SI Vault
Helen Markel
November 01, 1954
One of America's prettiest horsewomen (opposite and next page), Josephine Abercrombie is turning away from horse-show competition because she almost always wins. Now she has started a new career as a racing stable owner
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November 01, 1954

The Lady Who Won Too Often

One of America's prettiest horsewomen (opposite and next page), Josephine Abercrombie is turning away from horse-show competition because she almost always wins. Now she has started a new career as a racing stable owner

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Home is where the horses are: Houston in the winter, Versailles (rhymes with fur sales, another minor hobby), Kentucky in the summer. In Houston she lives 15 minutes away from her family in a remodeled overseer's cottage set among the 80 acres that make up Pin Oak Stables. "I don't know why we called it Pin Oak," she said abstractedly, watching a groom cool out Roman Patrol, who won handily at Belmont two weeks ago. "There isn't a pin oak tree in sight."

She lives alone among a melange of Louis XVI furniture she brought back from Paris?"pretty stiff for a prairie apartment, but I love it"?with Lona, her cook who has been in the family 20 years, a gardener, a man-of-all-work, nine Hackney ponies and 15 harness mares. Among them is Lady Carrigan, who at Louisville recently wrested the five-gaited stakes title from the Dodge Stables for the first time in seven years, a moment which Jo considers one of the high points of her life, up to and including Pajama Game.


She claims to be a haphazard housekeeper, but boasts that you can eat chili off the barn floor. The "barn" is a simple Norman affair consisting of 19 air-conditioned stalls, each one as antiseptic as a maternity ward. She spends a major part of her Houston day in her private office, equipped with bar, shower, chaise longue and a blaze of silver cups and blue ribbons, brooding over bloodlines and naming horses, a form of occupational therapy she finds very relaxing.

Down the road apiece is her covered show ring, the only privately owned one in the country, plus an arena, grandstand and nine barns with superb facilities for housing the 500 exhibitors who turn up annually for her June horse show. The proceeds from the show, whose fame extends well beyond the borders of Texas, go to the Texas Children's Foundation, which has used them to erect a handsome 200-bed hospital which Jo shows all visitors. After last year's show she gave a party for 1,500 at Houston's Shamrock Hotel, and the guest list included Hedy Lamarr, Jack Benny and a small boy who had written her declaring his undying affection after seeing her perform at Madison Square Garden.

Mr. Abercrombie shares his daughter's reigning passion for horses, but Mrs. Abercrombie can take or?preferably?leave them alone. At horse shows she spends most of her time pacing up and down the corridors until her husband sends word that her daughter has once again successfully avoided breaking her patrician neck.


Although Jo seldom mentions horses to nonaficionados, she is apt to use them constantly as a frame of reference. The other day a friend inquired how a shopping expedition had turned out. "Marvelous," she said happily. "I found the most fantastic Dior?a perfect match for Parading Lady!" (Parading Lady, one of her champion harness mares, is a brilliant chestnut with three white legs and a flaxen mane and tail. Everything clear now?)

Another time, in an effort to recall a couple to a mutual friend, she said, "You know, they're from Cleveland and they own that marvelous three-gaited gelding," and she was recently overheard describing a new painting to a dinner partner: "It's an oil of a stallion called Ferry. I'll think of the artist's name in a minute."

Her enthusiasm for the animal kingdom has ranged, at one time or another, from guinea pigs through wild boars, but at the moment she is down to 18 saddle horses and two Weimaraners with gentian-blue eyes, the only sign of narcissism she displays. She brought them back from Germany, and they both sleep in her 8 x 8, or Texas-sized, bed. "The dogs love it," she said defensively, "Weimaraners can be pretty vicious if they don't feel secure."

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