Legendary breeder and owner Mrs. A.C. Randolph watched with an eagle eye as Nancy Baroody rode a small chestnut mare around the shed row of Randolph’s barn on a cold winter day. After a few turns around the barn, Randolph nodded. Baroody would do.
With that, Baroody got the ride on War Dress, a talented Thoroughbred mare Randolph had bred on her famed Upperville, Va., farm. “Mrs. Randolph was very particular about who handled and rode her horses. She wanted to keep War Dress for breeding reasons and never wanted to sell her, and I couldn't afford to buy a hunter of that caliber. I rode her around a few times, and she approved of my ride. We had dinner with her and then drove home [to Lakeville, Conn.],” Baroody recalled.
War Dress (The Hammer—War Garb), born in 1965, had a stellar pedigree, with Man O’War on the dam side and My Babu in the sire line. At 15.2 hands, she’d been too small to race for Randolph, so she’d gotten her start in the show ring with Charlie Weaver. Weaver showed her in both the green and junior divisions for two years, 1970 and '71, with much success including at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In the early months of 1972, Baroody was on the hunt for a junior hunter. After having claimed six American Horse Shows Association national Horse of the Year titles with her ponies—Midget, Shenandoah Flintstone and Pride N Joy—Baroody was ready for a horse. She and her mother, Lorraine, kept their horses at home and did all the work themselves, shipping and braiding and training on their own. Nancy would ship to lessons with Frank and Wayne Carroll and had what she termed “several key lessons” with George Morris in her pony days, but for the most part, she and Lorraine did all the training and work. With their limited budget, leasing War Dress from Randolph was the perfect solution.
Even though War Dress was still somewhat green, and Baroody was making the transition from ponies to horses, they started winning right away in the junior hunter division. They claimed tricolors up and down the East Coast and when 1972 came to an end, Baroody had yet another AHSA National Horse of the Year title. They repeated the honor in 1973.
Their success wasn’t limited to the hunters, however. Baroody rode War Dress to second place in the AHSA Medal Finals and third in the ASPCA Maclay Finals in 1973. “Those were the days when we rode our hunters in the equitation, before the influx of the warmbloods,” she said.
“I would categorize War Dress as all business. She didn't have any quirks or eccentricities,” Baroody continued. “If you did right by her, she gave every bit of her heart in her performance. She’d been trained very nicely, so she was pretty straightforward. She was a little green when I got her. When I made the leap from large ponies to her, it was a little bit hard, as it is for everyone. She had this really long topline; it’s a trademark of The Hammer, her sire. When you jumped her, at the top of the fence it felt like you were on the top of a rollercoaster. It took some getting used to."
War Dress went in an unusual bit, a flexible straight-bar rubber snaffle with big loose rings. Randolph gave the bit to Baroody with War Dress, and that bit is now on display with War Dress’s photos at the “Elegance, Power and Heart—The Thoroughbred Show Horse” exhibit at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Wheeler Museum. “She was the consummate Thoroughbred with a really soft mouth. She liked a rider with really soft hands, and you could give her an invisible ride,” Baroody said.
After just two years, Baroody parted ways with War Dress. She was off to college, so the chestnut mare moved on to another rider, Pam Rush, nee Turbow. With Rush, War Dress earned another AHSA Horse of the Year title in 1975. The mare then retired to Randolph’s Upperville farm, but attempts to breed her were unsuccessful. She passed away in 1978. War Dress was inducted in the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame this year.
Baroody didn't show much after her college years, but she now lives in Ocala, Fla., and owns and trains two ponies, one of which is qualified to compete at this year's U.S. Equestrian Federation Pony Finals.