Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moody Aylor Horse Riding trainer in Rappahannock County

It's a quiet cloud-covered day in December and Moody Aylor, 69, sets out across several thousand acres of melting snow with 6 other horseback riders in pursuit. These riders range in skill from expert to intermediate. No beginning-riders are present today but they are welcome at Moody's stable. The horses walk and trot across the pastures, laboriously climb up steep mountain trails, and then sally down the other side. The horse that Moody rides today is a student as well for Moody cracks it across the neck with his crop trying to give it some discipline and break it's bad habits. Moody hollers "WAAAALK"--as if the word has more than one syllable--because the horse is trying to bolt.

Moody has about 40 horses that he owns or boards at Moody's Training and Riding Center located at the old mill two miles south of Sperryville on highway 522 on the Thornton river. He learned to care for horses at Jim Bill Fletcher's Thornton Hill farm where Moody moved with his family when he was 2 years old. Back then workhorses still worked on the farm so Moody as a young boy would ask to ride them back to the stables. Soon he was training horses and taking them to the Rappahannock Hunt to hunt foxes accompanied with dozens of hounds and dozens of riders.

Moody Aylor started his stable in a partnership with Bill Lane in 1965. Mr. Lane came down from Chicago and bought 18,000 acres of land. He got into the horse business and asked Moody if he would like to be a partner because he noticed that the horses Moody trained at Thornton Hill were well-behaved. Their plan was to buy horses, train them, and then sell them. But Mr. Lane grew tired of the horse business and found it different from what he expected. Knowing that Moody had put much time and effort into the business he asked Moody if he would like to rent a portion of the Lane farm and keep the horse business going. Moody says, "Before he got the words out of his mouth I said 'yes'".

Moody's business grew then as it does now by word of mouth. People would come to him saying they heard he was good with horses and ask him to teach them how to ride. One day someone came and asked him if he would board a horse. Moody's plan was "anything in the horse world that you needed I could take care of you".

As Moody sits in his office lined with newspaper clippings, ribbons, and photographs of races won he relates his life story and explains his philosophy of teaching riders and training horses. His approach to riding is a conservative one that stresses safety. Moody says "You have to pay attention to learn. Take your time and put your mind to it. People have a tendency to just want to do it."

Safety is one reason why Beth Hilscher of Woodville brought her daughter Emily, a 14 year old Rappahannock High School student, to ride at Moody's stable. When Emily was 8 years old she was riding at another stable and fell off and broke her arm. Beth wouldn't let Emily ride anymore but Emily kept pestering her mother for 2 years. Beth heard about Moody through a friend and Emily started taking lessons at Moody's riding school.

Emily rode at Moody's for 2 years and then Moody took her hilltoping with the Warrenton Hunt . (Moody says many people misunderstand the term "hilltopping". This is a group of people who ride separate from the main pack of hounds and horses who gallop through the woods and leap over fences at a speed not meant for the faint of heart nor the inexpert rider. Moody says to hilltop you still need adequate skills to control your horse at any speed.) Moody taught Emily jumping skills and after 4 years mentioned she started pony racing. She has raced at the Gold Cup and the local hunt club races. Emily says, "I am moving up to junior horse races next year and Moody is going to help me with that." Emily and her mother keep two horses at Moody's stable: Luigi and Flojack. Emily continues, "We would never take our horses anywhere else unless we had to." She says, "It's not like show riding where you get all dressed up and have to be in one position. He teaches you how to ride and how to be safe. And we love Moody to death and that is why we go there."

Moody's forté is training people to fox hunt. "It is the one of the greatest sports, " he says. To participate you need to be a decent rider. Riding downhill fast is difficult so he trains riders to do that and he teaches them how to leap over jumps so they can jump over fences. Doris Jones of Woodville is one of many people that Moody has taught to fox hunt. She bought two horses from Moody over the years and has kept horses at his stables. She too heard about Moody from a friend.

Moody started riding with the Rappahannock Hunt when he was still working for Jim Bill Fletcher. For about 15 years he has been riding with the Warrenton Hunt. He transports horses to the hunt and takes people out and coaches them to be fox hunters. He even took his son, Pete, when he was 6 years. He held onto Pete's horse with a tether while Pete leaped over fences and galloped through the woods. Pete is now a professional trainer himself with a facility between Marshall and Warrenton.

Moody says it's simple to learn to ride horses. "You need to think it out and plan." He compels, "Direct the horse. Learn to move with the horse and not just sit on it. That programs the horse to behave."

When Moody bought a farm in Gid Brown Hollow he was always looking for extra ways to make money. So he worked as a ferrier putting shoes on horses for people like Edward Hudson of Little Washington who owned some racehorses. Moody asked him if he would give him the chance to train one of his Thoroughbreds to race. So in 1968 Moody took one of Ed Hudson's horses to the racetrack at Charleston and in the third race he won first place. Moody still works with racehorses but less than before.

Lots of people ask Moody to train their horses. They bring in problem horses with bad habits and Moody says those bad habits are not the horse's fault. He says the owner must learn how to be a trainer. "If you do it right you're gonna have a nice horse."

Even with all the safety precautions riding can be dangerous as Moody knows himself. Once his horses got tangled in some yellow jackets and the horse in front of Moody kicked Moody in the leg. The horse's hoof cuts through Moody's leather boot and fractured his shin bone.

"I learned the hard way the things I preach to people". He says he also learned from watching the mistakes of other people. His father told him to learn "keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.'

Moody's fleet of old horse transport trucks attests to the many years he has spent ferrying horses to and from fox hunts and various race tracks. He tells the story of when he was 21 years old and a car skidded out in front of him on any mountain icy road with no guard rail. Moody had no where to go with his horse truck but into a bank. The truck stopped safely but then rolled over onto it's side. The horses inside fell together into one several thousand pound tangle of saddles, brides, hooves, and manes. One horse's foot even poked through the side of the truck. 40 to 50 people gathered around the young, very nervous Moody Aylor each giving advice on what to do. Moody kept his cool, chopped a hole in the side of the truck with a hatchet. Then he crawled into the truck on top of the horses and freed them one by one. The many bystanders helped with ropes and they dragged all the horses to safety. No horse was injured except the one with it's hoof poked through the side'it suffered a cut that healed in a few weeks.

Copyright 2003 Rappahannock News. Reprinted with Permission.

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