Tomboy.
“Navy Commander really loved the Working Hunter division, and he loved Madison Square Garden. He was champion there twice and reserve once.”
Ernie’s one attempt at showing him in the working hunters ended badly. Following Betty’s instruction, he didn’t use leg to ask him to leave the ground over a big solid gate. Ernie didn’t do anything and Navy didn’t leave the ground. They tumbled through the gate and fell. After that, he told Betty, “He’s your ride.” Later, he made it official. He and Betty had only been married a few months when they came to Warrenton to show. Ernie arranged a little party before the show. At the party, Ernie presented Betty with her wedding present. It was Navy Commander.
“He meant a lot to me. He was never going anywhere after that. He was a brave Thoroughbred and he liked a light ride. He was also champion at the Royal Winter Fair, in Toronto, which was a beautiful show. They were big jumps! He was a wonderful part of my life.”
Besides Navy Commander, some of the top horses in Betty’s life included Spirit of Song, Freedom Rings, Fiddler’s Bridge, and Estrella. Spirit of Song (nicknamed Charles after Charlie Weaver who had the ride on him) came from Kenny Wheeler’s Cismont Manor Farm. They showed him at Devon, and then he came home to her Dad’s barn, where Betty kept her horses at the time.
He was the first real Amateur Owner horse Betty had since she’d been a professional until that point. A wonderful horse, he went on to do the juniors with Morey, taking good care of him.
Tommy Serio, who worked for the Wheelers, alerted Betty about a potential new horse for her, a nice green Thoroughbred mare up in Maryland. It was December. Betty rode her at the Barracks in their big indoor ring. “I tried her, and really liked her.” Betty says, “I like mares; they always try for you.”
They went back to the Wheeler’s home and, “Sally had hot chocolate and all good sorts of things waiting for us, and we made the decision to buy her. “She was a wonderful mare. She won at indoors. I had fun with her, and trusted her. That mare was Freedom Rings.”
Estrella was USEF Amateur Owner Hunter Older as well as Overall High Score Amateur Owner winner in 2002. In 2003, Fiddler’s Bridge, who came from Jack Stedding, joined Betty’s string as a second Amateur-Owner horse. That year Fiddler’s Bridge took the Overall USEF Amateur Owner Award, with Estrella finishing in Reserve.
While Betty only owned him for a year, she recalls “It was a great year.” Jack told her he would never spook at a jump, and “He never did.”
“I’ve been fortunate as an amateur to have such nice horses!” exclaims Betty.
Her sister-in-law Linda Reynolds found Estrella (Little Star) in the stable of Mary Gatti, a California trainer. She was being shown by Patrick Stanton in the second year greens. Watching Patrick jump her, Betty thought she was “very impressive.” When Betty rode her, she loved the mare’s lightness. She felt as though “she had wings on her feet.”
At Blowing Rock, Estrella was champion in the Second Year Greens. Betty brought home the circuit championship in the Amateur Owners in Ocala.
A freak accident in the schooling ring at Culpeper suddenly halted the brilliant trajectory Betty and Estrella were on. Betty broke her shoulder and her right ankle. She spent three days in the hospital, with one thought on her mind. She was qualified for Washington, would she be able to compete? She pushed herself hard physically. Washington was coming and she hadn’t jumped in two months. Could she do it? With Estrella’s help she could. They were Grand Amateur-Owner Champions at Washington. Estrella also took the Working Hunter Championship earlier in the week with Sandy Ferrell.
Betty checked her standings when she got home from Washington. They were in the running for Horse of the Year! At the Duke Benefit Horse show they earned the championship, and were back on track. The National Horse Show was only two and a half weeks away.
It was dark when she and Ernie returned from North Carolina. Stone staircases connect one level of their yard to the next. Betty carefully protected her bad ankle as she negotiated the stairs. In the darkness, she misjudged, leaving out a step and crashing to the ground. She screamed, both in pain and frustration. Had she just broken her good ankle as well?
She hadn’t. But she was back in the hospital. She had broken her fifth metatarsal, the long bone on the outside of the foot. Betty called a friend, an orthopedic surgeon. “Is there no way I can ride in two and a half weeks?”
