Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Writing, Horses and Mentors on the Rail

I once made a sizable part of my living writing about equestrian sports (so long ago there's nothing to link to), and so when I read that Maryjean Wall retired, it struck a nerve of sorts. Wall was the first full time sportswriter to exclusively cover horse racing. I rarely wrote about racing, instead concentrating on the horse sports like show jumping, three day eventing, dressage, hunter competitions, equitation -- even endurance riding, barrel racing and polo.

I never met Wall, though I had heard of her. But someone not too unlike her was an important mentor to me –
Nancy Jaffer, probably the most prominent and skilled writer covering domestic and international equestrian sports today. Decades ago she convinced editors at New Jersey's major newspaper that an occasional horse show column needed to be a permanent fixture in the sports pages -- where it belongs, still under her byline.

Jaffer has covered the equestrian events at the Olympics, World Cup, Pan Am Games and everything in-between,
written or co-authored several books on training and equestrian athletes, and has made the leap to web writing look like trotting over a six-inch rail. Nearly 30 years ago, she took me under her wing when I was a college journalism student doing volunteer publicity for a New Jersey horse show, and she was incredibly gracious when about five years later, I landed on the equestrian journalism ladder and we became colleagues of a sort (she already had a secure position at the top rung, and while I left that arena long ago, she still is at the top of her game).

Wall elbowed aside the outdated thought that a racing writer had to be male, and Jaffer trounced the notion that covering horse sports belonged on the society pages. I'm sure in many ways I later benefited from both. So I'm hoping Wall has a wonderful retirement from the daily newspaper grind, and I'm also hoping the equestrian journalists who'll head to Beijing this summer – along with Jaffer – will have some sense of both of their efforts.

Thank you, I suppose, seems in order.

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