In 2001 the Museum of Hounds and Hunting in Leesburg, Virginia, mounted an exhibit of the works of artist Paul Brown, famed for his elegant rendering of horsemen, horsewomen, and horses—racing, showing, and foxhunting. I was, at the time, a member of the Museum Advisory Board, and on the night of the exhibit I watched with curiosity and interest a slim, elderly, and proudly composed woman being carried in her wheelchair up the narrow back steps inside the Westmoreland Davis mansion to the second floor where the exhibit was hung.
I didn’t know whom she was, nor did I even meet her. Two months later she was dead, and I was equally unaware of even that occurrence. Her name, I was to learn some years later, was Jane Pohl, and, though she was terminally ill the night I saw her, she was determined to attend the exhibit, her last outing, because she had lent some of the Paul Brown art depicting her and her horse Fitzrada for the exhibit. I couldn’t know at the time that I was witnessing the ending of a story with which I was to become more than familiar.
A few years after the exhibition, in my capacity as editor of The Derrydale Press Foxhunters’ Library, I received a call from a man who introduced himself as Richard Rust. He was a West Point graduate, a retired Army colonel, and a foxhunter. He had films, photos, newspaper clippings, and vivid memories of his late mother, Jane Pohl. He suggested that we meet so he could show me the material stored in his mother’s attic in Leesburg and discuss his plan to write her story.
Jane’s was a story of choices, both good and bad, that she made throughout her life; of her determination and grit to accomplish what she set out to do; of making do with what she had and not being defeated by all she didn’t have; of surmounting unforseen obstacles; and of the love between a single mother, her horse, and her son. I loved the story.
In 1941 Jane was a buck-toothed, teenage, horse crazy Army brat at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii who saw potential in an unpredictable and dangerous Thoroughbred that was about to be destroyed. Despite dire warnings delivered to Jane’s father by the stable sergeant, Jane persuaded her father to buy the horse. Years of Jane’s sensitive and patient re-schooling followed, along with the inevitable accidents and setbacks.
When Jane and Fitzrada finally emerged as a team and broke into the upper echelons of American postwar showjumping—until then virtually the exclusive domain of men—she received a cold welcome from some. But the astonishing success of this female owner-trainer of modest means with her backyard horse in this male-dominated arena of professional riders and wealthy owners, helped to break down the barriers that prevented women riders of the time from competing in the Olympics side-by-side with men.
In his Introduction to the book, four-time Olympic medal winner William Steinkraus wrote, “[Jane] was a sound rider whose style showed a marked Fort Riley influence. Fitzrada was a tough little horse who also had an army look about him, even aside from his cavalry neck brand, and showed enough wear and tear that you knew his life had not always been easy. However, he was very limber and athletic and could really jump. Jane had a lot of faith in him and, even better, had trained him to a point where she could ride him through the eye of a needle.”
Posted April 9, 2015