He replied, “Well, maybe.” He put her in an air cast and Betty was the best patient, carefully following doctor’s orders to try to preserve Estrella’s chance to earn Horse of the Year.
Betty did show Estrella at the National Horse Show, which that year was held in Wellington, Florida. They galloped around the Grand Prix field as if they were out hunting, showcasing a beautiful forward pace and brilliant jumping.
They did have to jog. Estrella passed; Betty failed.
She and Estrella took the Grand Championship Amateur owner title at the National Horse Show. The victory clinched the win. Estrella was named Horse of the Year. She was also USEF Older Amateur Owner Champion in both 2002 and 2003. This year Estrella will be inducted into the National Hunter Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Devon Horse Show.
“She did so great for us,” Betty recalls. “She’s buried in my field. I’ve had a lot of help with my horses. Bucky in particular loved Estrella; I think he loved her more than he loved me…but I wasn’t sure.” While Bucky wasn’t one for making a pet out of a horse, “He had a special relationship with her.” He gave her so many treats in fact, that Betty teased Estrella might stop mid-round at the sight of him to nab some of her favorite goodies.
Both Betty and Ernie became judges. She and Ernie judged a few small shows in North Carolina and Virginia, and Betty earned her big “R” in 1970. She’s been judging for about 55 years now, and, a few years ago, received her pin for judging for 50 years from the USHJA.
Betty remembers the first show she judged as a big R, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club on the outside course. She judged with Daniel Lenehan. “What a treat to have him as the first person I’m judging with as a big R!” remembers Betty. “He trusted me to do a conformation class. He told the ring master, ‘Mrs. Oare will judge the class’ while he took his lunch break,” and Betty realized he trusted her to do a good job! “We remained great friends for years; he’s one of the finest men I’ve ever known.”
“Growing up, we thought riding in the ring was kind of dull,” Betty remembers. “We mostly rode on the outside course. In 1977 I judged Washington, 1979 at the Garden, and I did Harrisburg as well several times. I judged it with Mason Phelps; I judged later with Joe Fargis and Brian Lenehan. I was fortunate as a young judge to judge with well-respected people with lots of experience.
“I was serious about trying to do a good job, and it was great to see a lot of different kinds of horses and go to different parts of the country, meet different people. I went to areas I never would have gone to like California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, and Michigan.
“Ernie asks me ‘Don’t you ever get over watching horses?’ and I don’t, I just really enjoy it. Of course there are some days when you wonder, ‘Is this day ever going to get over, after 12 hours.’
“You have to give everybody the best chance you can, but we all make mistakes that’s just human. There are days you say I can’t get a winner out of this class and other days there are not enough blue ribbons to go around. It’s really been a great part of my life doing that, and raising a family and I had a husband that would be there when I had to be away. And it’s been a great way to make friends, neat people that you get to know that add to the fun, and you can learn from them.”
Betty was a professional until about 1981 when she had her second son, Reynolds. She sat out that year in order to be able to return to amateur status. “But let me tell you it’s a tough division, whether it’s Amateur Owner’s or Adult Amateurs!” she exclaims.
Her current horse, Sidenote (Ted), “just kind of dropped out of heaven. I got him as a loan for a few months, I got him from Sally Lamb, she had all kinds of horses. I asked if she had anything for a hunt horse. She said, ‘You know, your brother Bucky called just before he died and I didn’t have anything for you then, but this is a year later and I don’t know but he’s out in the field if you can catch him, you can try him.”
Betty caught him.
After hunting him for a few months, hilltopping, she leased him. Sally told her to just bring him home after she went south to Ocala to show. Betty did that, but another year went by and she still didn’t have a horse.
She checked back in, and Sally still had Sidenote. Betty took him again and did first flight this time and “He was fine. He’s a good jumper. But then a day came when it was very muddy and we probably even shouldn’t have been hunting. But we were, and we came to a little drop jump, a stone wall, and he slipped on the other side and he went to the left, and I went to the other side, and fell off. I got banged up a bit but I was all right. And the best thing was he never moved; he just stayed there with me. So I get over that and the weather is still terrible.”
She called Maria Shannon over at The Barracks and took Ted there to ride in the dry footing. After jumping around a bit, she asked Maria, “Do you think this horse would want to do the adults? And she said let me work on him a little bit, and believe you me I still think he dropped out of heaven! And soon he was ours!”
