Winning the World is Just One Battle
by Pam Gleason, photography by Gary Knoll
In September 2015, Ina Ginsberg, 81, accomplished one of her life’s goals when she won the World Championship at the American Quarter Horse Association Select show in Amarillo, Texas. Ina was competing with her horse Hez Packing Heat (Sarge) in the 3-year-old halter division. In her 25-year career in the halter ring, she had been Reserve World Champion six times, often missing the championship by as little as half a point. Finally taking home the top prize was a real thrill for her and her team, and it was the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication. But this success just whetted her appetite: she’s back in the show ring again this year, and plans to do just as well with her new mare, Secretz Galore.
This is not especially surprising. Ina is nothing if not a competitor, and a fierce one at that. However, the best word for her is probably “tough.” A diminutive figure who tips the scales at less than 100 pounds, she practices handling her horses on a regular basis, prepares carefully for every event, and shows whenever and wherever she can. Her competition schedule would be tiring for a younger person, but Ina thrives on it. This is especially impressive when you realize that Ina has fought five rounds with cancer, and beaten the illness each time.
“I work out,” she says. “I practice. The way I figure it, you are going to do it one of two ways. You are going to do it the “la-di-da” way and always be a beginner and not want anything else and not expect anything of your trainer, or you are going to do the best you can, and you would hope your trainer would do the same. I know how to lose – I have lost enough and I don’t like it. I figure if I am going to spend the money and the time, I am going to do it seriously. It costs just as much to enter the horse that finishes last as the one that has a chance to be first.”
Ina trains with Jeffrey Pait, the owner of Pait Quarter Horses in Aiken. She and her husband Arnie recently bought a home in town and they plan to spend half their time in here and the other half in Arizona where they have lived for over three decades. Ina and Arnie first came to Aiken two years ago when Jeffrey Pait and his wife Bronwyn moved here, and they loved the city. “The people here are so friendly,” she says. “It’s a warm place.” Buying a home in Aiken made sense because it enables Ina to spend more time with her horses and with the Paits who have become her friends as well as her trainers.
“I feel very fortunate to have found Jeffrey,” she says. “He has really impressed me.” For their part, the Paits say the feeling is mutual.
Getting Into Horses
Ina is originally from the Boston area, and she has been an enthusiastic horse and dog lover since she was a child. This was not always easy in her family.
“My father was brought up in a tiny town in Northern Maine and he loved animals. But my mother, who was the youngest of 13 surviving children, was Mrs. Clean and she did not like animals. The only pets we had when I was growing up were two goldfish and they lived outside in the back yard. Of course, they died every winter!” she says with a laugh.
She first learned to ride when she was sent to summer camp in Naples, Maine. It is hard to believe now, since she is so tiny, but Ina says that when she was a child she was tall for her age and quite heavy.
“Since I was so fat, the other girls weren’t killing one another to have me on their sports teams,” she says. “The only thing I seemed to do well was to ride horses.” Ina’s instructor was Skipper Bartlett, a renowned riding master who had been a World War I cavalry officer. “Being so big, I never rode a pony. I rode Captain, and Jack and Major. We went to little horse shows and I loved it.”
Ina remembers that when she came home from camp, her mother would practically be in a panic: to her, Ina’s clothes smelled unbearably of horses, and needed to be thoroughly washed right away. The family had a woman who worked for them named Lucy.
“I remember my mother shouting out ‘Lucy, come quick and get those things in the washing machine!’ as soon as she saw my trunk coming back from camp.”
After her camp years were over, Ina’s riding career took a back seat to other endeavors and she didn’t really get back in the saddle again until the 1970s. At that point, she was married to Arnie Ginsberg, and they had decided that it would be a good thing for their young son Allen to learn to ride, so Ina found a stable that was not too far away.
“I wasn’t going to let him go alone,” she says. “I went first to check it out.”
Eventually, Ina and Allen ended up at Elm Brook Farm in Concord, Mass., a large riding stable with an emphasis on foxhunting. Ina bought a big black Thoroughbred cross named Odyssey to be her hunt horse, as well as a little Quarter Horse cross mare for Allen, which she picked up at an auction for $300. Odyssey was a striking, athletic animal, but he had his quirks.
“He had a buck you wouldn’t believe,” she remembers. “And he didn’t always believe in jumping the fences. Sometimes he ran away. I fell off of him so many times and hit my head I can’t count. In those days, hard hats weren’t made like they are now and they used to break. I remember in one month I went through three hard hats.” Odyssey had enough of a reputation that when Ina was asked to join the staff of the Norfolk Hunt in Dover, Mass., she rode Lady Cecily to the meets instead. “They didn’t think a runaway horse was too appropriate.”
During this time, Ina was also pursuing another passion: breeding, raising and training Cocker Spaniels. She bought her first Cocker puppy in 1956, entered a match, and was immediately drawn into the dog show world. Her Juniper kennel became highly successful: Ina says that in 50 years she bred over 100 champions. She was also an official of the American Cocker Spaniel Club and a judge.
