Jim Wofford: The Cat’s Away

With his watchful editors absent, Jim Wofford shares some observations he's been stifling for months.

When my editors left for vacation this holiday season, they turned my column over to me. “Jim,” they said, “you’ve been great lately. Your hate mail is down 27 percent over last quarter, and your kudos are up 3 percent. Of course, the hate mail figure might be skewed ?because you haven’t said anything about fat riders since last year’s column that slipped past us ? we are so glad those death threats turned out to be unfounded, and those scars really are healing nicely, aren’t they? Still, we are just so happy with the way things are going. While we are away on vacation this month, we are going to let you write your own column instead of outsourcing it to ?Singapore the way we usually do. Now, be a good boy and write something sweet about horses, OK? We’ll be back next month.”


Can you hear me laughing? Giving me control of this column is like giving a teenager booze and the car keys. Of course, editors do serve a certain function ? I guess. I mean, how many normal people do you know who can tell the difference ?between a dangling participle and a hanging chad?

Politics in Horse Sports? Surely Not
I started watching politics when all that “hanging chad” business was going on down in Florida in 2000, and I have been watching these boobs in Congress ever since. It is only getting better, or worse, depending on your point of view. I was going to say this is the political silly season, but that is a redundancy (remember, I am editing my own column this month). Will Rogers, the famous cowboy humorist, said he did not write jokes; he just watched Congress and reported the news. If he were still around these days, he’d have his audiences rolling in the aisles. What a confederacy of dunces. I don’t know which bothers me more?the fact that they are stupid or that they think I am stupid. And the faces on them ? have you looked at them on TV lately? Their hair is carefully styled, sprayed and blow-dried, their makeup is perfect and they have obviously had a little skillful work done on those nasty crow’s-feet and that horrible turkey-neck ? and that’s just the guys! The rock singer Sting has a lovely line about politicians ? “they all seemed like game show hosts to me.” Huh.

Of course, we’d better reelect them. They couldn’t get a real job otherwise, and they would just end up on welfare. Either way, we wind up paying for them. It might be worse?they could be involved in horses.

Can you imagine how the horse world would look if politicians ran our sport? Oh. They do? You mean we have politics in the horse world? Explains a lot. For example, horsepeople are always yakking about how they want a bigger TV audience, more people, more prize money, blah, blah, blah. But then when the TV suits?who do not know anything about horse sports but really know how to increase TV audiences?tell us to change our antiquated “competitive attire,” all I hear from the horse pols is a lot of bovine excrement about the “sacred traditions of the sport.”

Which sacred traditions are we ?talking about, darling? The ones where the 16th century riding master Federico Grisone was prancing around Italy ?practicing his rollkur, wearing a great ostrich feather in his fedora, lace cuffs on his shirts and pointy-toed booties? (Those would be really handy if you needed to climb a chain-link fence in a hurry.) What, no air bag? Tsk-tsk. The horror.

Jim Revisits Unitards
Look, as long as you insist on careening around the arena dressed like the Phantom of the Opera, you are kidding yourself about “reaching out to the general public and increasing our audience.” Joe Sixpack takes one look at you and hits the remote ? he has NASCAR in his favorites, and you don’t look like an athlete to him?you look like a dork.

And NASCAR? Now, there’s a phenomenon for you. Have you looked at their audience figures? Incredible. If you guys are serious about increasing TV audiences, let me tell you how. We already have air bags for riders, so it would just be a natural evolution for our sport. Here it is: We figure out how to put air bags on the horses, fit out the horses and riders with Nomex flame-retardant suits and then when they have a fall, they burst into flames! I guarantee you the TV numbers will go through the roof. And if the guys’ and girls’ flame suits are skintight unitards? Bigger than American Idol. I’m just saying.

But horse politicians would never go for it. Can you hear the press release from the FEI? (That stands for F?d?ration Equestre Internationale. With this bunch you can’t even get past their title before you are snarled in a translation. I thought only grapes come in bunches, not nuts. Guess I was wrong about that, too.)

Anyway, is it just me, or does it sound like Deepak Chopra writes their stuff? They think in Swiss-Deutsche, write in French and then put the pressers out in some semblance of English. I ran the last one through one of those computer translation programs, and it came back in Swahili ? with footnotes. Basically, it said the FEI planned to hold open, transparent judicial hearings about a recent inquiry into a rider riding too fast cross-country. (I thought the point of going cross-country was to ride too fast. Too fast cross-country is like ?political ethics ? an oxymoron.) Anyway, the press release went on to say that the rights and privileges of the guilty hussy would be fully protected, after which she would be taken out and stoned to death in the Lausanne public square. Sharia law is tough on fast women.

The Other Wofford Brother
And speaking of death and stuff, I guess this is as good a place as any to talk about it. Last fall, a rumor went around the Internet saying I had died. Well, the truth of the matter is that I did! Die, I mean. And you’ll never guess what happened next. See, I have never told anyone before, but I was an identical twin, and it was ?really the other brother who died.

Boy, you sure find out in a hurry who your friends are when you die. I saw a couple of emails?they basically said while the writers had not wished for my demise, they approved of it. That’s OK, they know who they are, and they are on my list.

The other brother? I never really knew him. I think it made both of us feel weird, looking at our identical twin and thinking, “Whoa, that dude is really ugly.” I don’t think we could stand the stress. I never knew much about him; he was in the gas and oil business down in Texas, but I think that was a cover for some small-scale illegal herb smuggling. Then he was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Enron thing, and the last time I saw him, he was wearing a parole bracelet. That boy broke a lot of branches when he fell out of our family tree.

Always There: The ?F’ Word
People got their online knickers in a twist over that little kerfuffle, but if you really want to see people get stirred up, it takes only one little word. No, it’s not “Republican” or “Democrat,” although those work pretty well if your dinner party is dull. No, it only takes one word ? are you ready? ?Really ready? OK, here it is: FAT.

Whoops, I just typed the word “fat” and look: I already have five hate emails in my inbox, two death threats and an envelope full of talcum powder on my door step (at least I think it is talcum powder). Wonder what that’s about?

Anyway, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan from New York had a lovely phrase. He remarked that society was “defining deviancy down.” (He must have been at a couple of the competitors’ parties at Radnor during the 1970s to come up with that observation.) So, it seems to me that these days society is “defining obesity up.” And I’m telling you, saying “fat” in one of my columns is the third rail. Last time I slipped that word under the radar, I answered hate mail until after next Christmas.

But here’s the deal. Not only did the editors leave me in editorial ?control of my column this month, but I just slipped the intern in the IT department some green. She did a little hocus-pocus with the software and next thing you know, every hate mail I get counts toward one of the performance targets in my contract, and the computer ?automatically sends me a $50 bonus. All I have to do is click on each hate mail, hit control-alt-delete and $50 cash is credited to my account.

So now when it comes to hate mail, bring it on. No, really. Would I lie to you, especially over the holiday season? Of course not. Happy New Year.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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