Silke Rottermann: "Know the Past to Judge the Future"

Wed, 02/15/2023 - 10:04
Jimmy Wofford and The Optimist at the 1986 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Horse Trials :: Photo © Mary Phelps

Guest columnist of this week is our long-time contributor and history buff Silke Rottermann, who felt deeply saddened when she heard of the passing of Jimmy Wofford. Here is a reflection on why the sport has lost a legendary horseman. 

Know the Past to Judge the Future

When Eurodressage's editor-in-chief sent me a message on 2 February 2023 which stated that American eventing legend James „Jimmy“ Wofford (1944-2023) had died, I felt a strong wave of sadness which brought me down for the rest of the evening.

Never have I met Wofford in person, but he promptly helped me after an email request the year before with some history of US dressage at the beginning 1970s. 

A Rare Breed

Being as eventing mad as dressage mad (pssst, I admit I'm actually more eventing mad) I followed Wofford’s thought provoking pieces in the US publication Practical Horseman for many years and soon realised that he belonged to those absolutely rare personalities.

Those who have seen and done it all over the past 60 years, as rider, trainer and official and whose genuine love for horses shone through all the thoughts and considerations, sometimes written with a sharp pen. He always posed the right questions at the right time, making us readers sit and think.

Know Your History

We, the young(er) generation, no matter to which equestrian discipline we are dedicated, have known international sport only as an extremely professionalized and global affair, a business, a hunt for records in the rectangle or elsewhere, a place where breeding showcases its staggering achievements and more recently as a sport which cannot take its so-called social license for granted anymore.

But do we, the younger ones, really all know how equestrian sport came that far and do we really need to know it at all?

At least I think we need to. We should have an interest in our sports’ history: to better understand those who paved the way for the present protagonists, for the foundations of proper riding. We need to know those luminaries who stamped their period of time, to contextualize also some of the negative developments in the sport and the reasons for it. And last not least  we need to know the those generous creatures of the past who made those riders.


The FEI was founded a bit over a hundred years ago and so incredibly much has happened in all its spheres since then.
Those who witnessed a greater part of this single century and were permanently and from early on involved in the sport are getting alarmingly rare which is the passing of time.

Since I started writing for Eurodressage in 2009, Georg Wahl (1920-2013) and Eva-Maria Pracht (1937-2021) have died, two longtime protagonists of international dressage who I could always turn to for getting to know what really happened from the post war period to our days. They both gave me invaluable historical insights. They helped me tremendously to understand the development of international dressage to what it is today.

People who have experienced the past 6-7 decades of FEI sport history first hand with all its decisive twists and turns are invaluable to paint a clearer picture of the past.

Know the Past to Judge the Future

A far gone time which is arrogantly smiled at by some or which is too ofte glorified by some others without careful consideration. Between both groups there often seems an insurmountable ditch, far wider than the infamous Cottesmore Leap at the 5-star classic Burghley.

But both groups have something in common: The big majority of their representatives have never eye-witnessed this past of which glory and failures have led to the sport we know today, no matter if we worship its current state or see it very critically.

For that reason sadly this dying stamp of horsemen, of which Jimmy Wofford certainly was one of the most brilliant, is a tragic loss for our sport. To those horsemen we should listen to as long as it is still possible. Or to say it in the words of Wofford himself: "We need to take a close look at our evolution as a sport and develop a vision of what we want the future look like."

- by Silke Rottermann

Read an In Memoriam on Jimmy Wofford on