By Jan Westmark
Well-known judge and trainer Jimmy Lee, who lives at Belcort Farm in Keswick, Virginia, has spent his career training year-end champions. “My favorite part of our sport is training,” he said. “The never-ending search for a good young horse to hopefully develop into a winner is one of the things I enjoy the most.”
Jimmy has had great success in matching horses and riders and said he finds it to be very rewarding. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had many high-score award winners,” he said. “I believe in my case being lucky to start with was a huge plus, but I have also been blessed with some very talented riders, especially Jane Gaston, who is a genius on a horse; Maryann Steiert; Katie Prudent; and Michael Patrick.”
When it comes to picking his favorite horses throughout the years, Jimmy said 15.2-hand Sign The Card ranks as his favorite horse of all time. “She could and did do whatever she needed to do to win,” he said. “Like A Charm was another small mare who was Horse of the Year. Third Of August was high-score champion and Perfect Stranger was also a high-score champion. Sketiton was another — he won 93 classes as a First Year horse. Scott To Do was undefeated for 2 ½ years as champion in the Regular Conformation Division. Keswick was my favorite pony. There are many others, but those were very special.”
How did your horse career start?
I started taking riding lessons at the Watchung Stables in Summit, New Jersey. My parents liked horses and had ridden just for fun, but they weren’t a horse family. My father was a newspaper publisher.
Any great memories from horses you bred?
I did have a few very successful horses that I bred out of Sign The Card. The Winning Card was AHSA Junior Hunter Champion of the country.
What do you like about being a judge?
I really like watching horses perform and the mechanics of judging. I’m always looking for that special horse. I’ve enjoyed it, and 2020 was my 60th year judging.
How has judging changed throughout the years?
I don’t really think that judging has changed much over the years. A good horse is a good horse. The quality has improved and the equitation has made giant strides. Of course, the divisions have changed from the days when the 4’ divisions were large and mostly professionally ridden. The Amateur Owner division is one of the biggest improvements in horse shows that I have seen.
What do you like about being a trainer?
The process of working with a horse and presenting him to the public in the show ring is very gratifying.
You have had many year-end champions — what has been the key to your success?
I was fortunate to be able to identify a potential champion, and my contribution was to stay out of their way and not mess up the horse. I owned most of them so I could make the decisions that were the best for our goal.
What have been some of your favorite horse shows over the years?
My favorite show was absolutely The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden; it was the promised land for me and my horses. Devon, Upperville, Hampton Classic, New England Equitation Finals and Fairfield are very special events.
What would you like to do in the future?
I’d like to continue doing what I love — showing and winning.
What talents do you have?
I think that attention to detail has served me well over the years.
What’s your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
The horses, of course, which are the reason we’re all involved in this great activity. Many friendships are also a huge part of our sport.
If you weren’t involved with the horse world, what career do you think you would have picked?
Being a trial attorney might be interesting.
If you had a week off, what would you do?
I would probably go to either a Saddlebred show or the racetrack.
Who inspires you?
I’ve been and am inspired by great horsemen and -women. There are so many, like Bill Steinkraus, George Morris, Wayne Lukas (racing), Don Harris (Saddlebreds) and Rich Campbell (Hackney Pony).
What would be the best gift in the world?
The best gift in the world, especially at this time, is peace on earth and goodwill to man.
What’s your favorite meal?
A great steak at Tony’s in Lexington, Kentucky, and stone crabs at Joe’s.
What’s something everyone should try at least once?
Everyone should try to be a winner at least once — it can become a good habit.
How would you like people to remember you?
I’d like to be remembered as a good horseman.
Photo by H. Leon Sargent
Photo by James Parker