I was a horse crazy, horseless pre teen growing up on the outskirts of The Main Line of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My young nose was pressed up against the window watching the horse community but I could not participate. My parents were sure that my horse obsession was “just a phase”. To be fair the household budget was stretched thin just providing my two brothers and myself all the advantages they already deemed necessary for our successful upbringing. We were groomed to be successful, literate members of society. Accordion lessons (Dad had a friend who played accordion in a pub, plus it was cheaper than buying a piano), clarinet lessons (Dad idolized Benny Goodman), chorus, drama club, swimming and diving teams (summer and winter league), soccer, football, marching band, economics club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, all while maintaining an A or B average in school. Horses were not part of the plan.
Lucky for me the horse community was covered in local newspapers and magazines as part of the Society Pages. I would read any article with any mention of the horse community. I would moon over the black and white photograph of any horse; I daydreamed of skillfully guiding a big, powerful horse around a show jumping course in the Wanamaker Oval to thunderous applause. I distinctly remembered that the spectators were applauding not because I won the trophy but they were applauding my skill and horsemanship.
Where did I learn to value horsemanship over winning when I was not even riding yet? The examples were reported in the newspaper features and the colorful magazine inserts in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer. Top riders were quoted extolling the respect and skill needed to ride horses successfully. It took a person of strong moral character and humility to be a good horseman or woman, they reminded all readers. That was a fact printed in black and white in the Inquirer. I believed it.
William Steinkraus repeatedly appeared in print both newspapers and books on riding. His riding skill and horsemanship was held up as the example of good horsemanship. Fifty-seven years later I am reading the same tributes to William Steinkraus on Facebook.
Here is a link to for a Tribute to William Steinkraus written by Mollie Sorge for “The Chronicle of the Horse” detailing his life in and out of the saddle. http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/farewell-to-william-c-steinkraus
George Morris wrote a February 2008 article for “The Chronicle of the Horse” titled “Bill Steinkraus’ Two Dozen Useful Aphorisms”. The wisdom in these “useful aphorisms” stood the test of time and was republished in The Chronicle on December 13, 2013. At the close of the article George Morris wrote “Aren’t Bill Steinkraus’ aphorisms wonderful? They are little gems, pearls of wisdom that keep you on the right track. That’s why I had to share them with you.”
Here is the link to the whole article by George Morris. http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/tbt-steinkraus-aphorisms
In my formative years I learned that a Good Horseman or Horsewoman
- Never lost their temper
- Always treated their horse with respect and patience
- Never cursed or acted crudely to anyone whether they were groom or a society maven
- Never blamed their horse for mistakes
- Learned to lose gracefully
- Always sincerely congratulated the winner
- Took time to encourage the younger riders follow their example
I was not so naïve to think that the uglier side of human nature did not exist. Every day I witnessed examples of cruelty to man and beast. I aspired to be a better human being just like my horse world heroes. I knew if I just followed their example I would become a respected horseperson also. Winning ribbons and trophies was secondary to displaying good horsemanship.
This picture of Bill Steinkraus and Fleet Apple gliding over a huge jump makes riding well look easy. The horse looks confident and unstressed. The elastic and balanced harmony the pair displayed is ideal. Here was proof that this harmony between rider and horse was achievable by anyone with the self-discipline and the persistence to practice.
Here is a slide show of William Steinkraus riding other horses over the years.
I salute my childhood idol who influenced me and many others.
You stand the test of time.
William Steinkraus October 12, 1925 – November 29, 2017