Remembering Jim Wofford

A tribute to a world-class equestrian, legendary coach and accomplished writer.
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Practical Horseman File

“By horse crazy, I mean I am obsessed with horses, and always have been—obsessed with how to ride them, how to train them, how to care for them, how they think, and how we should think about them.”—Jim Wofford, in the introduction to his memoir, Still Horse Crazy After All These Years.

James C. Wofford, known to many as “Jimmy,” “Jim” and “Woff,” spent his life with horses and was one of the best-known eventing trainers in the world. After Wofford died at age 78 on February 2, 2023, at his Fox Covert Farm in Upperville, Virginia, the accolades of his many students over the years, swept through the horse community.

A Coach

“I know we have lost the physical form of Jimmy, but we have not lost the things that matter—his unbelievable love of the horse and respect of the horse, his desire to educate good horsemen and horses, his ability to express that, his willingness to share and give his time and energy to the pursuit of horses and horsemanship,” international eventer Sharon White said.

“He will always live on and be with us with what he has left behind for us,” White continued. “And I look forward to the day when I get to see him again. He promised me the first thing he would do would be to let me have a go on Carawich, and I very much look forward to that.”

Carawich, whom Wofford called “the best horse I would ever ride,” gave Wofford his “greatest thrill on horseback at the Alternate Olympics in 1980,” according to Wofford’s Practical Horseman February 2017 column.

Another longtime colleague and friend, Colleen Rutledge, posted on social media: “Personally, for me, he is and will always remain my compass—unwavering in his direction but always allowing for personal influence and instinct.”

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Wofford and his faithful sidekick at the 2019 Fair Hill International
© Sandra Oliynyk

Rutledge recalled Wofford’s influence with her off-the-track Thoroughbred Shiraz. She and Shiraz were the first pair to complete five of the CCI5* events in the world. “Our relationship truly started with [Jimmy’s] love and insight into a completely egotistical, feral [Thoroughbred] freak of nature who was a cross-country machine that shaped who I wished I could be. Jimmy’s belief in this horse took me around the world and into places I never believed I would belong. His innate intelligence with both horses and humans shaped how I listen to my horses’ voices as well as how I teach my students.”

And from Olympic eventer Doug Payne on his Facebook page: “Tough to put into words. Jimmy was a massive figure in my life, and I wouldn’t be here without his friendship over the years. … A void too large to fill will remain.”

For decades beginning in 1978, Wofford had at least one student on every U.S. Olympic, World Championship and Pan American team. All four members of the U.S. bronze-medal team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as well as individual gold medalist David O’Connor were graduates of the Wofford program. Additionally, three of the four members of the 2002 World Equestrian Games gold-medal team were his former students. Kim Severson, the individual silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and Gina Miles, the individual silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics were also both graduates of the Wofford program.

Wofford was named U.S. Olympic Committee Development Coach of the Year in both 1998 and 1999. He coached the Canadian Team for the 2002 World Championships, the 2003 Pan American Championships where they won a team silver medal and the 2004 Athens Olympics. 

“Jimmy is a legend among legends. His competitive career is only surpassed by his involvement in the sport,” said O’Connor, USEF Chief of Sport and former USEF President, in a U.S. Equestrian tribute to Wofford. “He shaped many of our lives, both in the competition ring and in our personal lives, that will guarantee that his legacy will go on forever as we all try and pass on what he showed us to be a good competitor and a good citizen.” 

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Taken in the spring of 1984, this is the last competition photo Wofford had of Carawich (Pop). In Wofford’s Practical Horseman February 2017 column, he said he could feel Pop’s characteristic enthusiasm subsiding so he retired him later that spring. “I have always been willing to retire a horse a year too soon rather than a second too late,” he wrote.
© Karl Leck/USESA

A Leader in Governance

Wofford had a lifelong involvement in the sport’s administration, according to his obituary. He served as president of the American Horse Show Association (now U.S. Equestrian), was the first vice president of the U.S. Equestrian Team and served as secretary of the USCTA (now U.S. Eventing Association). He served two terms as a member of the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) Eventing Committee, including two years as vice chairman. He also served on numerous committees throughout his life. 

“If the measure of a man is not in how high he climbs but in how many people he brings along with him, then Jim was like Atlas,” said USEA CEO Rob Burk. “He carried the world of eventing on his back to the very top. His passion and knowledge of the horse, the natural environment, and how we could be better partners with them both were immeasurable.”

A Columnist

Wofford debuted his monthly “Cross-Country with Jim Wofford” in Practical Horseman in May 2006. Over the 16 years of writing it, with the support of longtime editor Sandra Cooke, Wofford shared his immense knowledge of riding theory and training exercises and his insights about the state of eventing and the industry, along with his sense of humor.

His last column for the magazine, titled, “Finally, the Hands,” was the second of two parts on rider aids. The final paragraph is an example of the horseperson, thinker and writer that Wofford was—and will continue to be through his words: “This has been a brief overview of a subtle aspect of horsemanship. Once you understand the array of hand aids, you will be in the position of a piano player who understands the interplay of the black and white keys in coordination with the pedals. Given the correct use of the aids at your disposal, you can produce beautiful music with your horse.”  

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1978 World 3-Day Championship in Lexington, KY; W-A26-11

A Competitor

Jim Wofford was a key member of the USET’s three-day event squad for two decades. Here are a few of his accomplishments:

  • Rode on the 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympic eventing teams, winning team silver medals in each, and the 1980 Alternative Olympic team, winning individual silver
  • Competed in the 1970 World Championships, winning the individual bronze medal, and the 1978 World Championships, winning the team bronze
  • Earned team gold at the 1967 Pan American Games 
  • Won the U.S. National Championship five times on five different horses 
Following competition in the 1981 Rolex International Kentucky Horse Trials, the eventers who were set to make up the USET squad at the Luhmühlen three-day event in Germany (from left): Grant Schneidman, Kim Walnes, J. Michael Plumb, Karen Stives, Jim Wofford, Karen (Lende) O’Connor with USET Coach Jack Le Goff.
© USET

An Author

Widely sought after as a clinician and coach, Jim Wofford was equally well-known as an author. 

His books include:

  • Training the 3-Day Event Horse and Rider
  • Gymnastics: Systematic Training of the Jumping Horse
  • Take a Good Look Around
  • 101 Eventing Tips
  • Cross-Country with Jim Wofford
  • Modern Gymnastics
  • Still Horse Crazy After All These Years

A Family of Equestrians

Jim Wofford was born November 3, 1944, and raised on Rimrock Farm in Milford, Kansas, adjacent to Fort Riley. The son of U.S. Army Col. John W. Wofford and Dorothea (Brown) Wofford, he graduated from Culver Military Academy and the University of Colorado School of Business.

The Woffords were (and are) a family of equestrians, according to his obituary. Col. Wofford represented the U.S. as a member of the 1932 Olympic show-jumping team, went on to coach eventers and show jumpers at the 1952 Olympic Games and was founder and first president of the U.S. Equestrian Team. Wofford’s oldest brother, Jeb, won a team bronze as part of the 1952 Olympic three-day team. His middle brother, Warren, was first reserve to the U.S. show-jumping team at the 1956 Olympics.

Wofford is survived by his wife of 56 years, Gail W. Wofford; his two daughters, Hillary Jones (Tim) and Jennifer Ince (Charles); and his four grandsons, James Walker Jones, Hudson Wofford Jones, Lewis Kitchell Ince and Theodore Brown Ince. 

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Practical Horseman.

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