The Life and Legacy of Jimmy Wofford

Legendary horseman, James C. “Jimmy” Wofford, once remarked of his childhood that he was “raised on horseback.” It is no surprise to those who knew him, and knew of him, that in 2002, The Chronicle of the Horse named him as one of the 50 Most Influential Horsemen. With the announcement of Wofford’s passing on February 2, 2023, a strong ripple effect was created throughout our community.

photo courtesy Douglas Lees

The National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) is honored to have had Wofford and his wife, Gail, as loyal supporters of the organization for over three decades. Even more so, we have had the privilege to call them friends.

Photograph of Wofford duck hunting reproduced in his book, Still Horse Crazy After All These Years: If it didn’t happen this way…it should have, 2021, © Carol Stevens, National Sporting Library & Museum collection

Wofford fully encapsulated the spirit and mission of the NSLM. An avid and adventurous sportsman, he fly-fished in Germany and Alaska, raced horses in Ireland, foxhunted in Virginia, hunted quail in Texas, and supported land conservation efforts.

photo courtesy Douglas Lees

In addition, Wofford was a gentleman scholar in every sense of the word. The research he undertook— either for the books he authored or to satisfy his own curiosity—often led him down rabbit holes and into the archives at the National Sporting Library (NSL; the predecessor of the NSLM).

National Sporting Library & Museum collection, Donated by James C. Wofford, 1995

A regular contributor to The Chronicle of the Horse and Practical Horseman periodicals, Wofford also wrote several books on training and eventing, including Take a Good Look Around (2007) and Modern Gymnastics: Systemic Training for Jumping Horses (2013). Two of his book launches were held by the NSLM. The organization’s Fall 1995 newsletter noted of Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider:

Wofford knew what he was doing when he wrote this book, and he did it…don’t miss this one; it is destined to become a staple of every reading rider’s library.
Book Signing at National Sporting Library, 2007

Gail and Jimmy Wofford at book signing at National Sporting Library, 2013

Wofford was an active member of several internationally-recognized organizations, including (what are now known as) the United States Eventing Association (USEA) and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), and the United States Equestrian Team (USET).

Jim Wofford on Horse, The Optimist; 1986; Photo taken May 7, 1986 at the Middleburg Trials, Middleburg, Virginia. National Sporting Library & Museum, Patricia Williams MacVeagh Collection

Most are familiar with Wofford’s success on the global stage. Among his many accolades are winning the gold in the Winnipeg Pan America Games (1967); team silver in the Mexico City Olympics (1968) and the Munich Olympics (1972); bronzes at the 1970 and 1972 World Championship; and the National Championship five times.

Jim Wofford and Kilkenny on their way to clinching team silver and individual sixth place at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Photo copyright Werner Ernst [source: ]

After his retirement from competition, Wofford turned his attention to instructing. For close to a half-century, top-tier athletes and equestrians across all levels were lucky to have called him “Coach,” and he had at least one of his students on every USET since 1978. His skills and abilities as such were recognized by the Olympic Committee, and he was honored as the Development Coach of the Year in both 1998 and 1999. In 2012, he was the recipient of the prestigious USEF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Wofford acknowledged his success was the result of an equestrian upbringing. His father, Colonel John W. “Gyp” Wofford, a cavalry man, was selected in 1929 to be part of the US Army Horse Show Team, competed as part of the Show Jumping Team in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, and coached the 1952 team in Helsinki. He was also integral to the founding of USET and served as its first president as well as coach. Jimmy Wofford’s mother, Dorothy “Dot,” herself an avid horsewoman, was a key figure in the 1959 establishment of the United States Combined Training Association (USCTA, later the USEA). Wofford’s brother Jeb won bronze as part of the 1952 Olympic Event Team (coached by their father) and their brother Warren was on the 1956 Olympic Show Jumping Team as a 1st Reserve Rider. To say that Jimmy Wofford had horses in his blood would be an understatement.

Wofford’s dedication to preserve, promote, and share extends beyond Middleburg, beyond the United States, and into the world at large. His immeasurable impact will continue to resonate through future generations— from the novice equestrian inspired by one of his books to the Olympians who will have their mentor’s words and teachings in their minds as they prepare for competition. It is this life and legacy that we, and the rest of the sporting community, remember, cherish, and celebrate.

Wofford is survived by his wife of 56 years, Gail, ex-MFH of the Piedmont Fox Hounds; two daughters, Mrs. Timothy L. (Hillary) Jones, and Mrs. Charles K. (Jennifer) Ince; four grandsons, James Walker Jones, Hudson Wofford Jones, Lewis Kitchell Ince, and Theodore Brown Ince; and his sister Dorothea Seymour .

Jim Wofford, left; daughter Jennifer Ince; wife Gail Wofford; and son-in-law Charles Ince at the National Sporting Library, 2007

The NSLM is humbled and honored to be chosen by the Wofford family, alongside the Piedmont Fox Hounds, to receive donations in James C. “Jimmy” Wofford’s memory. Donations may be sent to: the National Sporting Library & Museum, P.O. Box 1335, Middleburg, VA 20118 or The Piedmont Fox Hounds Conservation Fund, P.O. Box 592, Upperville, VA 20185.

photo courtesy Douglas Lees

A service will be held on Friday, February 24, 2023 at 11:00 AM at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, Virginia. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the National Sporting Library & Museum, P.O. Box 1335, Middleburg, VA 20118 or The Piedmont Foxhounds Conservation Fund, P.O. Box 592, Upperville, VA 20185. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s