Smoke Run Farm
Icon in the equestrian world dies
Smoke Run Farm owner Joan Johnson (1917-2003)
(printed in the Village Times, October 30th, 2003)
One of Long Island's most distinguished supporters of intercollegiate horse show competition and longtime owner of Smoke Run Farm in Stony Brook, Joan "JJ." Johnson, died last Thursday. She was 86 years old.
"Joan Johnson was an icon that will be missed and whose replacement would be a near impossibility. She was a representative of excellence, a wealth of joy and inspiration to those whose lives she touched, and she demonstrated an open-minded caring." National Professional Horseman's Association Vice-Chairman Dick London said.
JJ was a legend to those who knew her, both as an equestrian and as a woman of diverse interests. Born in Buffalo in 1917, JJ's love of horses developed through her parents, both avid riders. After graduation from the University of Buffalo, JJ continued her riding career in the Buffalo Saddle and Bridle Riding Club.
JJ's pursuits in horsemanship were diverted, for a time, by an interest in aviation. S he became an acrobatic pilot just prior to WWII and was one of 18 women selected by the US government to participate in the Air Force Acrobatic Program to test whether or not women were capable of combat maneuvers. JJ was also the only woman to complete the program. Her interests in aviation led her to husband Ralph Johnson, then a flight instructor and pilot for Eastern Airlines.
JJ came to Stony Brook in 1964 to work with the instructors of the Thomas School of Horsemanship in Huntington. She also helped establish the Equitation Lodge in Bayport and taught equitation classes at the Knox School in St. James. At the time, JJ became interested in forming her own riding school, and according to son Ken Johnson she chose Stony Brook because she thought the people and the community were special. Ward Melville sold the six acres of property now known as Smoke Run Farm to the Johnson's where her equitation program and summer camp still thrive today.
Freelance trainer and past student Donna Frank said that Johnson's riding facility is "one of the only barns today still teaching horsemanship. What other farm allows kids to come after school and brush and tack up horses? It was all about the kids, and she was the reason I went to college to study equine theory and horsemanship. "
At about the time JJ was starting her equestrian center, the physical education program directory at Stony Brook University asked her to teach a course in equine theory and riding. Since that time, JJ and longtime friend George Lukemire shared the management of the riding program, the teaching of lessons to college students at SBU and Dowling College and the management of a prolific thoroughbred breeding program which ended in the 1980s.
Joan Johnson's claim to fame, however, was her involvement in intercollegiate competition, a new concept back in 1967. JJ served on the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) board of directors and was instrumental in writing the bylaws and structuring the program. Thousands of students attending universities nationwide participate in the program today. In 1993, she was awarded the IHSA Lifetime Achievement Award and appointed IHSA Director Emeritus in 2001. In 1999, JJ was bestowed the James Walsh Lifetime Achievement Award by the Long Island Professional Horseman's Association for her dedication and serve to the equestrian field and sport on Long Island.
"She was very honest and didn't tolerate people who cheat, "said Ken Johnson. "She was not the type to win at all costs. She didn't force her students to compete, but would work with them until they gained the confidence to compete. "
Lukemire said that Molloy College is dedication this weekend intercollegiate show at Smoke Run Farm to JJ. "We thought about canceling the shows, "said Lukemire, "but decided that JJ wouldn't like that,. She would have said let the show go on."
"She had a love of family and life and had no desire to leave." added Ken Johnson. "She couldn't wait for another day."
JJ is survived by her sons, Ralph, Mike and Ken, longtime friend George Lukemire, six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.