When George Morris saw our feature on Betty Oare this summer in the July 27 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, he was struck by the classic style she displayed in this photo aboard Navy Commander and immediately called us to share his thoughts.
This picture of Betty Oare on Navy Commander—it’s like it’s from another planet from the pictures we see today. This is what the sport is all about.
Photo courtesy of Betty Oare
First of all, the fence is a true fence. It’s not some artificial, show-ring, easy triple bar shape. This is a vertical gate like you’d see in the hunting field. If it has a groundline, it’s minimal. It’s a straight, vertical fence testing the ability of the horse and rider, which is the point of a horse show.
Second, the horse is thoroughly, deeply groomed. The rider and the horse are scrupulously clean and turned out. The horse is in beautiful weight for that division—the working horses weren’t grossly fat.
Look at the simplicity of that flat, beautifully cared-for tack. It’s a nice, simple D-ring bit. The horse is beautifully braided. This era was the start of more braids, because before these years we had fewer braids.
The rider’s position–there’s nothing I can say about this position that’s wrong. Her heels are down; her ankles are flexed; her leg is in impeccable position. That helps her not jump ahead of the horse. Notice that her seat is above the saddle, not ahead of the pommel or back toward the cantle. Her posture is beautiful, with her eyes up. Her hands are alongside the neck, not God-knows-where above the neck. She has an almost straight line to the bit.
It’s a better picture than any I see now. It’s a great example of the American style.
The horse is a true working hunter with a beautiful eye, ear and expression. His knees are up and dead even. This is a true 4’ or 4’3” fence. I knew this horse, and he was a very scopey horse and a wonderful jumper. He wasn’t the roundest jumper, but he didn’t have to really crack his back because he was so scopey. He could just gallop over these big fences.
This is such a special picture. History is instructive. The future of horsemanship is in such jeopardy. There are exceptions, but the average rider in this sport just doesn’t know. The knowledge is going away—people buying made horses and medication and tricks and bits. You have to fight it!
Editor’s Note: Betty Oare, in her 70s, is still showing in the amateur-owner hunter divisions, goes foxhunting regularly, and judges at shows across the country. You can read all about her in the July 17, 2015 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
This story appears in the Dec. 14 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, which is the Equitation Issue. Other stories in that issue include Can You Win Equitation Finals Without A Big-Name Trainer, and Ask 5 where we get some top horsemen to share what lessons they carried from the equitation ranks to their careers, a look behind the barn doors at top barn Beacon Hill, and an insightul profile on Living Legend Wilson Dennehy, who turned down a U.S. team spot for love.