Jim Koford & “Scrappy Little Street Fighter” Pharaoh Likely to go to World Cup Final and 1st Championships

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James Koford and Pharaoh. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Jim Koford, in line to go to the World Cup Final with his borrowed horse, Pharaoh, will put on water wings and dog paddle to Europe for the chance to compete in his first championship.

Jim feels he is just getting going on his competition career at the age of 49 when many riders in the same age group are looking at retiring from the elite circuit of frequent travel with time away from home and business and the need to spend serious money.

That he likely will get to go to s’Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, for the Final of combinations from across Europe, Australia and North America–Jan Ebeling and Rafalca of the U.S. have qualified for one of the two places reserved for North America–is due to perseverance and a desire to excel, and a little of the luck that horse folks learn to relish when it comes their way because heartbreak could be just around the corner.

“The clock is ticking,” said Jim who spent the summer of 2010 training with Michael Klimke in Germany. “In Europe, all the people my age were retiring. I’m just getting going. I made a pact with myself–like President Obama said, ‘if not now, when.’ Before you know it, you’ve got gray hair. It is really, really time.”

Not without some bumps along the way, though.

Just this month, Pharaoh, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Ferro x Heureka VH Rampelhof x Carneval) that is owned by a young woman who works for him, developed an abcess in his right front foot that forced the pair to scratch from a CDI. And then a horse stepped on Jim’s right foot, breaking his little toe.

And Adrienne Lyle, the top ranked combination in the North American League, decided to devote her energy to winning a place for her and Wizard on the U.S. team for the Olympics in London this summer.

“Every one who rides hopes from the time they’re a little kid to go to championships,” said Jim, who grew up in Pennsylvania doing Pony Club and different disciplines so he could ride.

He got an economics degree from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, then spent almost a decade in advertising at an equestrian magazine based in the Washington, D.C.-area. He continued riding part-time until his partnership with the eye-catching pinto Dutch Warmblood stallion, Art Deco (Samber x Zorba) for owner, Elizabeth Potter-Hall.

That led to a lifestyle change he describes as a like “a midlife crisis at the age of 30,” quitting his office job to devote himself full time to the business of training horses and riders.

Several Grand Prix horses and almost 20 years later, he went through a similar “re-evaluation, re-directing” of his life.

“Instead of just teaching and riding,” Jim said, “I decided it was my time to develop as a rider and competitor. I came to that decision to get out of my comfort zone.”

He relocated himself to South Florida with Rhett and Pharaoh, and enjoyed a successful Palm Beach circuit this winter. As someone who has had to make his own way, a down-to-earth attitude and sense of humor have made Jim a popular figure in the dressage community.

His success brought in comparatively large chunks of prize money from the newly created Global Dressage Festival that will help to cover his costs of competing at the World Cup in Europe if he is selected.

“But honestly,” he said, “if I had to put on water wings to get there, I’d put them on and start dog paddling now. I’m ready to rock and roll. I can’t wait to get in that arena and have fun with my amazing horse.

“I feel strongly about my horse. I don’t think of it as filling one of the requisite number of slots for North America. I believe Pharaoh could put in a strong showing. I am absolutely confident we can hold our head high.

“He’s a scrappy little street fighter who will go in there and just light up.”

A footnote–After winning substantial prize money at a CDI in Wellington, he lifted his leg to show a boot with several holes worn in them and joked that he would be able to afford a new pair. He ordered a new pair from Germany, but worries that his broken toe could make breaking in the boots difficult.

“But I’m not going to Europe with holes in my boots.”