Feb 24, 2023

Remembering James C. Wofford

USEA archive photo

The sport of eventing and all of its supporters will take a moment today to honor the life of James C. Wofford during his memorial services. As we reflect on the great man that "Jimmy" was, several top riders, officials, and current and former USEA Presidents shared their thoughts on the impact that he had on the sport and their own careers.

Colleen Rutledge: "What an amazing blessing to have had Jimmy be a part of my life both professionally and personally. I would have never believed in myself or Luke [Shiraz] to go across the pond even once. Woff’s absolute confidence in a fiery little chestnut Thoroughbred at a time when I had no idea what caliber of horse I was sitting on was the only reason we could do what we did. He was always the voice of reason and clarity when I was frustrated with any aspect of life. He’d never tell me the path I should be on, just how to maneuver on the one I chose.

"His brilliance with seeing what the horse sees and feels and insistence that we be students not only of sport but of our horses as well are what helped hone my skills and desire. His generosity with knowledge for the sake of the horse and rider is something we all strive for as instructors and teachers. There will never be a day that I don’t miss him."

Louise "Lou" Leslie: "Jimmy's 'going west' marks a profound passage. Wofford was our ultimate sportsman—all the virtues of courage, patience, good temper, and unselfishness, served up with a sense of humor, and a wry wicked pen. Finding condolence and comfort in the knowledge, Jimmy will always be the pillar from which the intrinsic foundation of U.S. eventing stands firmly on for eternity."

Kevin Baumgardner: "The true Renaissance Man of USCTA/USEA and the sport of the eventing, Jim Wofford was the best of the best. He had it all—supreme talent, love and respect for our horses, the courage to say what had to be said and damn the consequences, a wry sense of humor, and a marvelous ‘the -joke’s-on-me’ dash of self-irony that resonated with every stratum and constituency within our sport. Plus, he was our poet laureate. Thank you, Woff. You were and are irreplaceable."

Ruthie Meyer: "I could have never predicted that one lesson with Jimmy would turn into 30 years of mentorship and friendship. Jimmy had an uncanny way of knowing when to push you, when to encourage you, and when to challenge you, not just with horses but in life outside of horses as well. He gave me the confidence to believe I could be successful in the equine industry, even during times when things were tough and through some life changes. Though Jimmy coached plenty of champions in the arena. He had such a wealth of knowledge so far beyond horses that he was always willing to share. He was truly one of a kind. A real enthusiast of life and adventure that was contagious to everyone around him."

Susan Wainwright: "When I would see [Jimmy] the first thing he would say to me was, 'Suzy, once is an accident but twice is a habit, you could have been second at Rolex, never give anybody the chance to catch you!'

"His 100% belief in me and my horse Winston Himself taught me to dream, and those dreams took me places I never thought possible. I am the perfect example of big things can happen to people that live on extremely small budgets with extremely limited resources. He taught me to listen to my horse, trust my gut, and how to teach others. He was my coach, my mentor, and best of all my very loyal, wonderful friend."

Tim Bourke: "One of my fondest memories of Jimmy was sitting in the riders’ tent at Kentucky before I went cross-country. We were going through the course map together, and he had the uncanny ability of making difficult questions seem easy. He had an amazing way with words and always instilled confidence in me. It came natural to him to have the right words at the right time. I can’t thank him enough for the influence he has had not only on me but also on our sport."

Carol Kozlowski: "Jim Wofford was undeniably the most respected and influential figure in modern-day eventing. His keen observations and clarity of spoken and written word were a gift. He invited us to be better partners for our horses, always appreciative of their generosity. He inspired us, nurtured our desire to improve, and showed that our journey of educating ourselves in horsemanship is never-ending. Deepest thanks to this amazing man."

Sharon White: "At my farm, the sun rose and set with the comings and goings of Jimmy. All the horses, people, and dogs stood to attention whenever he was around. A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you. Jimmy was and is my mentor, and I am so grateful to have had him in my life, and his principles will continue to guide me."

Diane Pitts: "I first got to know Jimmy when my son was a working student for him. I used to film the lessons, but it always ended up as videos of Jimmy and his physical gyrations explaining a concept (your derriere as a plunger was always one of my favorites!). Jimmy became a friend and a mentor. Among other things, we shared a history as Army brats and a love of black labs.

"What he has meant to the sport and the USEA is beyond measure. I don’t think we will ever have another with Jimmy’s keen eye, unparalleled knowledge, and wicked sense of humor. He could teach without belittling and could tweak the smallest things that made the biggest difference. It might be a cliche to say that he had forgotten more than the rest of us will ever know, but with Jimmy, it was the absolute truth. Working with him on USEA matters like the Hall of Fame was like the encyclopedia had come to life. We used to plan presentations in 'Jimmy time' which meant 'keep it moving' and 'keep it lively.' Jimmy never 'lost' his audience. Always a showman, always a teacher, always a mentor, and a treasured friend, you are missed, Mr. Wofford. Thank you from a grateful sport."

Jim Wolf: "It is difficult to put into words the profound impact that Jimmy Wofford has had on my life and career. I was fortunate to have Jimmy as my advisor, role model, hunting and fishing companion, and confidant for the better part of 40 years. He inspired me to be better at just about everything that is important to me. My work, relationships, and fly casting all benefitted greatly from his example and direction. The world lost a great horseman, scholar, and historian on February 2, 2023. I lost one of the most important friends I will ever have."

Max Corcoran: "Jimmy’s contribution to the USEA was extraordinary. Besides being part of the governance decades ago, he has continued to be part of the growth and change of the USEA. Our sport had changed throughout the decades, and Jimmy continued to stay current in his thinking with keeping tradition as most important. And always the horse came first. From the elementary level to high performance, he shared wisdom and knowledge selflessly.

"For me personally, as USEA President, Jimmy was a sounding board, a mentor, a cheerleader, and a friend. He was my early December call to help me write my yearly State of the Union. I am so lucky I got to spend the littlest bit of time with him. My life is richer for knowing him."

Sara Kozumplik: "I know I’m simply one piece of the giant mosaic of people whose lives were shaped by Jimmy. So in that spirit, I’m aware that much of what I say will be an echo of them, but how cool is that? Imagine living a life that impacted generations of riders for the better. Never mind an entire sport? However, I’ll say that to me personally Jimmy was always exactly what I needed him to be every time I needed it. He was a father, mentor, and friend that I often took for granted in the way you only can with those you love and trust implicitly.

"He never let me down. Not once. Ever. From when I was 16 years old until February 2, 2023. I think there is a lot to be said about the fact that when people believe great things about you, you raise your own expectations of yourself. That’s what he was to me.

"Also I can hear Jimmy insisting that I mention that he never missed a Kentucky since 1978."

Woods Baughman: "I was lucky enough to have known Jimmy through my time at Sharon [White's]. He was always positive and encouraging in his way of educating. First explaining the exercise and its purpose, next how he’d like to see it done, and then discuss what was good what needed to be better before the never worn out line, 'Come again.' It never mattered how many mistakes or repetitions needed to be made, he was a man of patience, giving nothing but positive guidance as he once more said 'just come again.'

"The years of this approach really taught me to think and listen to what is happening at all times, take a moment and think through the whole process, what is working, what isn’t, and then of course, repeating one more time. His way of thinking has lead me to fantastic highs in my career so far, as well as a positive outlook through the hard times for a way forward. He was a true legend of the sport and an incredible horseman whose knowledge and endless sense of humor will be heavily missed in our sport."

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