By Britney Grover
Pam Baker’s multiple USHJA and WCHR Lifetime Achievement Awards as well as National Show Hunter Hall of Fame inductions are well-earned. She’s dedicated her life to advancing the hunter-jumper sport through her training and volunteering on multiple boards and committees. Her students, ranging from pony riders to junior hunters and adult amateurs, have been Champion and Reserve Champion at every major horse show along the East Coast, including HITS, Palm Beach, Devon, Harrisburg, Upperville and WIHS. With her decades of experience and influence in the horse world, Pam continues to promote good horsemanship as a trainer.
How did your horse career start?
After World War II, the first thing my father did was buy me and my brother a pony. The pony’s name was Jo Jo; he came with a Western saddle and a buggy.
What was your family like?
My father headed the music department in Princess Anne County and we bought a farm in Kentsville. Both of my parents were educators and knew nothing about horses. I was so lucky to have my parents; they instilled a work ethic and a sense of “you can achieve.” My mom was a “pusher” and my dad had a great sense of humor. He could learn to do anything just by reading a book.
How did you found Hillcrest Farm?
Hillcrest Kiddie Ranch was a kindergarten that my mother started. Then, kids wanted something to do during the summer, so we started a summer camp called Hillcrest Dude Ranch. That matriculated into Hillcrest School of Horsemanship by the time I was 20, and we followed the Littauer method. By that time we were up to 40 horses and 300 students. We had the first mounted Girl Scout troop. In the late ’50s–’60s, we bought a bigger farm, going from a 7-acre farm to an almost-100-acre farm. My brother, Jimmy Cantwell, was quite a talent and got us started in the hunter-jumper disciplines. He went from a small pony hunter to an open jumper by the time he was 12. The real turning point for me was when I attended a clinic at Sweet Briar College by Captain Vladimir Littauer — that’s the only reason I am doing what I’m doing today. It provided such insight and inspiration. His message, “If the horse understands and you have a system of communication, you will have a happy horse,” is something that I still preach to this day.
Which of your many successes as a trainer stands out to you the most?
I can’t really say there is any one success that stands out, but when I see a horse-and-rider combination in synch and doing well, that makes my heart sing. I’ve been very fortunate through the years; I’ve had about 100 horses and ponies tricolor at Devon and Indoors from small ponies to the conformation.
What’s your favorite horse experience?
All the riders and horses that have won with me over the years have a special place in my heart. They are all equally significant.
What’s your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
Definitely the horses. They are such givers. The heart of a horse is good for your soul. I’ve seen this sport be life-changing; it brings out a person’s better self.
If you weren’t a horse person, what career would you have chosen?
No idea what I would do if it wasn’t horses. I’ve been doing this all my life.
If you had a week off, what would you do?
I’d love to go on a riverboat cruise.
Who inspires you?
My students inspire me.
What talents do you feel you have?
Do you have a personal motto or catch-phrase?
I have a few mantras — “Straightness is next to godliness,” “Follow,” “Always think in the positive,” “Spell Intestinal Fortitude … GUTS,” “Are you gonna be tough or a cream puff?” “Put a tiger in your tank,” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Do you have dogs?
I’ve always had dogs, all shapes and sizes, from Great Danes to Chihuahuas. Love them all. My current canine companion is Meme; she came from Danny & Ron’s Rescue and can be found on my golf cart every day.
What would be the best gift in the world?
Peace and happiness
How would you like people to remember you?
I want everyone to realize his or her own potential. I truly feel everyone can do this with the right attitude, work ethic and empathy for the horse.
Photo courtesy of Pam Baker