Tobi Taylor's Journal

News > Monday, December-08-2008

My Neighbor, the Olympian

About two months ago, a woman and a man came walking up my driveway on a Saturday morning. I had two horses turned out in the arena. Often, people drop by to watch the horses romp or to ask whether I board horses (I don’t), or inquire if I know where they can buy a pony for their child (ditto) or a quarter horse for their husband (also ditto). I have sport horses – equines bred to event, do dressage, or show jump – and that kind of thing is rare on my side of Tucson, where the majority of riders I know either rope or trail ride.

But back to the couple. The woman said they lived nearby and stopped because they’d seen dressage letters in my arena. She inquired about whether I rode dressage (yes), and did I have a trainer (yes), and then she said, "My father, here, is a horse trainer. His name is Jack Burton."

I couldn’t believe it. "You’re not Major-General Jonathan Burton, are you?"

The man nodded, and his eyes lit up.

"It’s an honor to meet you, sir."

General Burton is a legend in the horse world: competitor on the 1948 and 1956 Olympic teams, past president of various equestrian federations, international judge, and author. Not long after I’d begun to take dressage lessons, in the 1980s, a friend had given me Burton’s book How to Ride a Winning Dressage Test. And Burton is still judging: I recalled that he’d given a Trakehner colt bred by my friend Heather a wonderful score in an in-hand class at a show in California a couple of years back.

Burton, who is closer to ninety than he is to eighty, rides his bike several days a week, and since our first meeting he’s dropped by a number of times to pet whichever horse of mine is turned out near the road, usually Rosie, my Arabian mare. He doesn’t say much but seems quite glad to simply be around horses on a somewhat regular basis.

The General unintentionally made my day on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My husband and I were in the arena with my two-year-old Anglo-Arabian gelding Immaginn, whose nickname, like the General’s, is Jack. This gelding is a product of our very small breeding program (does three foals in twenty years constitute a program?), and he is by far the best one. I find very little to fault in him, but I'm well aware of that scourge of horse breeding, "barn blindness." The General was taking his daily bike ride and when we got to our driveway, he pulled in and stopped. "Who is THAT?" he exclaimed, as Jack trotted around. "He’s magnificent!"

My husband looked at me and rolled his eyes, knowing he'd never hear the end of that remark.

"Can I quote you on that?" I asked.

"Sure!" The General watched Jack walk, trot, canter, and play for about fifteen minutes. I asked him if he thought he saw a particular discipline -- dressage, jumping? -- in his future. "The sky’s the limit with that one," he replied, and then he pedaled on home. I have been smiling ever since, and calling Jack (the gelding, not the General) "Mr. Magnificent."

Interestingly, what the General didn’t know was that he himself had seen the sire of this gelding. Jack’s dad is a stallion named Innkeeper, a son of the famous Secretariat. Innkeeper’s owner, Ursula Ferrier, and I are friends, and she writes, "Hilltop Farm asked if we could bring him to a breed judges’ seminar with the head of the Swedish National Stud at their farm. He was a big hit...and Major General Jonathon Burton thought he was the only ‘real’ stallion there." Imagine -- or rather, Immaginn -- that!



print page  tell friend