Born in 1926 at the United States Army Remount Depot in Front Royal, Virginia (less than an hour from the National Sporting Library & Museum), Jenny Camp was named after the cavalry’s horse shows open to enlisted soldiers, women, and children, known as “Jenny Camp” shows. Despite being the daughter of one of the Army’s finest remount stallions, Gordon Russell, Jenny Camp did not come equipped with wonderful confirmation, but she did come with a scrappy hardiness that would take her far.
At the Cavalry School in Fort Riley, Kansas, Jenny Camp was selected as a potential Olympic team mount and began training for the three-part Olympic event called Eventing. This event developed out of military horsemanship and requires the competitors to excel in dressage, cross country riding, and show jumping – all skills needed in a good cavalry mount. Not just a test of the horse’s abilities, it is also a showcase for the skills of the rider, and close teamwork between the mount and rider is critical for success. Jenny Camp was paired with Lieutenant Earl F. “Tommy” Thompson (1900–1971).
Thompson was a graduate of West Point and a polo player. He would go on to become one of the most successful of the United States military’s Olympians. His partnership with Jenny Camp yielded three medals in two consecutive Olympic Games. The pair won the individual silver medal and the team gold medal in eventing at the 1932 Olympics, and the individual silver medal in eventing at the 1936 Olympics. In 1948 he won two more medals on other mounts, bringing his total to five. In 1952 Olympics he participated as an official for the equestrian events.
The eventing competition in the 1936 Olympics would come with controversy. The cross country segment included a jump into water that would prove difficult and even deadly. Riders were required to negotiate a three foot post-and-rail fence into a pond approximately two feet deep, and clear a jump out on the far side. The water was deeper than it appeared and the footing on the bottom of the pond was soft and muddy, resulting in numerous falls. Only fifteen of forty-eight horses successfully handled the obstacle and three were required to be euthanized due to injury, including one of the American team’s mounts.
The controversy came when the Germans all handled the jump by taking a longer, less direct route which appeared to have good, even footing. There was speculation that they knew the condition of the footing under the water ahead of time and were able to avoid trouble. In the end nothing could be proven. In order to be eligible for a team medal, all members of a team must complete each element of the eventing trial. By the end of the cross country portion of the event, there remained only three intact teams. Despite being out of the team competition, Thompson and Jenny Camp took on the show jumping course the following day and earned their second individual silver medal.
Commentary on Jenny Camp from the time can be found in two articles for the The Cavalry Journal May/June 1937 issue. In the first, “Olympic Horseflesh,” Major John T. Cole said, “Although she is a frail little thing, she showed wonderful stamina and courage… She is now at the Remount Depot at Fort Robinson, being bred in hopes that she may transmit her fine courage and stamina to a better shaped and nicer moving colt” (p. 201).
In his article “The Conformation of Three-Day Horses” Lieutenant Colonel Harry D. Chamberlin said, “Jenny Camp, however, has proved herself the miracle horse, in that, as stated by Major Cole, she is on the small side, short-gaited, far from prepossessing from the knee down (particularly in her front pasterns which are quite upright), and undoubtedly the poorest of the three horses in general conformation. Yet she did the best work then and lived to repeat in 1936. Captain Earl F. Thompson must share generously in her glory, for such things do not happen to any horse unless superbly and intelligently ridden… In addition she possessed that greatest of all virtues, true quality. This word is frequently misused and misunderstood. When used generally about a horse, as “that horse has quality,” it means something that can be determined only by test. It is a matter of the circulatory, respiratory, nervous, and digestive system, substance of the tendons, muscles, bones, etc., and their proper functioning under tremendous strain, requiring particularly endurance and maximum effort. In quality, the gallant little mare proved a marvel, having that final and all-important virtue embraced in the term “quality”; i.e., great courage. She also has the innate and impossible-to-develop attributes of agility and quickness” (203-4).
During World War II Earl F. Thompson served as chief of staff for the 10th Mountain Division. He earned the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. He retired from the Army in 1954 as a full Colonel. Jenny Camp retired from Olympic competition after the 1936 games and went to Fort Robinson to serve as a broodmare. One of the members of the 1932 Olympic equestrian team eventually bought her and moved her to his farm in California where she lived to the the age of thirty-two. Today her memory is preserved in the Jenny Camp Horse Trials held by the Maryland Combined Training Association every September.
Ammann, Max E. Equestrian Sport at the Olympic Games 1912-2008. Lusanne, Federation Equestre Internationale, 2012.
Bryant, Jennifer. Olympic Equestrian. Lexington, Kentucky, Eclipse Press, 2008.
Chamberlin, Harry D. “The Conformation of Three-Day Horses.” The Cavalry Journal, May-June 1937, pp. 203-205.
Cole, John T. “Olympic Horseflesh.” The Cavalry Journal, May-June 1937, pp.197-230.
Shambach, Barbara Wallace. Equestrian Excellence. Boonsboro, Maryland, Half Halt Press, 1996.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 450 years of the history of equestrian sport, fly fishing, wing shooting, other field sports, and country life.