KEEDYSVILLE — Bill Moroney was 7 years old when he visited his grandfather’s Massachusetts home and began feeding and petting the horses.
“I pestered my father into taking me to riding lessons,” said Moroney, 51.
Moroney doesn’t get too many chances to ride anymore, but he relishes the opportunities he gets.
As president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, based in Lexington, Ky., Moroney spent about a third of the past year on the road, away from his 6-acre spread south of Keedysville.
Moroney has been the association’s only president since its inception seven years ago. He hasn’t decided whether to run in the next election, which comes at the end of 2012. He’s eligible to serve only one more four-year term.
“I believe, myself, that it is good to change leadership,” Moroney said.
By that, he said, he doesn’t mean changing leadership every year, but getting new people to lead.
As long as a capable successor is identified, Moroney said he’d have no problem stepping aside. And if a capable successor hasn’t been identified, he would have no problem continuing for another term.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation mandated the formation of an affiliate organization for hunter jumpers, the federation’s last discipline to have its own association, Moroney said. Hunter jumpers had grown to account for about 40 percent of the federation’s membership, and it had become a “sore spot where the federation was perceived as hunter jumper-only rather than an organization of all its members,” Moroney said.
As he learned riding while living in Alexandria, Va., Moroney started competing at local events that weren’t recognized by the state horse show association, similar to many of the hunter jumper shows in Washington County, he said.
At age 12, he began competing in contests recognized by the Virginia Horse Show Association, and later a national horse show association.
Around the age of 19, he began training other riders.
During his junior year at George Mason University, Moroney said his father told him it was time to make a choice — continue a career as a trainer or finish college and go to law school.
He chose the horses.
Moroney said he enjoyed working with youths and adults who were interested in learning and understanding why things are done the way they are.
Many of Moroney’s nearly 100 clients have been long-term customers, and some have gone on to compete at the grand prix level, although none competed at the World Cup or Olympics, he said.
Moroney serves on a committee that oversees selection procedures for the U.S. Olympic jumping team.
The sport has grown a lot since his youth, particularly during the 1990s, when the economy was doing well and more people became wealthy and got involved in horse sports, said Moroney, who also is a columnist for The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.
Now there are horse shows year-round, and the Hunter Jumper Association has been able to expand educational programs, Moroney said.
At the same time, that infusion of new members has led some horse enthusiasts to “say our tradition has gone by the wayside,” Moroney said.
“The traditional horsemen hasn’t grown at the same rate as the number of participants,” Moroney said.
A traditionalist values learning the correct way to ride, putting the horse and training first, whereas some people circumvent that training by “buying a more skilled mount to help them achieve results in a quicker fashion,” Moroney said.
Moroney still trains a handful of riders in the Middleburg, Va., area when he gets a chance and judges some events across the country.
Through Lori Bellerive, Moroney said, he got involved with the Washington County Horse Council.
Occasionally he visits local shows like the council’s Hunter Show, at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center south of Hagerstown last July, for which he designed the course.
He has judged shows at the ag center, where he has volunteered for five spring and fall clinics to train children and adults in hunter jumping and equitation.
Moroney helped the Washington County Horse Council with its first hunter show in 2009, serving as the judge and helping to develop the prize list, said Bellerive, clinic and show coordinator with the horse council.
“He designs courses for all our hunter shows. We go to him for everything,” Bellerive said.
“It’s a godsend. We are so extremely fortunate to have him involved, and take a liking and an interest and really be guiding us,” Bellerive said.
At the clinics, Moroney knows within five minutes what a person needs to work on, what a horse needs to work on and what their strengths are, she said.
Next year, the clinics will be expanded from one to two days, Moroney said.
And then there are those two or three days a month when he gets the chance to steal away to Middleburg and go riding, said Moroney, who for 30 years rode six days a week.
“I really like the riding part more for the fact that you can get away from the rest of it. You can go out on the horse and transfer your thoughts from the rest of the world,” Moroney said.
WHAT IS HUNTER JUMPING?
There are three of classes for hunter jumper competitions:
-Show jumping: The rider and horse are judged on how quickly they can navigate a course, leaving all the jumping obstacles up. Points are deducted for exceeding the time permitted for the course, or for refusing to jump an obstacle or knocking down an obstacle.
-Show hunter: The horse is judged on the precision of the ride, including its movements, jumping style and manners. The rider and horse are judged on how well they execute the course. For example, does the horse leave the ground for each jump at relatively the same place and does the horse have a consistent pace?
-Equitation: The rider is judged on style — the way he or she sits and is positioned on the horse; and execution — the way the rider guides the horse around the course.