James “Jimmy” C. Wofford had a profound influence on the shaping of equestrian sport as we know it today. He was a complete horseman, focused and skilled competitor, and a “teacher’s teacher” who will be remembered for his humor, charm, and wit.
Wofford was born into an equestrian family on November 3, 1944, in Junction City, Kansas. His father, Col. John W. Wofford, competed for the U.S. Jumping Team at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, was a founding member of the U.S. Equestrian Team, and continued to coach and mentor athletes in eventing and show jumping at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. Surrounded by equestrians, with both brothers Jeb and Warren riding internationally for the U.S., Wofford grew up immersed in the sport. The start of his distinguished career began as a 19-year-old athlete who arrived at Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, to train with the United States Equestrian Team (USET). He first represented the U.S. Eventing Team in 1965 and continued to compete internationally for the program through 1985, training with American coaching legends, Bert de Nemethy and Jack Le Goff. He was a graduate of Culver Military Academy and the School of Business at the University of Colorado.
Wofford had a brilliant career for the United States, earning two team silvers in the 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympics Games aboard Kilkenny, and was selected to represent the team in 1980 before the games were boycotted. He medaled twice at the World Eventing Championships: once aboard Kilkenny at Punchestown in 1970, where they earned individual bronze, and again in 1978 here in the U.S. aboard Carawich, earning team bronze. He also was a member of the gold-medal winning team at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
Two wins at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, once in 1981, and again in 1986, after coming out of retirement, will be remembered fondly by the eventing community, alongside his capture of five U.S. National Championships on as many different horses. Competing internationally for close to 30 years in eventing, more than 20 of those at the Advanced level, he was also an avid foxhunter and steeplechase jockey during the height of his career.
His role transitioned to coach after his official retirement in 1986, where he had a hand in helping dozens of athletes reach their goals on the international stage. His students were selected to countless U.S. Olympic, World Championship, and Pan American teams since 1978. As a testament to his results as a coach and mentor he was named U.S. Olympic Committee’s Development Coach of the Year in both 1998 and 1999.
All four members of the U.S. bronze medal team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, as well as the individual gold medal winner were graduates of Wofford’s program. Additionally, three of the members of the 2002 gold medal team at the World Equestrian Games were his former students. He coached the Canadian Team for the 2002 World Championships, the silver medal team at 2003 Pan American Games, and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
He was inducted into the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Hall of Fame in 2003 and was also inducted into the Culver Academies Horsemanship Hall of Fame. He received the prestigious US Equestrian (USEF) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Aside from coaching and his continued passion for the sport, Wofford was committed to giving back and sharing his knowledge. A prolific reader his entire life, he published several popular equestrian and horsemanship books. He penned his latest book, “Still Horse Crazy After All These Years,” as a memorial to his father and a guideline for his grandsons.
He maintained a life-long involvement in governance of equestrian sport throughout the years, serving as President of the American Horse Show Association (the first professional horseman to serve in the role), Vice President and Senior Vice President of the USET, a member of the USET’s Board of Trustees, Secretary of the United States Combined Training Association, along with two terms on the FEI Eventing Committee, including two years as vice-chairman.
Wofford was a pivotal figure in shaping USEF as we know it today as the organization evolved from, in his words, “an assembly of competitions to an association of individuals.” He played a leading role in the adoption of and provided unwavering support for the Federation’s Drugs & Medication Rules. Additionally, he was a key figure in bringing the national and international disciplines of the sport together to form a collaborative and united front for equestrian sport in the United States.
In his later years, he made an effort to turn to his abiding passion with all his energies saying, “I devote my life to the horses and riders who train and care for them. I have always been fascinated by riding and training theory and by the application of classical theory to modern competitive circumstance.” With his steadfast appreciation for training and teaching, Wofford was a frequent fixture in warm-up arenas at countless competitions over the years. His signature sign-off, “I’ll see you in the warm-up ring,” graced his many inspirational and insightful articles and editorial columns.
When he was not in the warm-up ring, one would look for Wofford with family or friends on the river fly fishing or in a duck blind with one of his beloved Labradors at his side.
Wofford’s contributions to and passion for equestrian sport will be long-lasting, a permanent reminder of his legacy, influence and career are all the people that he influenced, both personally and professionally, and for all those who love equestrian sport and the sport of eventing. He is survived by his wife of more than 56 years, Gail Wofford; his two daughters, Hilary and Jennifer; sons-in-law, Tim Jones and Charles Ince; and four grandchildren, Walker, Hudson, Lewis, and Theo.
“Jimmy is a legend among legends. His competitive career is only surpassed by his involvement in the sport. He shaped many of our lives, both in the competition ring and in our personal lives, that will guarantee that his legacy will go on forever as we all try and pass on what he showed us to be a good competitor and a good citizen,” said David O’Connor, USEF Chief of Sport, former USEF President, and Olympic gold medalist.