“If you buy that horse, you’re buying your daughter’s death warrant,” Jane Pohl’s father was warned at the army barracks in the spring of 1941. But the potential that his teenage daughter Jane saw in the small, temperamental Thoroughbred was enough to convince him otherwise.
Earlier that year, when Fitzrada arrived at the army base where Jane’s family lived, the horse was stubborn, unpredictable, and dangerous. Any man who dared addle him up soon found himself face down in the dirt. Jane, excited to ride any horse and up for the challenge, had the most success with Fitz. She was patient and consistent, and the horse responded well at last, showing a great affinity for jumping. Then, inexplicably, a terrible riding accident resulted in serious injuries for both Jane and Fitz, and the army decide that it was time to destroy the horse. Heartbroken, Jane pleaded with her reluctant father: the only way to save Fitz was to buy him from the army.
Jane Pohl’s foresight proved to be correct. Jane and Fitz went on to take the Virginia show-jumping circuit by storm, winning 37 jumper and 6 hinter championships. At a time when women were rarely seen in jumping classes at horse shows and were not taken seriously by male competitors, Jane and Fitz helped to break down barriers against women riders competing in the Olympics. In 1946, Jane and Fitz found themselves at the Jumper Championship at the prestigious National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden—the highest jumping title in North America. The road there for horse and rider was a five-year test of faith, patience, and understanding friendship.
Richard R. Rust was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, a practicing civil engineer, and an amateur sportsman. As a child, he rode his tricycle under Fitz’s belly and started riding ponies at age four. His mother, Jane Pohl, is the subject of this book, and his father, D. N. Rust III, was an amateur steeplechase trainer and rider with two wins of the Virginia Gold Cup. He died in 2008.