By Rosemary Lawler
On July 20, 2011, Hampton “Buddy” Williams of Hampton Hill Farm in Waterford passed away after almost a year of declining health. The Williams family lost a cherished member. Merrifield Gardens lost the man who started it all and their beloved figurehead. Tri-State Riding Club and the larger horse community lost a stalwart supporter. I lost a dear friend.
I met Buddy in February of 2008 when Bettina Gregory organized a set of Western lessons for Tri-State. I was excited for the club to begin offering lessons for the loose-rein world, and I showed up bright and early for the very first one.
As I was unloading Dealer from the trailer a handsome silver-haired gentleman drove up in a golf cart. Watching my little cow-pony step off and look around he introduced himself, “You’ve got a fine looking horse there. I’m Buddy Williams, and I own this place.” I told him my name and he said, “OK, but what’s your horse’s name – Quarter Horse, ain’t he?” It was so Buddy, that comment – good enough to know my name but let’s get straight to the important “being” he was meeting…my horse.
Buddy loved all things horse, but his was a Quarter Horse barn with a tack-room full of Western saddles any cow-boy or girl would have been proud to own and bridles suspiciously lacking in anything resembling a Figure 8 noseband. A life-long equestrian and long-time member of the American Quarter Horse Association, Buddy once competed in Western disciplines – and was passionate about cutting in particular. Buddy bred cutters, and loved nothing better than to chit-chat blood-lines and brag on his own. Hampton Hill was a private barn, built as a well-deserved reward from the proceeds of a life of hard-work.
I would come to realize that as gregarious as Buddy was with all people, he related in a very special way to those who loved horses as he did. His daughter Wanda, a member of Tri-State, was able to convince him to open his private retreat for club lessons because there were club members asking for Western lessons. It thrilled him to be in a position to support and foster respect for Western riding in Loudoun County. As those early lessons took off and blossomed, it was clear to me that it brought him great happiness to mosey down to the arena on lesson nights and watch the riders with saddle-horns and a float in the reins improve from week to week, progressing with their horses through basic patterns and “getting a stop” to running barrels, roll-backs, flying changes, and cutting cows at Western Camp.
When the club needed to find a base of operations after leaving Morven Park, Buddy generously opened his facility to English lessons as well, allowing the arenas to sprout standards and one of his fields to become home to quite the assortment of X-Country jumps. Smart man, Buddy – in time some of those English riders took the plunge and “cross-dressed” – English attire and tack, Western lesson and riding style. One night I was sitting with him as he watched one of those members canter her horse for the very first time without contact – and he smiled and said, “Now doesn’t that horse look happy?” The horse did. So did Buddy. He felt he’d helped that horse, helped that rider.
Buddy helped so many of us build our confidence. In ourselves as riders. In our horses as the reliable partners they could be. Probably the best compliment he could bestow on a person was when you’d finish an exercise and he’d be grinning ear to ear and shouting, “You can ride girl!” Buddy was so fun, and so welcoming and hospitable – often grilling hot-dogs or hamburgers for the lesson nights, saying, “Folks gotta eat. They come straight here from work!” Hot weather brought out the cooler and water bottles. Hot apple cider showed up when the air got crisp and snappy. It didn’t take him long to figure out that when I stayed to watch the second lesson I’d usually be sipping a beer or glass of wine. He’d head my way on the golf cart and ask if there was “a little extra.” Of course, there always was. The sun would start to set over the mountain, we’d sit in the cart and watch the glow…and he’d tell me stories of riding, and his old farm in Vienna, how Wanda used to “win everything,” how Merrifield Gardens started as a cut flower stand to help pay the bills…of the horses.
I grew to admire Buddy tremendously, an all-American success story. Having a passion for something – horses. Not having quite the money necessary for the family AND the passion. Finding a way through hard work and determination to handle all his responsibilities and also fund his love-affair with horses. Loving it so much that he shared it all, to help others with their own passion. In a world where some folks see nothing beyond the end of their nose or their own interests and needs, he was on a constant quest to learn more about horses himself and assist others on their way. And although he handled the use of Hampton Hill with a businesslike demeanor, it was coupled with a heart of generosity.
I’m so grateful to have known Buddy, to count Wanda and Doris as friends, and to have had the pleasure of being around Hampton Hill and the opportunity to share in the warmth of the family atmosphere he fostered there. I miss him tremendously, and console myself that he is probably riding every day now in the big meadow of the sky.