Indomitable At 80: A Chat With Betty Oare, Grande Dame Of The Hunters

Oct 29, 2021 - 8:00 AM

“How does Betty Oare do it?”

It’s a question that comes up whenever the 80-year-old icon of the sport lays down yet another pristine trip that most of us would be happy to accomplish just once in our lifetime.

Oare has been winning on EMO Stables’ horse Sidenote much like she did with her National Show Hunter Hall of Fame inductees Estrella and Navy Commander. In October alone, the pair won the adult amateur hunter, 50 and over, championship at the Pennsylvania National and took second in the WCHR Adult Amateur Challenge at the Capital Challenge Horse Show (Maryland).

Betty Oare ARyback
Betty Oare and Sidenote were crowned adult amateur hunter, 50 and over, champions Oct. 22 at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Andrew Ryback Photo

And on top of showing, she sits on U.S. Equestrian Federation National Breeds and Disciplines Council and the U.S Hunter Jumper Association Board of Directors, Hunter Breeding Task Force and Amateurs Task Force. She’s the Energizer Bunny that never runs out of power, smiles and goodwill, and the Chronicle asked Oare to share some fitness secrets. If only we could all steal some of those good genes and talent through osmosis.

How do you keep yourself fit and strong?

Honest to goodness, riding—I ride as much as I can ride. That’s just my main exercise. In the hunting season, when I have a horse to hunt, it’s really great to be able to foxhunt. To me, that’s a little bit more workout for you than just horse showing, although horse showing certainly is, too. But you’re out and about, and the horses are a little stronger, and you’re galloping a lot. As a matter of fact, a thousand years ago, when I had my first son, that was the first thing I did when I was allowed to go back to doing something. That was what I did first at that point, before I even thought about showing, and that got me in really good shape pretty quickly.

How many horses do you ride a day usually?

At home right now, I’m the exercise person totally—at the horse show here, Winn Alden is riding our green mare, Sincerely, in the 3’3” greens.

I ride her; I ride my own adult horse, Sidenote; and I’m reclaiming a Thoroughbred right now that has run over jumps before. (He wasn’t very successful.) So, I ride three a day most of the time now. That’s all we have in work, so sometimes when one more gets in work, I’ll do four. That changes if one had a long show week, and they really don’t need to be ridden for a couple [days].

21WIHS_BettyOare_SidenoteWAS_6151
Betty Oare and Sidenote competing in the $10,000 WIHS Adult Amateur Hunter Championship on Oct. 27 at the Washington International Horse Show in Mill Spring, N.C. Kimberly Loushin Photo

When you hunt with Warrenton Hunt (Virginia), how does that help you stay active versus horse showing?

You’ve got a lot weight down in your heels because you’re going uphill and downhill—so that’s pretty important. It’s not quite as tame. Although sometimes you have to do that at the horse shows if they’re feeling really good. Hunting, you’re usually galloping along.

It’s a good sport. Of course, the main thing when you’re hunting, obviously, [is] you really want to not detract from the hound work. Because you’re out there to watch the hounds and what they’re doing. And you want your horse to behave so that it doesn’t get in anybody’s way. You want to ride well enough that you’re not out there just like, “Oh, I’m going there because I’m going to be a better rider.” You went out there for the fun and watching the hounds work. Not to detract. If your horse is acting up and not behaving, you sort of want to go to the back of the field so you know he’s going to jump the jumps and not refuse. That sort of thing. The whole idea of hunting is more for the hound work and enjoying the chase. It’s also fun. It’s camaraderie You have friends that hunt.

What workouts or exercises do you do when you’re not riding?

I do have a treadmill at my own house; I am not too good about wanting to go to the gym. I sort of run out of time.

I’m doing it more for the cardio, not so much strength. I walk medium/fast I’d say when I get warmed up. and I probably do—if I don’t get bored—20 minutes, maybe a little bit more. But if I get too bored, I get off. I’d much rather ride.

At the horse shows, I like to walk as much between the classes. Now, we have a golf cart here which we use some, but my husband uses that more. Of course, if you’ve got to go up on the hill to the Sandy Gerald [Ring at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia], that’s a bit of a climb. But I think, “OK I’m going to walk this time.” I use that little element at the horse shows to not ride around the golf cart too much. Every little step helps.

And I know some people who do better than I do. I am not great at wanting to get up at 5 o’clock and start exercising. I’ll get up at 5 o’clock to go to a horse show or go hunting, but not to the gym.

Sometimes I’ll think, “OK I’m going to do more and more and more.” But then I run out of time. And I’d rather ride than I would do some of those other things.

Riding is a really good all-around exercise if you do it hard. I’m always saying, “I wish I had one more horse,” [but] it’s so expensive to have more than one or two. I’d ride as many a day as I could, but you can’t afford to do but so many.

Betty Oare Mollie Bailey photo DAD_6333slider
Betty Oare and her Sidenote on their way to winning the $12,500 NAL Adult Amateur Hunter Final at the 2019 Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pa. Mollie Bailey Photo

What’s your trick in bouncing back after a fall or injury?

Through the years, like anybody else, I’ve had an accident here or there. Knock on wood—and I’m knocking on wood—I haven’t broken anything for a bit. Last year, I did have some broken ribs. You know, with those you have to take the time to heal them, although we all want to get back on.

But I will say—and I’ve had broken bones: I’ve had a broken shoulder, a broken leg, all those things in years that’ve gone by— I did exactly what the doctors told me. Because I know they know the best about how long it really takes to heal something correctly. I follow the rules—at least I try to. And then as soon as I am allowed to do something, I get right back at it.

What’s your secret to staying vivacious and maintaining such a healthy career?

I have been around a while, let’s put it that way. Fortunately, I love it, that’s No. 1: I love horses. I’ve been in it all my life because my dad was in the horse business. That’s the way we grew up. We grew up learning to go hunting and going cross-country.

Anything you really love, like I love the entire part of horses—hunting and showing—I’ll tell you, the people, friends at the horse show, they make it a world. That’s a great part of it. And I think if you didn’t enjoy it, you know, it’s a lot of hard work and lots of ups and lots of downs. It’s like anything else. But the friends that you make and the people that are in it that love their horse.

I would say I enjoy the competition; I love the horses; I enjoy watching other people, and I’m drawn to it. It’s given me and our family a lot of joy. It’s a good life.

You love it, and you know enough to know there are good days, there’s bad days, there in between days.

I’m interested in it. I never have lost my interest in it. May be better if I did. But I haven’t. That’s the truth. I love to watch a lot of classes. I get excited about seeing a nice new young horse out there or some rider that’s coming along. As long as you have all those interests, it’s hard to let it go.

 

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