The dog shows had stirred Ina’s competitive nature, and she decided that she wanted to show horses more seriously, too. She moved to a show barn, bought a more tractable horse, and began to compete on the hunter jumper circuit. Meanwhile, she,Arnie and Allen had established a tradition of spending time at a ranch in Montana each summer. Originally, they had just been guests of the ranch, but eventually Ina started to go out before the season started to help gather the horses off the range. During the season, she would help school the horses that were giving other guests problems. “And that is how I came to love the West,” she says.
When Allen decide to attend college in Flagstaff, Arizona, Ina and Arnie, who were in the real estate business, ended up buying a working ranch near Scottsdale. Originally, it was supposed to be a second home where they could stay while visiting Allen and perhaps somewhere to retire eventually. But they quickly fell in love with Arizona and decided to move there full time. They sold their home in Weston, Mass and started their Western life.
Of course, Ina wanted to ride, and at first she indulged her passion with the ranch horses that came with the property they had purchased. She went on organized rides all over the state, and everyone was always impressed by the ability of her horses to handle anything, unlike some of the better-looking, better-bred horses that other people rode.
“I had a horse named Black Joe,” she says. “An ugly old horse, but, boy, could he chase a cow! He could climb any mountain, any rock.”
Ina also became involved with the Miss Rodeo America Pageant, serving on the board of directors of the organization and then as rodeo queen coordinator. The queen coordinator acts as the coach for rodeo queens, preparing them for higher-level events. Competitive as always, Ina dove into the task, helping her girls get the right clothing, counseling them and sending them to different trainers to improve their performance in various areas. After a girl she coached won the Miss Rodeo America national title (“She won in every category but photography,”) Ina retired to let someone else take over the job.
Although she says that when she moved out West she had decided she would never go to another horse show, she did not stay out of the action for long. She bought a young Quarter Horse and sent him to the trainer Mike Drennan. Mike made the horse into a roper and he had a successful career in the show ring under Mike and on the trails with Ina. Exposed to the AQHA show world through this connection, she decided to buy a halter horse.
Ina started to show in the halter ring in 1990 and she was quite at home there. (“It’s similar to showing dogs. You walk them and you jog them and you present them to the judge. Some are nice and some are nasty. Some like to show and some don’t. The horses are just a lot bigger.”) After going to the World Show one year, she decided that she wanted to have a really good halter horse, one that could place at the top levels. At this point, Ina had been diagnosed with cancer, and she wasn’t sure she would be able to ride again, but she was determined to own a world class horse.
“We gave Mike a big check and told him to buy me a horse. But he came home and he said he couldn’t find anything. He looked for two years. I was starting to get impatient.”
Finally, Ina was brought out to see a gelding named Securely. “I had never seen a horse like that before, and I fell in love.” She bought him, and immediately started to show and to win. When Mike left for the summer to train in Alaska, Ina took her horse to the late trainer Jack Brizendine, and did so well showing out of his barn that she stayed there for many years. “Any little bit that I accomplished in halter was because of Jack,” she says.
Competing in the Open division with a professional, Securely was named World Champion in 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, Ina racked up high point awards in the amateur divisions, showing Securely and several other horses, from weanlings on up. Devoted to her new discipline, she also did some small scale breeding.
About four years ago, Ina went to the doctor and was told that her cancer had returned and she had just six months to live. At first she was despondent, but her husband and her trainer knew that the horses would see her through.
“Jack and Arnie decided I needed a weanling,” she says. Weanlings can go to the World Championships without qualifying, and they wanted Ina to have her chance to win the World title. They found a colt named Hez Packing Heat who looked promising. Ina had owned his grandmother and bred his mother, and so he seemed a natural choice. They bought him.
“I was worried the first time I showed him that I might pass out in the ring because I had had a couple of cancer treatments,” she says. “But I didn’t. And when I came out of that ring, I said to Arnie, you know, I am no more tired now than I usually am I after I show. I’m going to live! And here I am.”
Hez Packing Heat (Sarge) had the right conformation for the show ring and he won many classes and championships, but Ina says he was a big horse and could be difficult for her to handle. “We had decided that after the Select World last year I would sell him. I never dreamed that he would win!”
And so last fall Sarge moved on to a new home. Ina bought a new horse this summer, Secretz Galore, a 4-year-old mare with a big heart. She has a kind temperament and beautiful manners – Ina’s name for her is “Sweetie.” The pair have just started showing and are well on their way to qualifying for the Worlds.
With a World Championship title, six reserves and over a dozen year end high point awards, it seems that Ina has accomplished a lot in the halter world. Does she have any plans to retire?
“I always said that I would show until I won my first World and then I would quit,” she says. “So when I won, they asked me if I was through, and I said, no. I want to do it again!”
When she talks about showing, Ina gets especially animated, and her love of horse shows is palpable. What are her goals for the future? She smiles, and her eyes glitter with a competitive spirit. She has just one word: “More!”