We were fortunate to have Denny Emerson participate in the premiere CD series of the Inventing Your Horse Career initiative. He’s the only rider to have ever won both the gold medal in eventing and the Tevis Cup buckle in endurance. In 2006, he was inducted into the USEA Hall of Fame. Last year his book How Good Riders Get Good: Daily Choices That Lead to Success in Any Equestrian Sport was published by Trafalgar Square. Talk about a lifetime of achievements, Denny has even spent a total of fifty consecutive years competing at the preliminary level or higher in eventing. He and his wife May divide time between their Vermont and North Carolina facilities running Tamarack Hill Farm with a considerable focus on helping young and novice riders enjoy the eventing experience.
If you want to meet Denny in person, he’ll be at Everything Equinein Essex Junction Vermont this weekend, presenting on Sunday, April 29th in the Outside Arena from 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
How has riding changed since you were a kid riding your pony, Paint?
“I think in some ways it’s become much more sophisticated and much more polished. In other ways it’s become much more stylized and less adventurous. When I started riding — we moved to Greenfield, MA, from Exeter, NH, when I was nine in 1950 — there were 150 million people in the United States. A year ago, or something like that, we hit 300 million. The population of the United States has doubled in my riding lifetime. With that, the riding opportunities to ride out have dwindled dramatically. I think, unless you live in the big middle section of the United States where there’s still probably more open land, if you live on the East coast or the West coast, where I think a lot of the people who ride English do live, they’ve seen suburbs and shopping malls and highways cut up a lot of the land where, when I was a kid, you could ride.
“I think that some of the riding is better, in the sense that it’s more technically proficient, but I think that maybe kids aren’t as likely to have grown up hacking around, playing with their ponies, galloping around bareback, learning to become natural riders. It’s a mixed blessing. I think I would rather have somebody start out riding bareback on a pony then riding around a little ring at a lesson barn but I think those opportunities are fewer now than they were when I was a kid.”
What people who have shaped your riding career and direction?
“When I was a little kid, the farm manager at Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School — it was called Stoneleigh-Prospect then, later it merged with Mary Burnham School, it’s now Stoneleigh-Burnham School – was a dairy farmer from Heath, Massachusetts, named Francis Kinsman. Francis liked kids and he bought a little one horse, open-topped, home-made, wooden trailer to take me around to all the little local gymkhanas. My parents weren’t horse people. Francis opened a lot of doors for me just by making it possible for me to start to do stuff. He was very influential. I didn’t even realize it at the time. He opened doors by taking me to all the little western Massachusetts gymkhanas – Rowe, Heath, Charlemont – all up in the Mohawk Trail area. Later I worked at the Green Mountain Stock Farm up in Randolph, VT, doing Morgans in 1960, ’61. The people that ran that, Jack and Art Titus, were very helpful to me.
“Then, when I got interested in eventing — I went to see an event in 1961, I’d never even heard of eventing and I decided I wanted to do that – I was at Dartmouth College and Joe McLaughlin at Hitching Post Farm was very, very helpful to me. I used to go over there from Dartmouth and ride. He’d put me on everything that was available. I started to learn to jump with Joe; I was twenty at this point. I hadn’t been in a jumping background. I’d done a lot of trail riding and showing Morgans and hundred mile adventures at GMHA, that type of thing, but I hadn’t been a jumping rider. I would say those people early on.
“Later, of course, Jack Le Goff, the coach of the U.S. three day team and Walter Christenson, who was a dressage trainer that used to come over for the New England Dressage Association, Sally Swift, Priscilla Endicott who ran all those clinics at The Ark in Harvard, MA, that Walter Christenson came to. There have been a lot of people over the years. My wife, May, who has made things very easy because she likes the same things I do. Those are some. I’m probably leaving out ten that I should have mentioned.”
Is there a particular horse that stands out in your career?
“Victor Dakin was the horse that allowed me to be on the team that won the gold medal in Burghley in ’74. I think that a horse like that changes your life, in the sense that it opens huge doors. Before I was on a gold medal team, and after I was on a gold medal team, it was like two different opportunities to be involved in the horse business. So, Victor Dakin, certainly. Then I had a horse named York, from New Zealand that was the U.S. national champion in ’79 and was USEA Horse of the Year. I think in some ways York was the most talented horse I’ve ever had. He was better in dressage than Victor. Victor was an aggressive, attack machine type of a cross country horse, suited for the long form eventing of thirty-five years ago. He wouldn’t be a good horse for today. He’d be too hot in dressage. And you don’t have to go eighteen miles on cross country anymore. But he was the right horse for me at the right time.”
Everything Equine Expo
Lisa Derby Oden (the co-creator of the Inventing Your Horse Career CD series and equine business consultant will also be presenting at EVERYTHING EQUINE EXPO on April 29th. Enjoy her wisdom at Learn From the Pros: Unique Career Paths to Success in the Horse Industry in the Equine Summit Room from 12-12:45 p.m.; and Websites & Social Media & Blogs…OH MY! Integrating Your Online Presence from 2 – 2:45 p.m..