Moody will al­ways watch out for us

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Moody Ay­lor passed from the world this past week. He was beloved and known through­out the county and be­yond, his spe­cialty, among oth­ers, horse­man­ship.

He died in his 80's — his heart, as it’s done for so many years, giv­ing out but for one last time.

“A fa­tal­ity brush fire,” in the words of Amissville Fire Chief J.B. Carter, “still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion” as the Rap­pa­han­nock County Sher­iff’s Of­fice Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon awaited the re­sults of an ini­tial au­topsy.

Moody was beloved by many, like Anne Pal­lie, who has rid­den and stud­ied with him for years, and once said: “If you are for­tu­nate enough to be­come one of Moody’s friends, he al­ways watches out for you. If you need to brush up on your skills, if your horse needs some straight­en­ing out, if you are in trouble and need a hand or ad­vice, Moody will be there for you. But you have to earn his love and re­spect. Once you do, he’s got your back.”

“He is al­ways watch­ing,

out­spo­ken, want­ing and ready to help you be a bet­ter and safer rider, whether you want to hear his opin­ion or not,” added Jeanie McNear, an­other long­time friend who said she was most ap­pre­cia­tive of his hon­esty. “He is also one of the friendli­est and most good­hearted souls one could ever be for­tu­nate to know.”

“Ditto,” said Doris Jones of Five Forks, a friend and stu­dent of Moody.

From the time he was a tyke, Moody was smit­ten with all things equine. He mas­tered myr­iad dis­ci­plines over the years, in­clud­ing fox­hunt­ing, steeple­chase racing and racing in gen­eral, breed­ing horses, driv­ing and horse train­ing (es­pe­cially prob­lem horses); he mas­tered far­rier work and taught him­self vet­eri­nary meth­ods.

He lived in a cabin sur­rounded by man­i­cured lawns, barns and whim­si­cal fig­urines, but spent dawn to dusk most days at his sta­bles on Fletcher’s Mill Road. Once a bustling com­pound filled with 40 horses, in re­cent years he slowed down the busi­ness some and the sta­ble housed about 15 mounts. It now lies empty. His busi­ness was, as al­ways, based on word-of­mouth.

Up un­til he was in his early 80's, Moody still trained, of­fered riding lessons, and fox hunted with the Thorn­ton Hill Hounds. His race­horse train­ing gar­nered own­ers first-place rib­bons, his men­tor­ing of young rid­ers re­warded with A-cir­cuit performanc­es and his fox­hunt­ing train­ing equipped many a hunter with en­vi­able skills.

In his 79th year I had the honor of sit­ting with him, in a worn, com­fort­able chair amid the dust and dark heavy wooden beams of his of­fice in a sev­eral-hun­dred-year-old barn. I ab­sorbed the sight of walls cov­ered with old and faded pic­tures; rib­bons ga­lore; proud write-ups of his no­to­ri­ety with horse and rider; pic­tures of him astride a beau­ti­ful thor­ough­bred, sit­ting tall and ma­jes­tic in scar­let and wear­ing the cov­eted col­ors so well earned. Earn­ing col­ors is a time­honored tra­di­tion in the hunt world, a deeply re­spected honor.

Moody was only two when his par­ents and five sib­lings moved to Fletcher’s Mill and started work­ing for the Fletcher fam­ily. Back then the farm used draft horses as work horses. En­rap­tured with the an­i­mals, Moody would take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to ride. By five, he could be found astride his mount and hold­ing onto the large plow horse col­lar, part of the har­ness used in those days for plow­ing and tim­ber­ing. Over the years, Moody learned from the farm hands and through trial and er­ror and lis­ten­ing, he said, he learned what he knows.

His skill was not lost upon Jim Bill Fletcher, who more and more re­lied on Moody to man­age the horses. As Jim Bill’s pas­sion for fox­hunt­ing grew, re­sult­ing in in­creased train­ing and breed­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, Moody’s skill be­came even more valu­able.

I ad­mit­ted to Moody that I had been a “lawn dart” on more than one oc­ca­sion — one who is cat­a­pulted over the head of a horse to the ground. Moody smiled and re­counted with great hu­mor a tale of cut­ting cat­tle. He was of­ten astride Queen, a speed­chal­lenged draft, so that when faced with a way­ward calf, he’d have to over­com­pen­sate and ride in con­cen­tric cir­cles in or­der to cor­ral and di­rect the calf.

He had oc­ca­sion to cut cat­tle one day with a quar­ter horse newly in­tro­duced to the farm. Moody had no ex­pe­ri­ence with quar­ter horses, noted for their barrel racing acu­men be­cause of their abil­ity to swing tightly around bar­rels at high speeds prac­ti­cally leaning full-tilt side­ways. This par­tic­u­lar horse hailed from the mid­west and un­be­knownst to Moody, was highly trained.

