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Journalist, horseman extraordinaire Finney honored at Harford Community College

Steve Dance, president of Steve Dance Auctions, presents the 2014 Robert and Anne Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian Journalism to Patricia Hansen on behalf of her late father Humphrey S. Finney.
Steve Dance, president of Steve Dance Auctions, presents the 2014 Robert and Anne Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian Journalism to Patricia Hansen on behalf of her late father Humphrey S. Finney. (Courtesy of Iris Leigh Barnes, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The late Humphrey S. Finney, founding editor of The Maryland Horse magazine – now Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, was honored with the Robert and Anne Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian Journalism during a recent reception at Harford Community College.

Several generations of Mr. Finney's family attended the Oct. 24 reception at the college's Hays-Heighe House museum. The reception was sponsored by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

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Criteria for the award, which is given annually through the Hays-Heighe House, include quality of writing, reputation of the journalist, impact of the journalist's work and longevity of his or her career.

Patricia Hansen, Mr. Finney's daughter, accepted the award. Steve Dance, president of Steve Dance Auctions and long-time Finney family friend, donated and presented the keeper trophy.

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"The committee's selection of Mr. Finney as the 2014 recipient is quite fitting, given the prominence of the magazine that he helped to found, as well as his close connections with Robert and Anne Heighe," Carol Allen, library director at Harford Community College, said.

The Heighes were the owners of Prospect Hill Farm, a thoroughbred breeding and racing operation, that once occupied the site of the Harford Community College campus.

The inaugural equestrian journalism award, which was presented by the Hays-Heighe House in October 2012, recognized the late Joseph B. Kelly, a longtime racing writer, first with the Baltimore Sun and later the Washington Star. In 2013, the award recognized the late William Boniface, long-time racing editor at The Baltimore Sun, whose father managed Prospect Hill Farm.

Mr. Finney emigrated to the United States from England in 1912, and began his long career of working with horses in a variety of capacities while in Michigan in the early 1920s.

While employed at Holly Beach Farm in eastern Anne Arundel County from 1927 to 1937, Mr. Finney often wrote for The Blood-Horse, Horse & Horseman and The Thoroughbred Record. In 1936, he was elected to the board of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and suggested that they publish a bulletin, which was launched as The Maryland Horse in July 1936.

Mr. Finney edited the magazine from 1937 to 1953, except during a stint of service with the Coast Guard during World War II. He also wrote for each issue in a column, "The Editor's Saddle-bag."

In 1953, he took a position with Fasig-Tipton Auction, the leading auction house for thoroughbreds and was the company's chairman when he died at age 81 in 1984.

Mr. Finney wrote two books, Stud-Farm Diary (a compilation of his writings from his days at Holly Beach Farm) and his autobiography Fair Exchange; Recollections of a Life with Horses.

In her remarks following the presentation of the award, Hansen recalled with fondness the constant stream of visitors to her parents' home when she was girl, saying that when she was growing up, she just thought everyone lived that way.

Though removed from the glamour and excitement of the equestrian-centered world of her youth, Hansen said still feels a strong connection with that world.

"You never really leave it," she said, adding after a pause, "You always still have one foot stuck in the manure!"

MHBA Executive Director Cricket Goodall spoke about the large impact made by Mr. Finney and by his late daughter, Marguerite Finney Dance, during their long association with MHBA and The Maryland Horse and Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

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She presented attendees with copies of Mr. Finney's "The Editor's Saddle-bag" from January 1938, in which he wrote of spending "considerable time each month on the highways and byways of Maryland."

In the same piece, Finney described the members of the Harford County Horse Breeders' Association as "a fine group . . . representing all phases of agriculture."

Goodall also gave attendees copies of the November 2014 issue of The Maryland Horse, which is published as a section within Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, which features an article by MHBA President and Bel Air resident Josh Pons about Mr. Finney entitled "The Maryland Horse Man."

Pons, a two-time Eclipse Award honoree for his own writing about the thoroughbred industry, reflected on many of the rich and varied scenes that "Finney," as he was known to all, saw during his life: "...a Maryland of green hills and timber fences ..., a land of fieldstone houses and brick mansions, sparsely peopled, hedgerows hiding estates, reminding him of the counties of his youthful wanderings among the stables in the shires of his native England."

Pons wrote that Mr. Finney also saw Maryland in the 1930s at Holly Beach Stud, "service in the second great war," "mornings at Saratoga, afternoons at Hialeah, evenings in the Bluegrass of Kentucky" and "Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed."

Pons added that one thing that Mr. Finney never saw was "The Racehorse, the Royals, and the Writer: The Legacy of Herman Duryea," an exhibition showing at the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College. "This you should see," Pons said.

The exhibition, which opened last month and runs through Jan. 15, includes one gallery that focuses on Mr. Finney's life and work.

Exhibition curator Maryanna Skowronski said Mr. Finney was an especially appropriate choice for this year's Heighe Award.

"The first article that Mr. Finney published was written about the Royal Stud at Sandringham, and he is a descendant of the Lord Derby for whom the Epsom Derby is named," she noted.

The central focus of the exhibition is a celebration of the victory of racehorse Durbar II at the 1914 running of the Epsom Derby.

Through the life of this stallion, who was interred at Prospect Hill Farm, Skowronski connects narratives that include the story of Durbar's owner Duryea, the importance of the horse in World War I, the passion of the British royal family for equestrian sports, and the tragic connection between the British suffragette movement and the 1913 running of Epsom Derby.

Open exhibit hours at the Hays-Heighe House are Tuesdays, 1 to 3 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to noon; and the first Saturday of each month, 10 a.m. to noon. The Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College is located at 401 Thomas Run Road in Bel Air. For more information, visit http://www.harford.edu/community/hays-heighe-house.aspx.

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