Jim Wofford's Tribute to Jack Le Goff

The text of veteran eventer Jim Wofford's moving speech on October 19, 2009, at a celebration of Jack Le Goff's life.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for sharing with Jack Le Goff’s family this celebration of his life. This has been a painful loss for all of us; we will cry tears enough tonight to float Jack’s favorite fishing boat, tears cried at the sense of loss each of us feels for the lack of his vibrant and knowing presence.

It is quite right to cry for him tonight, and I plan to join you. Yet as you wipe your tears away, you should smile and thank God that you knew Jack; that your life was improved, and shaped, and forever changed by him. Like all horsemen, Jack was a flawed human being. Child-like in his joy for life, his appetites for all things pleasurable exceeded normal boundaries. Yet his talents exceeded those boundaries as well, and his boundless energy lifted us to new plateaus of achievement.

It is entirely fitting that we should meet here this evening, here at Gladstone, here at the touchstone, the lodestar of the United States Equestrian Team’s greatness.

There were many training centers before the USET moved to Gladstone, and there have been many since, but it is here that the USET truly matured. Before Gladstone, the USET was a presence on the international field of play. With the advent of Gladstone, the USET became a force on that field of play.

Thanks in great part to Jack’s efforts, those of us here tonight stand in a long admirable progression of horsemen and -women. I often cast my mind back into the mists of the last century, where I see men in U.S. military uniform standing at their horse’s heads… gazing at us with the firm, direct, searching gaze of the career cavalry officer. In my mind’s eye, I see them still; Chamberlin, first among equals, and Thompson, Borg, Tuttle, Henry, Wing Burton, and more. In my memory they stand by their horse’s heads in sepia-toned photographs; their horses gleam, their boots and spurs sparkle, and their hands rest softly, ever so softly, on the reins.

Then as you turn and look forward in time, a new figure appears and now the pictures become more focused and the colors more clear.

Henry Kissinger has said “genius is so rare that it takes a little getting used to.” A new genius arrived at Gladstone in the fall of 1970; Bertelan de Nemethy, a widely acknowledged genius himself, was not quite ready for Jack. The fireworks started almost immediately and continued for a while. Those of us here in residence at the time watched this clash of titans with fascination and amusement.

However, it soon became apparent to Bert that he had not met his match; he had met his equal. Bert was thus content and from that time forward woe to the rider brave enough to step between them.

I would say to you that to this day, if you wish to hear the sound of a horseman’s genius, you have only to step down to Nautical Hall and listen for the sound of Bert de Nemethy and Jack Le Goff’s voices as they echo in the rafters.

And Jack’s voice soon began to echo far beyond Gladstone, as his training methods proved themselves in Olympic and World Championship competition. The USET became the gold standard for international eventing competition, and the horse world took notice. And what they saw was a system firmly based on classical principles, correctly executed. It was a system that could produce fit and sound horses, ready for the supreme test of horse and rider. Because of his insistence on correct training principles and exemplary stable management, Jack cared for his horses in a way that we had never before experienced; riders and horses flourished in this system.

However, the horse world at large missed some of the aspects of Jack’s program. All noticed the gold medals, yet few noticed the impact of his revolutionary interval system of conditioning or the competitive drive behind his insistence on classical methods; even fewer saw the relentless drive for perfection that was the hallmark of the Jack Le Goff era.

This stringent regimen was difficult to accept, and many riders withered under its constraints. Yet those who accepted Jack’s discipline found within themselves new talents and capabilities… talents and capabilities that would have gone undiscovered without the driving urgency of Jack’s commitment to excellence.

It is a little known fact that Sir Alfred Munnings, the famous equine artist, was blind in one eye. I have often thought that Jack was much the same as Munnings. Although handicapped in so many ways, Jack gave us a new way of looking at horses. Thanks to Jack, from this day forward horses will be better cared for in every aspect of their lives, and riders and trainers will dedicate themselves to their craft with a new sense of purpose and energy.

The sun has set now at Gladstone. The woods around this plain brick and stone building are dark and cold, just as–without Jack to guide us–the way before us is dark and cold.

Sir Harry Lauder said that he could tell where the lamplighter was by the trail that he left behind him. We now go our separate paths, but the extraordinary, irreplaceable, unforgettable Jack Le Goff will forever light our way.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!