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The UPHA Richard E. Lavery Horseman of the Year Award: Larry Hodge

Editor's Note: The following speech was read by Elisabeth Goth on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002, at the UPHA /AHHS Convention in Lexington, Ky.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen! It is indeed my distinct honor and great pleasure to present the UPHA Richard E. Lavery Professional Horseman’s Award to a man who is not only an amazingly successful and talented horseman, but is also a very dear friend of mine. Before I tell you about him, I would like to thank his numerous friends, his sisters, brother, sons and extended family members and clients, most of who are here tonight and contributed to this speech. They shared their innermost thoughts with me about just what it is that makes this person so worthy and deserving of this important, and, in my opinion, long overdue award. I am only sorry that I cannot share everything with you tonight.

Although this is a yearly award, it would not be possible to receive it without a lifelong commitment to the horse business. Tonight’s recipient has done just that, and he has done so out of a deep love for horses. His dedication and devotion to them, and to this industry are second to none.

He was born not so very long ago in Halls Crossroads, Tenn., the fourth of five children. I was told he inherited his love of horses from his mother, Helen, whose father was a mail carrier in the horse and buggy days. Our honoree’s father, Max, was in the grocery business and was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling and extremely painful disease. Max had, according to his daughter, an iron will. He taught his family to never give up and to not expect anyone to take up for you until you learned to take up for yourself. He taught them to "keep positive", an expression our honoree uses regularly. I have been told our honoree bears a striking physical resemblance to his father, but I would say in more ways than just physical.

Our honoree started riding ponies as a young boy, after having graduated from a rocking horse as a child. In fact, he rode his pony everywhere, all the time, including to football practice. According to legend, or John Tindle, to be exact, Helen, our honorees’ mom, took him to Tattersall’s and bought him a consignment from David Neil’s Blythewood Farm. This pony would change his life. His name was High Voltage and come to think of it, if his name was any indication of his temperament, the two must have been well matched. According to one of his chief rivals at the time, and currently a well known and highly regarded trainer in her own right, High Voltage was very tough and the two of them and their Tennessee ponies went all over the southeast showing everywhere, including Lexington.

This exposure led to our honoree riding with and apprenticing under some of the most influential trainers in the history of the sport….Royce Cates, Rap Sherill, Ned Clapp, Jim B. Robertson, George Gwinn and Garland Bradshaw. While our honoree was at Ned Clapp’s Highland Hickory Stable, he was working a horse called Folly Of Ortez. He happened to take him to the Waynesville, N.C., show and win the Fine Harness Stake. He then convinced Mr. Clapp, on the way back to the barn, to let him roach his mane and show him back in the walk/trot stake, which he also won. Upon leaving the ring, our honoree found Mr. Clapp in such a high state of excitement, he had three cigarettes going at the same time; one in his mouth and one in each hand.

This ability to electrify and excite his audience has never left our honoree. According to Jim B. Robertson’s son, Walt, our honoree and Walt, "Drove Jim B. crazy." After driving Jim B. crazy, our honoree went on to Mr. Gwinn's, Mr. Bradshaw's and then on to Highpoint Farm. From there, he went to what is now his home, Kalarama Farm, where, since you now know who I am talking about, Larry has been for the past 20 some odd years. According to Paul Hamilton, who sends his love and congratulations, Larry was a "godsend". Mr. Hamilton has fond memories of travelling around to all of the shows, but when asked what it is that makes Larry so successful, he cites Larry’s unique capacity to transform either a horse or a rider through hard work and determination, and cites Razor Sharp’s Madison Square Garden performance with David Goodstein as an example.

Almost without fail, everyone I spoke with, talked about Larry’s patience. Paul Rice tells me that Coed’s Leading Lady was a prime example of a horse that never would have made it to the show ring without Larry’s patience. Mr. Rice has been Larry’s customer for 21 years and Larry has won over nine world’s championships for the Rice’s, all with homebred horses.

Jimmy Hamilton cites Larry’s dogged determination as a major contributing factor to his success. Larry has been able to weather the storms that have blown through his life: a near fatal car accident that left this arm nearly severed; the passing of his father in 1986; the shocking and sudden passing of his brother Ronnie in 1997 and his mother in December of 1999. Larry has transcended these and other obstacles by dedicating himself, his will, and his genuine and deep love for Saddlebreds, to his pursuit of excellence.

Several of his riders talk about Larry’s supportive, positive position he takes before, during and after a horse show. They cite his kindness and ability to inspire trust as very important characteristics that make up his personality. "My success is his success, " says Misdee Wrigley. Larry is far-sighted that way.

Some of his friends and fellow horsemen talked to me about his "no guts, no glory" approach to showing. He puts himself on the line, he goes the extra mile, he steps up to the plate and takes the heat. He is always bigger than the occasion and he handles pressure so very well. He exercises good judgement, and he believes in his horses and riders.

Bit Hutcherson says, "He tells you you can do it, and you figure you can do it." His good friend David Rudder says he has a star quality about him and that Larry is the "show" in horse show. Neil Visser, says Larry is simply the best showman he’s ever seen. David also mentions Larry’s ability to relate to all types of people, and Neil cites his kindness and compassion towards other people as his very best attribute.

Several people mentioned his respectful treatment of his excellent and first-rate staff, and the fact that his horses are turned out in an impeccable manner. Jenny Garlington says that Larry has picked horses that suit her to a "T", and that they seem to have been born and bred for her. Deborah Orr admires the fact that he does not accept defeat or someone getting down on themselves. Vickie Reed appreciates the fact that he is always positive and talks about his endearing quality of total enthusiasm for horses and a horse show.

Many people cite his God given gift of talent and instinct, including his son, Max, who wonders if in a previous life, he wasn’t a horse! Max thanks his father for the values and ideals of patience and persistence and attention to detail that Max now takes with him as he, too, pursues a career in the horse industry. Bill Knight says, "His kind don’t run in herds".

Many of us know that standing next to a great man is a great woman, and Larry is no exception. Imagine your life partner breeding and raising the horse you won the gaited stake on! Joan and Larry are a total compliment to each other.

I also asked several people which of Larry’s performances particularly impressed them. Those mentioned include his rides on Garland’s Dream, My Chanel as a junior horse at Louisville, Yes It’s True as a junior horse, Vanity’s Showcase in the stake and Razor Sharp winning the three- year-old harness and three-year-old gaited class at Louisville in the same year.

I now ask that his family come forward to join me in congratulating the only living trainer of all three world’s grand champions, a man of substance and of style, the incomparable and extraordinary, Larry Hodge.

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