He’s officiated at every major horse show in the United States. He’s won championship honors at the National Horse Show and the Grand Prix of New York, but for James Arthur “Bucky” Reynolds II, horses haven’t been about accolades, so much as they’ve been a way of life.
“We had a house on the stable property, and we spent a lot of time there—helping take care of the horses and doing whatever needed to be done,” said Reynolds about his childhood farm in Tryon, N.C. “I loved it. I couldn’t wait to get home from school in the afternoons to go and ride. That was my whole lifestyle.”
Reynolds’s father, J. Arthur Reynolds Sr., was a professional horseman who ran his own boarding and training facility and taught his son and daughter, Betty (now Betty Oare), how to ride. It was under his father’s tutelage that Bucky first got his feet wet in the horse business.
“My sister and I grew up foxhunting and showing. It wasn’t to the extent that a lot of children do today because most of the horses that were suitable for my sister and I to ride had to be sold to make the whole business go,” recalled Bucky. “I rode anything that I could throw my leg over, but our father was very protective of us. If the horse wasn’t suitable for us, we didn’t get to ride it. I appreciate that now because luckily I came out pretty unscathed.”
After graduating from high school, Bucky attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he majored in English and taught a few lessons on the side.
“Teaching those lessons helped me earn enough money to buy a car,” said Bucky, who used the automobile to make the 25-mile trip home to Tryon on the weekends to help his father run the farm.
“I always knew what I wanted to do, and that was be in the horse business. There was no question about that,” he continued. “I went into business with my father, and although it went well, after two years I decided I’d like to try it on my own.”
But before he left North Carolina, Bucky showed his father’s horse, Steve’s Poppet, in the Cartier Grand Prix of New York, which was then held at Madison Square Garden.
“It was a great thing to ride my father’s horse,” said Bucky, who took home the blue ribbon. “It was something I will never forget.”
Reynolds Sr. isn’t the only one Bucky credits with his success over the years. Lessons with the legendary Gordon Wright as an adolescent helped teach him the importance of style, while A.E. “Gene” Cunningham taught Reynolds about breaking and training young horses.
“[Gene] was one of the best horsemen I ever knew. He was a wonderful person and a tip-top horseman,” Bucky said. “When I moved to Warrenton in 1960, he was living there and actively involved in the horse world. I spent three or four days a week just watching him work with the horses. He was amazing because he didn’t seem as if he did much with the young horses.“
As Bucky recalled, Cunningham’s barn manager would bring him a new horse every 20 minutes because at the end of that time he would stop unless there was something going very wrong.
“I learned a lot of patience from that. You know young horses have a certain attention span, and once you go beyond that you’re not doing any good anyway,” said Bucky, who’s trained great champions such as Henry The Hawk, Flashlight, Mr. It and Stocking Stuffer at his Merryweather Farm in Warrenton, Va., using Cunningham’s techniques.
Perhaps one of the most memorable show hunters of all time was a horse named Gozzi that Bucky bought out of a group of Thoroughbred yearlings he’d been assigned to break for the racetrack.
As a 3-year-old, Gozzi competed with Bucky at 3’6″, which is practically unheard of now. Then, as a 4-year-old, Gozzi contested the 3’9″ and then 4′ divisions.
“Gozzi was champion four times at the Garden,” recalled Bucky with a hint of nostalgia. “Bernie Traurig said he was the best hunter he ever rode.”
And while Bucky has trained many great champions over the years, his proudest moment came at the 2003 Devon Horse Show and Country Fair (Pa.) when he trained Oare and her mare Estrella to the grand championship tricolor in the amateur-owner, 36 and over, division, winning three out of the four jumping classes and taking second in the fourth.
“I think she would certainly have to be a first ballot hall-of-famer when her time comes,” said Bucky of the flashy bay mare. “She was almost unstoppable when she was on her game.”
Training Oare on Estrella as well as many of her other renowned mounts created an opportunity for the brother-sister duo to take center stage together as a family again.
“Bucky and I are very close, and from almost Day 1 I can remember that we both wanted to do the horses,” said Oare, who is the youngest of three children. Her oldest brother, Bobby Reynolds, wasn’t interested in pursuing an equestrian career.
Bucky was the one who got to do everything first. He was the first to ride new horses, the first to foxhunt, the first to show, but he always made room for his younger sister.
“It was really sort of a natural thing,” said Oare about going into business with her brother in 2000. “Bucky had run his own stable and done a lot of things, and we came to that part of our lives where our kids were going to college and doing their own thing. Ernie [Betty’s husband] and Bucky started doing a lot of pinhooking at the Thoroughbred sales, and the show stable sort of evolved after that.“
“Bucky’s always had an eye for a good horse,” added Oare, whose amateur-owner champions have included Estrella, Kost to Coast, Late Entry, Harmony and Fiddler’s Bridge.
But not all great partnerships can last forever. At the end of 2010 the Oares scaled down their showing operation to one horse, no longer meriting a full-time trainer. Bucky is now assisting trainer Larry Glefke at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) before embarking on a rigorous judging schedule for the remainder of 2011.
