Marnye Langer: A Lifelong Obsession Part 1

LEGIS Air. Photo © Captured Moments Photography

BY ANN JAMIESON

Baby Steps

As a new baby, Marnye Langer, like most kids, slept in a crib. But unlike most kids, that crib was located in a tack room. 

Her mom, an assistant to Barbara Worth and Bill Oakford, brought her baby with her to work. Marnye’s whole life, from that crib in the very beginning, has been centered around horses. 

She wasted no time letting her feelings about horses be known. “One of my aunts on my birthday made the terrible mistake of giving me a doll instead of a model horse,” Marnye recalls. “I decapitated the doll in front of her, and that was the last doll I was ever given.”

Photo courtesy of Marnye Langer

An early reader, Marnye would dig into every horse book she could get her hands on. “The Black Stallion series…Wizard of Oz books, the third one had a sawhorse and he could talk and I really liked it!” As a very young child, Marnye’s mother placed her up in front of her saddle as she rode. At three, Marnye competed in a leadline class. It was held on the racetrack right before the meet at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton. “I had this little velvet cap and a little red jacket with poofy jodphurs and I didn’t get first place and I was really upset about that! So it’s been a lifelong obsession.”

Early Horse Shows

Occasionally Marnye would have the opportunity to ride with Barbara Worth. “She was super scary so I took a lesson when I was around nine, but generally I rode with one of Barbara’s staff. I was that organic kid who got some help from my mom and rode a bunch of funky horses. I fell off a lot and learned to get back on; my formal education really didn’t begin until my adulthood, when I rode with a whole lot of people.”

She and her mom would attend tiny local shows where the English classes were held in the morning, Western in the afternoon, and bareback classes took place in the middle of the day. There were a handful of times when the two would attend a big show. Marnye’s mom would compete at San Francisco’s famed Cow Palace. “That was a big deal, society people would come at night and dress up. I went with her when I was eight, I just put myself in a corner and watched people ride in the warm-up ring and I was just taken. They were using words I didn’t even know what they meant.”

When Marnye was a teenager, her stepmother was showing hunters “much to my Dad’s chagrin,” at Pacific Horse Center. Larry and Twiggy Langer were the trainers there and once in a while when Marnye visited, she “would get to tag along and take a lesson. That was my first taste of formal instruction. I’ve been really lucky. Ashlee Bond and DiAnn Langer have coached me, people would ask me who coached me and I would say whoever I want! I gained enough skills but I had to develop my own horses and myself so I read books by Steinkraus and Chamberlin and Bert de Nemethy. I didn’t understand a lot of it but they had pictures! I kept reading things and then when I saw things going on at the shows I would try to match things up. I had no clue but I kept trying.” 

Growing up near the California-Nevada border in the Lake Tahoe region, Marnye spent time riding in the backcountry in the Sierra Nevada mountains, gaining endless cross-country miles as well.

Marnye’s Show Horses

While Marnye has shown jumpers up to 1.40 or 1.45m, “I settled very happily as a meter .20 or .30 rider in the amateur classes. I choose to have a career so I can’t ride five horses a day.”

She has two horses, LEGIS Let’s Do Lunch (Edna), and LEGIS Air (Chacco), a son of Chacco Blue. “I want to keep Edna and Chacco happy and sound for a very long time, and if I keep them and me a little bit below our maximum we all last longer. I don’t have anything to prove so I just want to go out and have fun and ride the best that I can. I want to give my horses the best chance that I can to be confident and happy, and that’s a win.” Marnye won the 2014 USEF Horse of the Year Medium A/O Jumper Reserve Champion title on LEGIS Rockstar, and the same title in 2020 with LEGIS Air.

Photo © Kristin Lee Photography

In addition to jumpers, she also enjoys reining. “I got a cute little Quarter Horse, PabstBlueRibbon, who needed a home. He’s a little green and quirky so couldn’t be a good amateur horse but isn’t talented enough to be a super pro horse. We call him Blue; he’s every ten year old’s dream horse. He nickers to you and it’s so cute! I have so much fun with him and a wonderful woman, Stacie Wight of SS Performance Horses, coaches me. She helps me with Reining and Ranch Riding. I wear my helmet and everybody laughs at me. Troxel makes a really cool helmet with a leather cover on it with a little bit of tooling so it kind of looks western and I’m looking for someone to put a brim on it.” 

Events

When asked how she got involved with putting horse shows and events on, Marnye replied, “I grew up around events and they spoke to me. I like getting an idea, and then you come up with a plan and then you implement it, and then it’s over. I actually started my adult career by putting on little horse shows as a kid in the Lake Tahoe area. I only got to show about once a year, so I would corral all my friends to ride in a horse show because I wanted to horse show, and I wanted them to horse show.” 

