James C. Wofford, or as many of us know him, Jimmy, has represented the US at the Olympics three times, winning two team silver and one individual silver medal. He is a member of the Hall-of-Fame for both the USEA and the Culver Military Academy. Jimmy is widely sought after as a clinician, and his skills as an instructor are well known. According to his bio at the USEA Hall-of-Fame, “at least one rider on every US Olympic, World Championship, and Pan American team since 1978 has been a graduate of Jim’s program.” Jim not only is an accomplished Eventer, but he was also an active Foxhunter, Steeplechaser, and Hunter. Don’t forget he has also written numerous books, including the hard-to-find “Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider.”
When I first approached Jimmy about an interview, he told me “It’s Jim, not Mr. Wofford.” Jim is full of insight and experience, and I was completely tickled to talk to one of my personal idols and bring you the wise words of one of the biggest heros in our sport. Thanks Mr. Wofford, l mean Jim, for being a part of Eventing Nation.
1. What is your preferred breed of horse and why?
The Thoroughbred for several reasons: they have been bred for athleticism, heart, and speed. In the short format, there are moments when riders jump much faster than they ever did in the Classic format. Horses with partial TB breeding can find themselves at the end of their capabilities close to the end of a course, while the TB is still galloping within himself. However, there are downsides to the Thoroughbred, such as temperament and finding a good mover.
2. What are the three most important qualities in Event horses today?
Intelligence, athleticism, durability
3. What is missing from modern Event rider’s training programs?
Broad exposure to activities that rider and horse can engage in. Riders today do not Foxhunt, go to horse shows and show Green Hunters, or exercise racehorses. They have a program and stick to it, and that’s all they do all the time.
4. What is one thing you find yourself always saying to people at clinics?
Keep the rhythm. Dressage, showjumping, cross-country: keep the rhythm.
5. What is your vision for the future of Eventing?
This should be a two-part question. For the upper levels, more of the same without rotational falls. At the lower levels, there is a growing interest in the Classic format. Upper-level competition has been so professionalized, amateurs know it is beyond their wildest dreams to ride at Rolex. There will not be many amateurs with one great horse getting to Rolex. There will be some, but fewer as the sport is professionalized. The preparation necessary for a three-day makes the Classic format desirable for amateurs. Two separate career paths are emerging in the sport.
6. What made your bond with Carawich so successful?
We suited each other. I purchased him untried. He arrived late December 1977. I gave him a couple days off and when I got on it was like putting on a glove. Throughout his career I never did not understand why he did something. He was a delight and a pleasure to ride all the time. He would not be successful these days though, because his dressage was good, but not great, and his showjumping was good, but he would not be as successful at the showjumping heights today. He would have laughed at our cross-country courses these days, because he was so intelligent.
7. How would you sum up your life with horses in just a few words?
Living a charmed life
8. What is your pick for the U.S. WEG Event team?
I haven’t seen the long list yet. Like that line from Casablanca, the USET selectors are going to go out and “round up the usual suspects.” In addition, I hope they will consider some new names for the team…Buck has Pan-Am experience; this is his time, so I hope his horses stay sound. Every time Boyd Martin comes out, his riding is a little less crude. He has a very modern attitude towards his lessons and training, meaning that he understands the interrelationship between technique and performance. He is one I’ve got my eye on. I am crazy about his riding, but Will Coleman definitely set his chances back with his unfortunate fall at the Fork. Now he will have to try again at Luhmuhlen. Jan may not recover from her fall earlier this spring; that is unfortunate, as I thought this was her year. Will Faudree did himself a world of good with his weekend at Rolex, and the selectors will probably give him a serious look. Kim is our best rider, but Paddy could let us down badly on Sunday. Mara Dean and Alison Springer didn’t get it done at Rolex, and I don’t know what their plans are next. Then of course you have the usual suspects- Phillip, Karen, Becky and Amy- to contend with.
9. Any countries that stand out as serious competition?
Oh, you can believe the Germans and British will wind up at the end, beating each other’s brains out. The French are not good at producing consistent results. Occasionally they put the right four riders together at the right time; you won’t feel them coming, and then they beat you like a baby seal. I’m not as familiar with the newer prospects for Australia and New Zealand, but any team with Andrew Nicholson or Mark Todd as team captain is dangerous.
10. Who was your equestrian idol growing up?
Bill Steinkraus. Individual gold medal in Showjumping at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. He was a rider who combined classical training and riding techniques with competitive drive and desire. No one wanted to win as much as Bill, but he did it with good training and good riding.