A “good horse” to Bucky doesn’t just mean one that has good conformation and a pretty head. What he looks for in a prospective champion is not so much breed, but type.
“I want a warmblood that looks like a Thoroughbred. The horse has to be refined looking because I don’t like heavy horses,” explained Bucky, who’s had great success not only with a type of horse, but a particular sex of horse as well. “I get along well with mares. I think I get along better with them now better than I did years ago because I have to be more patient. A lot of them can be temperamental and difficult to deal with, but when you have a good mare, she will try her heart out for you.”
Take Rosalynn, for instance. Oare purchased the mare two years ago and watched Bucky train her, along with the help of riders Hunt Tosh and Kelley Farmer, to numerous honors, including championship awards at two out of the three indoor shows in 2010 and reserve in the other.
In 2011, under the new ownership of Larry Glefke’s Lane Change Farm, Rosalynn and Farmer won 10 out of their past 11 classes and were second in the other in the regular working hunter division at WEF. The pair also took home top honors in the $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Jacksonville National (Fla.)
“When you walk around the horse shows now compared to 30 years ago, there are so many warmbloods that are beautiful types and much more refined and better movers than they were in the past,” admitted Bucky, who was drawn to Rosalynn for that reason.
So other than preferring warmbloods that look like Thoroughbreds, what’s his secret to so many blue ribbons? As far as Bucky is concerned, punishing a horse for doing something wrong is usually incorrect. Being able to determine when to exercise patience and when to dole out punishment is the sign of a great horseman.
“Most of the time when the horse does something wrong it’s because they simply don’t understand or you’re asking them to do something that they can’t do. You have to be horseman enough to figure out when
that is,” he said. “You have to train them at the level the horse is capable of performing because if a horse isn’t capable of what you’re asking, then you’re wasting your time, and the horse isn’t going to be half as good as what he could’ve been because you over-tasked him.”
Fortunately, there are more divisions and levels of competition now than there were when Bucky started showing more than five decades ago. These days, a green horse doesn’t have to walk into a 3’6″ division. They can spend years showing at the lower levels before they have to tackle the first year greens. And while some exhibitors may worry that there are too many divisions, Bucky believes that offering more classes and recognized divisions at shows benefits the business as a whole.
“In order to make this a business, just like anything else, you need to give people the opportunity to show at so many different levels to make it a sport. Now you have the 2’6″, the 3′, and 3’3″—all these divisions that have opened the door to people who want to show and be competitive. That’s what’s helped the popularity of the business,” he said.
Molding A Champion
They say behind every great man is a great woman. While Bucky has been fortunate enough to have some top-quality show mares come his way, he’s also had the enduring support of his wife, Linda.
“It’s sort of an odd story how we met,” recalled Linda, who met Bucky in 1980. “I was trying to get into graduate school at the University of Virginia, and while I was waiting, I called up a friend in Warrenton and asked her to find me a job on a horse farm. And she found me a job working for Bucky.
“He was the nicest employer I ever had,” she continued. “He took me out to dinner all the time, and before you know it we were married and I never reapplied to school.”
Trying to maintain a family life while traveling to shows week after week was difficult for Bucky, who wishes he’d had more time to spend with his two children, Lydia and James, both of whom chose not to follow their father’s footsteps into the family business. James is in private banking with an international bank in Miami, Fla., while Lydia, 25, has explored her affinity for politics. Through her exploration of a non-equine career she met and fell in love with another horseman’s non-horsey son, Ned Towell, son of Jack and Lisa Towell. The couple is planning a June wedding.
“I think in all fairness to them when I was growing up, I had a father who had a stable, but when my kids were young I was gone doing a lot of judging and didn’t have a stable of my own at the time where they could hang out,” said Bucky, a hint of nostalgia in his voice. “But I exposed them to horses and gave them riding lessons, and it didn’t take. I would have liked it if it did, but you either want it or you don’t.”
While every great equestrian has to make sacrifices, Bucky perceives his judging obligations not as “sacrifices,” but as contributions to the sport.
“I think it’s an obligation that too few professionals give back to the sport,” he said. “I hear people complain about judging, and yet they don’t step up and do their fair share of it. I think every professional should judge at least two or three shows a year.
“I learn a lot when I’m judging. I know I’m very interested in seeing how people deal with different problems like how they did with the lead change issues 30 years ago. I can remember horses going around the children’s hunter division on only one lead and winning,” he continued.
Judging not only affords Bucky the opportunity to give back to the horse industry, but it also gives him the chance to watch hundreds of talented equines, always in search of that next great champion.
“Bucky just honestly loves the animals,” acknowledged Linda, who enjoys the time she gets to spend foxhunting with her husband around Virginia every fall. “A lot of people are in the business not for love of the animal, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but Bucky truly loves the horses and spending time with them.”
“The fire still burns bright,” said Bucky from his perch ringside at WEF. “I want to have another great horse. I’ve been standing here watching horses for the past two days trying to spot something that excites me. I couldn’t wait to get up this morning and watch again. It’s what keeps me going. I don’t want to retire…I like what I’m doing too much!”