Louise W. Christmas, an accomplished horsewoman who managed her family’s horse farm while breeding and training thoroughbreds with her husband, died Saturday of chronic complications of a lung disease at her Idleness Farm in Monkton.
She was 84.
“Louise was a little dynamo who kept everyone on track,” said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.
“She was a well-known figure in all aspects of the horse industry. While her husband was out front, Louise was more behind the scenes,” said Ms. Goodall, a Butler resident. “She was fun and interesting, and while small of stature, was big of heart.”
The former Louise White, the daughter of Henry S. Taylor White Jr., an architect, and Wilhelmine White Hechter, owner of Dropstitch Studio, was born in Baltimore and raised in Roland Park and later on a Pikesville farm.
After her father died in 1944, her mother married James W. Hechter, a racehorse trainer, who operated the Hechter Riding Academy near Druid Hill Park until 1946, when he became a licensed racehorse trainer and horse sales agent.
“She came from a family background of horses,” Ms. Goodall said.
Mrs. Christmas attended Calvert School and graduated in 1952 from Garrison Forest School.
“I went to school with Louise at Calvert and Garrison Forest, and we’ve been very good friends for years,” Mary H. Hackney of Lutherville recalled. “She was a lot of fun and such an adorable person. She was full of life and very loyal.”
By the time Mrs. Christmas was a teenager, she was an award-winning show rider who galloped racehorses at local thoroughbred tracks.
When she was 18, she met and fell in love with William G. “Billy” Christmas while galloping horses at Pimlico Race Course, and married him in 1953.
In 1954, the couple’s first son, William G. “Chris” Christmas Jr., was born on Christmas Day at Union Memorial Hospital.
“Mr. Christmas, a horse trainer who lives on Paper Mill Road in Monkton, was surprised by the event, as were the nurses, for William’s arrival had been predicted for a later date,” The Sun reported.
Mrs. Christmas was known for her cheerful and outgoing demeanor.
“Louise’s father-in-law adoringly named her ‘Sunshine,’ and she is remembered by her loved ones for smiling like she was greeting the world. Her smile communicated her optimism and joie de vivre and lit up any room she entered,” Tori Marks, a granddaughter, who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., wrote in a biographical profile of her grandmother.
“She knew what mattered to her in life and was unapologetically herself,” Ms. Marks wrote. “When her father-in-law gave her the choice between dining room furniture or a horse, she chose Bogie Man, who went on to win twenty races.”
While busy raising her four sons, Mrs. Christmas managed Idleness Farm, which was a breeding farm, and training thoroughbreds with her husband.
She also found time to assist her mother in the operation of Dropstitch Studio, which was a fashionable West Cold Spring Lane women’s and children’s apparel shop.
In 1978, she and her husband established Maryland Sales Agency, a Monkton thoroughbred auction company, which they operated until 1989.
One of the most successful thoroughbreds Mrs. Christmas owned was Terrible Tiger, who started to garner local and national media attention in 1969.
“Mrs. William G. Christmas’s Terrible Tiger, who jumped into national prominence with a couple of important stakes victories earlier this year, returns to his favorite racetrack tomorrow in Timonium’s $20,000 Happy Day Handicap,” Evening Sun racing reporter Gene Whittington wrote that year.
History was made aboard Terrible Tiger when he was ridden in 1971 by Kathryn “Kathy” Kusner at the old Marlboro Race Track in Upper Marlboro.
Ms. Kusner, an Olympic medalist in show jumping, applied to the Maryland Racing Commission for a jockey license in 1967, but was turned down because she was a woman. She successfully took her case to court and in 1968 became the first licensed female jockey in the United States, and in 1971 the first woman to compete in the Maryland Hunt Cup.
Mrs. Christmas was described by her granddaughter as being a “strong, independent woman,” and she encouraged her granddaughters and daughters-in-law to be the same.
“She got up when it was still dark out, bundled up when it was well below freezing, and took on whatever job needed to be done in the barn,” Ms. Marks wrote. “She spoke her mind and encouraged them to do the same.”
To celebrate Terrible Tiger’s success, Mrs. Christmas decorated her home with tigers, her granddaughter said.
Ms. Marks said her grandmother’s home was always inviting and welcoming.
“She kept her home tidy but more importantly, made sure it was well lived in by whoever came through the door. Her wood stove was always burning in winter months, and there was never a shortage of peppermints for the children and horses,” she wrote.
“She was always kind and generous with the employees who worked and lived on the farm with their families, and her refrigerator was covered in pictures of their children as well as her own grandchildren who lived on or frequented the farm,” Ms. Marks wrote.
Mrs. Christmas was an accomplished knitter and needlepointer. She liked cooking hearty meals of roast chicken, spaghetti, stews and salads.
She liked growing tomatoes, which she gave to her guests. An animal lover, she cared for her dogs, a talking bird, a skunk, a cockatiel, goats, foxes, donkeys and three raccoons she named Larry, Moe and Curly, after the The Three Stooges.
Mrs. Christmas even nursed back to health an injured buzzard whom she named Harry with leftovers from her kitchen table.
Graveside services for Mrs. Christmas will be held at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at St. James Episcopal Church, 3100 Monkton Road in Monkton.
In addition to her husband of 66 years and granddaughter, Mrs. Christmas is survived by her three sons, R. Whitney Christmas of Monkton, Dr. James T. “JT” Christmas of Richmond, Va., and B. Frank “Biff” Christmas 2nd of Palm Desert, Calif.; a brother, Taylor White of Monkton; five other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. A son, William G. Christmas Jr., died in 1980.