‘A true horseman, statesman, and legend’: Olympic eventer, trainer and author dies aged 78


  • James “Jimmy” Wofford, the former Olympic eventer, renowned trainer and author died on 2 February aged 78, from pancreatic cancer.

    Born in Kansas, Mr Wofford came from an equestrian family and was the youngest of four siblings. His father Col John Wofford rode in the US showjumping team at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, his eldest brother Jeb won a bronze medal in eventing at the 1952 Helsinki Games and his brother Warren was a reserve for the showjumping and eventing teams at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

    Mr Wofford attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, then studied at the University of Colorado. In 1966 he married his childhood sweetheart Gail, and the couple later moved to their farm Fox Covert, in Virginia.

    He joined the US eventing team in 1965, and was part of the silver medal-winning team at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics on Kilkenny, a horse previously ridden by Irish rider Tommy Brennan at the 1964 Olympics and 1966 World Championships. Mr Wofford and Kilkenny won team silver at the 1972 Munich Games, after which Kilkenny was retired. Mr Wofford then bought Carawich, with whom he won individual silver at the alternative Olympics in Fontainebleau in 1980, the year the Moscow Games were boycotted.

    His many other achievements included individual and team bronze at the 1970 and 1978 World Championships respectively, team gold at the 1967 Pan American Games, and five national championship titles. He retired from competition in 1984, but made a brief return in 1986 when he won the Kentucky Three-Day Event on Karen O’Connor’s The Optimist, while she was competing at the World Championships in Australia.

    Mr Wofford was a respected and highly sought-after coach. At least one rider from every US Olympic, World and Pan American team since 1978 has been a student of his, and he coached the Canadian eventing team for the 2002 World Championships, the 2003 Pan American Games and the 2004 Olympics.

    He served as president of the American Horse Show Association, which became US Equestrian, from 1988 to 1991. He was the first vice-president of the US Equestrian Team, and was secretary of the United States Combined Training Association, now known as the United States Eventing Association (USEA). He was also a member of the FEI eventing committee for two terms, including vice-chairman for two years.

    Mr Wofford published his first book in 1955; Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider. This was followed by Gymnastics: Systematic Training for Jumping Horses, 101 Eventing Tips, and Take A Good Look Around. His autobiography Still Horse Crazy After All These Years: If It Didn’t Happen This Way, It Should Have was published in 2021.

    He was inducted into the USEA’s eventing hall of fame in 2003 and in 2012 he received the US Equestrian lifetime achievement award.

    USEA chief executive Rob Burk said the equestrian community has lost a “true horseman, statesman and legend”.

    “I considered Jim a friend as did so many others. Knowing Wofford he would expect us to stay on course and keep riding over the obstacles in our path, so that is what we will do,” he said.

    Mr Wofford is survived by his wife Gail, and their daughters Jennifer and Hillary.

    More articles featuring Jimmy Wofford:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...