By Britney Grover
Jimmy Toon has truly done it all in the equestrian world, from standing with horses at kids’ parties to winning at Madison Square Garden. He has raised multiple Horses of the Year, racked up accolades including champion at Capital Challenge on Fade To Black, coached clients to wins at Indoors and judged prestigious shows across the country—which he continues to do today. He runs his JT Farm from South Salem, New York, with his wife, Ellen, one of the winningest amateur competitors in the country—and also one of Jimmy’s students, which is how they met.
A lot has changed in the industry since Jimmy got what might be, by today’s standards, a “late” start at 17, but he’s hopeful for the future of the sport. He and Ellen donated the In Disguise Perpetual Trophy to be presented to the trainer of the World Championship Hunter Rider Amateur Owner 3’6” National Champion at the Capital Challenge Horse Show; In Disguise, Ellen’s horse that started with Jimmy, is one of the few hunters ever to score a perfect 100, was USEF Horse of the Year in 2004 and will be inducted into the Show Hunter Hall of Fame this year.
How did you first get involved with horses?
I had a crush on this girl and I found out where she rode and signed myself up for a lesson, hoping that I could drive her to the lessons and see what would come of that. So a woman got me involved in horses! But I really fell in love with them. Once I got into it, I wanted to learn everything about it—I groomed, I braided, I learned to shoe. I ran horse shows, I did courses, I drove trucks to the shows, I tried to learn everything I could. I loved horses—I love horses today. You can’t complain when you work with horses.
When did you start JT Farm?
Around ’78 or ’79. Starting my own business, I remember making $40 in a whole week. I made $40 and I said to myself, “You know what? At least it’s my $40.” I did everything to make money—I’d take horses to a party and stand there with them, I’d do carpenter work on my day off. Eventually I got to a point where I bought my own facility in New York, where I was for 10 years and met my wife there when she came to ride with me.
Do you have a particular favorite horse over the years?
In Disguise was my favorite horse—I’ve had so many nice horses, but he has been my all-time favorite because he was just a special horse. He wanted to win, and he was a winner—he won his first class he went in. He could be not paying attention but whenever he got near the jump, he just jumped it—he jumped incredibly, and he jumped crossrails like he jumped 4’6”. He was a freak of nature.
Have you had a funny horse moment that still makes you laugh?
I was riding a horse in Florida at home; I picked up a canter, and I had these cavaletti that were about 3’ and I decided to jump it. I saw that I needed to move up a little, and the horse never moved up—we left so long at that jump I got frustrated and kicked him with both of my legs. He bucked me right off, I landed in front of him on the ground and I looked up at him and said, “Not a good idea I did that, huh?” He was just staring at me—I found that very amusing. I never did anything like that again.
If you had a week off, what would you do?
I do play a little golf—I’m probably the world’s worst golfer, but I do enjoy it. I went to Casa de Campo one time for a whole week and all I did was play golf every night and lost all my golf balls by the time I went home. I like to travel; I love going to Europe. I’d like to go to Sweden or Switzerland—but that would be to look at horses! Here I am once again back on the horses. I can’t get away from it.
What do people not know about you?
I lost my parents young—I never tell people about that. I also have a soft side of me, even though people think I don’t. They think I’m always so driven, and I am driven—but I really care about people. I like to see good things happen to nice people, and I love seeing people or horses I train go on to do great things. I’m very proud of them—I’m like a proud parent.
What’s your favorite food?
I love Italian food—I make Italian food. I love salads and make my own salad dressings. I love to cook.
What else do you like to do when you’re not riding?
I love swimming. I love watching my two sons in sports—they’re CrossFit men and I love going to their competitions. I find that pretty exciting, to be rooting for your own child—probably even more exciting than watching my horses, and I get a big kick out of my horses!
What’s something every rider should remember?
This needs to be fun. You don’t need to be driven so crazy that you cry, or so jealous that you can’t stand that other person. It’s a sport of great animals that you get to sit on and enjoy. That’s really something special.
Photos courtesy of Jimmy Toon