“Sally Lamb was so beloved,” says Betty. “She gave so many people such pleasure with their horses.”
“Sidenote has given me some great times. He is never going to hunt again; he is definitely a horse show horse. I give him a lot of credit. This past fall we went to the indoor circuit and he was so good to me. I think he loved it! Then we gave him a long break before showing again. He deserved it!”
Sincerely, a mare they had showing in the pre-greens with Winn Alden, was shown this spring by Holly Shepherd in the 3’6″ and did really well. When she qualified for Devon, they got a phone call from a friend down in Florida who wanted to try her. They vetted her and bought her, “so that’s kind of the end of our group for the moment,” says Betty. “They really love her.
“Now we just have my horse that’s ready to show and a three-year-old who is a work in progress. We also have a Thoroughbred that we bought about four years ago, a horse to run over timber.
“Ernie and I do all the work together. Maria helped us last week, and rode the Thoroughbred.” Nacho ran over timber and jumped great but wasn’t fast enough. They discussed selling him but didn’t think he would cut it as a racehorse, but could possibly be a top level eventer. After they gave him time to let down, Betty hilltopped him. When they sold the mare, Ernie said “Okay, let’s try the Thoroughbred.
“Let me tell you something,” says Betty, “He has never seen a horse show. We brought him over here last week and Maria took him in the 2’6” ring and he knows nothing about horse shows but he has not stopped at a jump or spooked at a jump.
“Thoroughbreds are usually pretty brave. We have to get the lead swaps fixed up, he’s a fun project, he’s eight or nine, we’ll see what comes of it.” His registered name is a musical term, which even Betty, an accomplished singer, couldn’t pronounce. Betty rode him in the under saddle, while Katie Cooper jumped him around. “He was really good!” she says enthusiastically.
They also just acquired a new mare, Avila, that they’re excited about. “We’re always looking for the next one,” laughs Betty.
Awards and Honors
Besides her non-stop riding accolades, Betty has been recognized for her numerous other achievements. In 1999 the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation presented her with its Sportsmanship Award and in 2003 with its Old Springhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. She also won the WCHR Amateur Owner High Score Award that year. In 2005 she received the USEF Pegasus Medal of Honor. She was presented with the Owner Recognition Trophy by the National Hunter Jumper Association in January of 2009 and twice honored with the Virginia Horse Shows Association Horse Person of the Year award (1978 & 2005). Betty was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame in 2008, an event which is held during the Devon Horse Show, and in 2013 was awarded the USHJA Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a member of the VHSA Hall of Fame as well. It’s quite the resume!
Two horses, Spirit of Song, and Estrella, have been inducted into the Upperville Wall of Honor, and in 2022 Estrella will inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.
It’s been a family affair all around doing the horse business. Besides Betty and Ernie, their son Morey helps with the business and the office. Reynolds is involved with other sports, not horses.
Morey rode as a junior, and competed on a good riding team through his four years of school attending Mary Washington University. He loved it and learned a lot doing it. While he no longer rides much because of a bad back, he is a “great help to us as far as keeping up the farm. I don’t know what we’d do without him!” says Betty.
They enjoy watching Reynolds, who is a varsity soccer director, coach, and are excited about his upcoming state championship. Reynolds always checks in to see how they’re doing, and what scores they’ve gotten. As a coach, he recognizes the significance of scores! While none of their four grandchildren ride, they are all athletes.
Betty is very grateful to her mom and dad, who were so supportive. Although her mother didn’t ride, she “was an amazing lady who kept us all organized. She was almost 98 when she died. I’m so grateful for all she did. Riding is not just a one-person activity; there is always so much support involved. I couldn’t have done anything without all the people that helped me.”
` A life based around horses was exactly what Betty wanted. “It’s been a lot of fun. I would never have met all these nice people, interesting people if it weren’t for horses. I love the horses to this day. Whether you’re riding one yourself or watching someone else ride, it’s been a good life…so far.”
Betty is quick to thank all the people who’ve helped her along the way.
After eighty years, Betty “still hasn’t learned not to be horse crazy. I still love horses.”
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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