Her mother was very supportive of her. “It taught us a lot; I learned you had to charge enough to pay all the bills and you order ribbons and figure out what all the jobs were and made sure someone was doing them all. You had to hire someone to judge and figure out what classes you were going to have, and have an announcer and a sound system. We ended up with a horn that was attached to a car battery and a microphone. I was 13 and we had two or three little horse shows each summer in Squaw Valley. People were smiling and laughing and I was 13 and making stuff happen. I think as a kid there’s something exciting about being a kid and doing something adults do. You can create an idea and people buy into your idea.” 

Originally Marnye considered a career as a veterinarian, but she soon realized that that wasn’t what she wanted to be. Her first job out of college was in the fair industry. California boasts a robust fair circuit, including county fairs, and a big state fair. The first in her family to graduate college, Marnye reluctantly came to the decision that she didn’t want to be an equine professional. Watching how hard her mom worked, doing a very solid job running a local barn, Marnye saw the realities of what could happen. If you had a customer with two or three horses it was a really big deal. But if the customer got upset and went somewhere else it was pretty devastating to suddenly lose three horses. 

“It was just hard. I knew if I wanted to be a professional I only wanted to be a really, really good professional. It needs to become your life. It needs to be 24/7. For whatever reason, I had some weird wisdom for myself at the ripe old age of 16 and I said to myself what if I wake up when I’m 40 and say I have to go to the barn? It’s your bread and butter, what are you going to do? 

“I did a bunch of internships and came to the conclusion I didn’t want to become a vet or a professional horseman and I was like oh now what? I was super lucky, I got the opportunity to work in the fair industry and it was a great experience.”

Marnye lucked out when a woman named Sandra McKeon helped her get started in show management. Needing to make a little bit of extra money to afford a horse, she signed on with Sandra at Carousel Show Management to learn how to put on rated shows. 

“We did about a dozen shows in Northern California each year. I was the Show Secretary and made so many mistakes I don’t know why she didn’t kill me. In fact, I look at it now and I think ‘Oh I would have killed me!’ This entity eventually became our Langer Equestrian Group Woodside series of shows and we ran those for 20 years through 2019.

“I learned a lot. I had my OTTB Charlie Brown. He was on his way to the dog food factory because he was so uncoordinated. I named him that because when I first saw him, he was about as homely and pathetic as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. He became a very solid show horse and I won the NorCal Senior Medal Finals on him in 1992. It was one of my first big wins.” 

Charlie Brown wasn’t fancy enough to do the hunters, but the area had a very strong equitation division, so Marnye got him going well enough to be competitive in that discipline. “I was pretty lucky, I had a good equitation career as an amateur and that really helped me have something to draw from when I moved into the jumpers. Today it’s so funny because people come up to me and say ‘Oh you should try the equitation you’d be really good at it.’ I’m like ‘I already did that.'” 

Marnye had always wanted to be a very correct, accurate, effective rider, and “do the best by my horse.” Those comments from other riders made her feel good. When she began competing in the jumper division, people said “Oh you’re just going to be wild and crazy.” Marnye disagreed. She said, “Look at the very top jumper riders, they’re amazing, these are my idols, that’s what I’m shooting for.”

Larry

Marnye met Larry when she was 12 and her stepmother was riding at his stable. Later, when Sandy McKeon started her show management company, she asked Larry to help her, as he operated the northern California shows. Marnye knew Larry, and had always admired him.

A true visionary for the west coast, Larry brought top-notch competition to an area that had generally languished compared to east coast equestrian sport. He started new shows, new circuits, and developed the multi-ring concept now common to all large, and many smaller shows. In addition, Larry assumed leadership roles in both the USEF and USHJA. The guiding force behind Langer Equestrian Group, he brought the LA National to prominence as one of the top end-of-year shows. 

When Sandy and Marnye had a falling out in their business relationship, and needed to go their separate ways, Marnye started her own little horse show company called Event Masters in Sacramento. Doing quite a few one and two-day non-USEF shows, she found it a great learning experience. Both Larry and Marnye, as competitors themselves, brought this perspective of horse showing to the management side of it. “I had to do every job required, but that was great training. It was 1997-1998, my marriage was falling apart and Larry’s relationship was ending. We kind of just ran into each other and learned we were both single and looked at each other and went, ‘Hey,’ and then the rest was kind of history.

“It was when the internet and email were becoming accessible and I don’t know if without that we would have gotten together. I was living in Northern California and he was living in Southern California and I wasn’t going to just up and move so we spent a solid year dating and a lot of the dating was email conversations back and forth. We knew each other, and we built a foundation and we just kept finding that we had similar views and similar interests, and attraction, that weird beast. Without that, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”


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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