Elaine Moore Moffat
DANA POINT, CA—Elaine Moore Moffat of Cooperstown passed away peacefully on November 12, 2023, in Dana Point, California, due to complications resulting from a fall. She was 93.
Elaine was born on January 21, 1930, the daughter of Isabel and Charles Lee. Elaine’s mother, Isabel Moore, was a very successful and prolific magazine writer, who would divorce her husband after a short marriage and go on to marry Don Moore, the fiction editor at “Cosmopolitan” magazine and later the co-creator and writer of the comic strips Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim. As the only father that young Elaine would know, she took his surname as her own.
Educated at the Emma Willard School in Troy and Bennett College in Millbrook, the headstrong Elaine chafed under the rules imposed on proper young ladies in the 1940s. When officials at Emma Willard suggested that the only alternative to wearing the obligatory hat and gloves on campus was to withdraw from the school, she promptly packed her bags and called a cab.
Throughout her childhood, Elaine was a passionate equestrian and received her training at the fabled Secor Farms in Westchester County under the tutelage of Gordon Wright, widely acknowledged as one of the most influential trainers in history. She began her training in 1940 at the age of 10 and was such a dedicated and talented pupil that it was only a year later that she was competing in the prestigious ASPCA Maclay final at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. While she qualified for the Maclay final every year from 1941 to 1946 the National Horse Show had been cancelled during the war years until 1946 when, in a field of dozens of the nation’s most accomplished riders, she won the Maclay Trophy at the Garden, thereby reaching the pinnacle achievement for young equestrians. With her usual confidence, she later told an interviewer, “I was nervous, but we knew what we were doing.” Elaine trained for both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics despite the fact that women were not allowed in Olympic jumping competition until 1956.
As the daughter and sister of successful writers, Elaine began work on a book on horsemanship and showmanship which resulted in the 1954 Little Brown and Company publication of “Winning Your Spurs.” Reviewed as “a superior book…[which] achieves a maximum of specific instruction with absolutely no confusion,” it was an immediate success and went through a dozen printings until it went out of print in the 1970s. Asked repeatedly by the publisher and others to issue a new edition, Elaine repeatedly refused, saying “It’s somebody else’s turn.”
The success of “Winning Your Spurs” brought Elaine to the attention of the Knox School in Cooperstown, which in turn brought her to Cooperstown to run the school’s equestrian program. It was in Cooperstown that she met John Moffat, who shared her passion for horses and eventually eliminated the competition of several other suitors to make Elaine his wife.
Together they established Cooperstown Stables at Maresfield Farm in 1959, where they bred thoroughbreds for the racetrack and the show ring. In addition to the breeding operation, the Moffats trained aspiring equestrians and founded the annual Cooperstown Stables Horse Show, which grew into a major three-day event that received the highest “AA” rating by the American Horse Shows Association (now the United States Equestrian Federation). With more than 200 horses arriving for the long weekend, the farm was a beehive of activity all summer in preparation, and in the 1960s and early ‘70s a vast majority of the teenaged boys of Cooperstown spent their summers employed on the Moffat farm.
The story of Elaine’s early life and the significant challenges faced by the Moffats at Maresfield Farm was chronicled in the 1965 book for young adults, “Elaine Moore Moffat—Blue Ribbon Horsewoman,” by Grace Walker. It was a book that Elaine was not altogether happy about, particularly because it created a years-long flow of young visitors who came, at all hours, to the farm to meet her.
In 1968, John was recruited to join the faculty of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, to overhaul and operate the school’s equestrian program. At Elaine’s insistence and central to the agreement to take on the assignment, the school agreed to build a multi-million-dollar equestrian complex within which the Moffats operated a private business until 1986.
In 1973, Elaine was training a young horse who tripped and fell, crushing her under its weight and breaking her femur. In a show of both her tolerance of pain and her frugality, when the ambulance workers prepared to cut off her tall, skintight riding boot, she urgently stopped them by shouting, “Do you know how much these [expletive] things cost? Just pull it off!” Anyone who has ever struggled to pull off a riding boot will understand how painful that must have been on a leg with a broken femur, and in the absence of any anesthesia.
While Elaine continued to be a top-rated judge at horse shows throughout the United States, the crushed femur and the resulting three-month hospital stay in traction put an end to her riding—(“I’ve been pummeled and punished by these creatures all my life—no more!”). Instead, she began a very successful career in real estate in Naples, Florida, where the Moffats had a winter home. She never considered returning to the show ring until noted equestrians Mason Phelps and Jane Clark convinced her to enter a Classic class in Wellington, Florida, in 1992. The class was open to any rider who had won the coveted Maclay at the National Horse Show or who had been or was currently on the U.S. Equestrian Olympic team. At age 64 she got on a horse provided by Phelps and Clark—her first time in nearly 20 years—and came in second in the competition.
Elaine was honored at the National Horse Show, along with Christopher Reeve, in 1996, as part of a fundraiser for injured riders and was Honorary Chair of the National Horse Show in 2014, where she presented the Maclay Trophy to Tori Colvin a full 68 years after having received it herself.
Elaine travelled the world, visiting each of the seven continents at least twice. There were very few places on the planet she hadn’t seen. She was accomplished in all she set out to do; she was tireless and fearless in her pursuit of success and she was certainly never dull. She had a quick, sharp wit and when most of us say “I should have said…,” she always had the ability to say it and say it well. Her sense of humor was highly developed, and she used it like a saber. Once, when arguing with a haughty French woman in Paris who kept trying to replace the two Fs in Moffat with Ss—she said “No, No—it’s F. F as in Francophobia!”
She is survived by her children, Pamela D. Moffat of Dana Point, California, and J. Michael Moffat (Cory) of Cooperstown; stepchildren Sarah M. Calder of Newtown, Connecticut, and James M. Moffat (Amanda) of Brooklyn Heights, New York; grandchildren Slater H. Lawrence (Molly), Alexander S.B. Moffat, Campbell Moffat Gialanella (Julian) and Lillian S. Moffat; and a nephew, Kevin Kanarek, of Albany, New York. She was predeceased by all other known relatives.
At Elaine’s request there will be no service, but the family will have a gathering of her friends and family at Maresfield Farm next summer. In lieu of flowers, donations in Elaine’s memory may be made to the Otsego Land Trust, 101 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326.