Many people were saddened by the passing of Mrs. Thomas (Wilhelmine)
Waller. Not only was she a lifelong supporter of both show hunters and
racehorses, but she also was the consummate horsewoman. Wilhelmine Waller
The horses always came first. Unlike many in the horse show world today, Mrs. Waller was not motivated by the blue ribbon.
Mrs. Waller was behind the creation of the regular working hunter division we find at the horse shows today. Originally, there was only a regular conformation division, in which she had a horse showing. It was a spectacular jumper but somewhat lacking in the conformation department. She eventually tired of her horse being on top only to be moved down the line behind fancier models, so she spearheaded the regular working division we have today.
When she asked me to ride Cheer For The Team in 1990, I was quite honored. I really only knew her through reputation. Over the several years I showed her horses, we forged a great friendship.
Mrs. Waller had her own way of doing things. And I discovered they were quite different from how others operate today. One thing that stands out in my mind was her uncanny ability to know how to plan a horse's year so as to get the best performance out of him at specific times of the year. She knew how to "save" a horse and when his performance should "peak."
There was no "point chasing" at Tanrackin Farm. Mrs. Waller would always lament on how disappointing is was for her to go to the indoor shows and see, as she put it, "broketo-death" horses cantering around the ring with no "spark," almost like lifeless drones. When her horses went to the fall shows, she wanted them to have "brilliance," to have an air of excitement in their performance.
She was a firm believer in a "less-is-more" approach to training and showing horses, an approach she encouraged me to adopt. She always Mrs. Waller's Fondest Wish By Lyman T. Whitehead felt that horses, to a degree, should be allowed to be horses. Many times she would encourage me to leave Cheer For The Team a bit fresh; to her, the occasional head toss was completely acceptable. On this point, we sometimes clashed. I was a young rider, wanting her horse to win lots of classes. But, to her, it was not about the blue ribbons. It was about a happy horse galloping (not cantering at a snail's pace) around a course with spark and life to his performance.
Mrs. Waller thought a horse should be natural, not artificial. Sometimes I had to grin and bear it, but come indoors, Cheer For The Team was sound and always came through with brilliant performances. A carefully planned year yielded some great victories there.
Even today, when I confront an issue regarding what to do in a particular situation, I always ask myself, "What would Mrs. Waller do?" Inevitably, the outcome is always better when I followed her mantra. I know Mrs. Waller's fondest wish would be for horsemen and horsewomen everywhere to do right by their equine partners. Not to abuse or overuse them, but to treat them kindly and compassionately. It's my belief that, if we all follow her advice, we'll find a greater return than any blue ribbon can ever give.