He was caught off guard when the horse sud­denly re­sponded to a calf’s er­rant flight and fol­lowed it with an abrupt hair­pin turn at a high speed, launch­ing Moody into the air and land­ing him with a re­sound­ing thud 25 feet away, while the now-rid­er­less Quar­ter Horse con­tin­ued to pur­sue the calf and squire it into the ring with­out fur­ther in­ci­dent. Moody chuck­led over the mem­ory.

He talked an­i­mat­edly of days of yore, of his deep re­spect for Jim Bill Fletcher and Bill Lane, two men who proved piv­otal and pos­i­tive in­flu­ences in his life, and the lis­tener is trans­ported. He talks of com­ing home from the Army at age 25, and Jim Bill telling Moody that he’d like to of­fer him a job. And so it be­gan anew, the re­la­tion­ship with Jim Bill.

Jim Bill was a big man, and bought big half bred horses from Dun­nie Eastham to suit his fox­hunt­ing pas­sion, and he was, re­counted Moody, a force of na­ture, larger than life, a Rap­pa­han­nock ti­tan, pas­sion­ate about his suc­cess­ful le­gal pro­fes­sion, equally pas­sion­ate about fox hunt­ing.

He be­came known, Moody con­tin­ued, as al­most sin­gle hand­edly found­ing the Rap­pa­han­nock Hunt, so revered that it at­tracted rid­ers as far and wide as Farm­ing­ton and Mid­dle­burg, as well as all over the re­gion. To hunt with Rap­pa­han­nock was to acknowledg­e your abil­ity to re­ally ride, a badge of honor earned, jump­ing over large nat­u­ral jumps, some im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by pre­car­i­ous down­ward slopes, cat­a­pult­ing a horse and rider down­ward at great speeds. Riding with Rap­pa­han­nock, Moody smiled, was not for the faint of heart.

When Moody was a teen, a mare gave birth to a small horse, av­er­age size but too small for Jim Bill’s needs. He gave the horse to Moody. That horse in turn be­came Moody’s best buddy, and ac­com­pa­nied him as he shot rab­bits and squir­rels, at ease with Moody crack­ling ri­fles and shot­guns off her back.

They’d romp over hill and dale and jump ev­ery con­ceiv­able jump with flair. She was fluid in her move­ments and Moody fox hunted her first flight with enor­mous suc­cess. The hunt of­ten en­ticed guest rid­ers from all around, and had a fam­ily quite in­ter­ested in his mount.

Dun­nie Eastham, rep­re­sent­ing the fam­ily, came to Moody and of­fered him $400, but was de­clined. “You need to un­der­stand,” Moody said, “$400 back then was a lot of money, es­pe­cially for me.” Dun­nie came back again not sev­eral days later, and of­fered Moody $600. Moody po­litely de­clined once more. Dun­nie came back once more and of­fered him $700.

Jim Bill took Moody aside and en­cour­aged him to ac­cept the money. “That’s a lot of money for you,” Fletcher said, “and with your tal­ent you can train an­other horse.” And so, at the ripe old age of 16, Moody was the proud owner of a ve­hi­cle with a lot of income left to spare. He says he’s never re­gret­ted that decision, and has been the owner of many more horses since that time.

In 1965, Bill Lane, of El­don Farm fame, was all about his Black An­gus, ap­ples and horses. He hailed from Chicago and loved all things Rap­pa­han­nock. He of­fered Moody a part­ner­ship to run the sta­bles be­fore ul­ti­mately de­cid­ing the horse busi­ness wasn’t for him. Nonethe­less, he wanted Moody to keep it go­ing and of­fered to lease him the sta­bles — the same ones he still man­aged of late.

When asked what wis­dom he’d share with newly minted rid­ers, Moody replied: “There are three things of most im­por­tance to know: First and fore­most, un­der­stand you need to plan, mentally vi­su­al­ize and then — and only then — ex­e­cute. The sec­ond most im­por­tant pearl of wis­dom is you need to con­trol the horse, to di­rect and lis­ten. And the third is you need to make a decision — are you pas­sion­ate? — and if so it’ll take hard work.

“Riding is easy,” he said, “but it takes se­ri­ous com­mit­ment.” Moody then made a peace sign and looked through his two out­stretched fin­gers. “This is fo­cus,” he said. “Watch their eyes and ears, know their lan­guage.”

Moody was one of the few peo­ple who re­ally in­tu­its horses, though he de­murred in his trade­mark hum­ble fash­ion, when I'd men­tioned his gifts and said it was a learned skill.

Among the many horse folks here­abouts with amaz­ing pedi­grees of wel­learned de­grees and school­ing par ex­cel­lence, Moody Ay­lor was in a cat­e­gory all his own, a man with a deep and spe­cial con­nec­tion. He will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace, Moody.

Ser­vices will be held Friday, April 5, at 11 a.m. at Reynolds Bap­tist Church in Sper­ryville.

Up un­til he was in his early 80’s, Moody still trained, of­fered riding lessons, and fox hunted with the Thorn­ton Hill Hounds.

BY CHRIS GREEN

Moody Ay­lor passed from the world this past week.

Chris Green

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