Jack Bingham spent most of his life coaching children and training horses.
After growing up on horseback in Boonville and in and around Petaluma and Sonoma, Bingham became a middle-school P.E. teacher and coach, and a widely respected professional trainer, competitive rider, shower and judge of quarter horses.
Well known within the American Quarter Horse Association and other equestrian organizations, Bingham died March 24 in an accident as he was transporting two horses by trailer at the Glen Ellen ranch that he managed with his partner, Suzanne Gray. He was 77.
The son of late horse trainer Jack Allen Bingham Sr. and Easter Lilly Bingham, he was a soft-spoken and private man known throughout California, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon and Washington for the depth of his knowledge of quarter horses and his willingness to share it.
“He was quiet, reserved, determined,” said son Jay Bingham of Valley Springs, in Calaveras County.
“He had a way with horses and he was always willing to be there, he helped everyone. He loved to teach.”
Jack Bingham showed horses in Pacific Coast Quarter Horse events and AQHA and Reined Cow Horse classes, and he competed in team penning, team sorting and other competitions at the Sonoma County Fair, Sonoma Marin Fair, Redwood Empire Quarter Horse Association, Petaluma Riding and Driving Club and many other equestrian groups.
“We’d ask for his help and he was never one to say no,” said Doreen Hamann, president of the family equestrian club founded in Petaluma in 1939, the same year Bingham was born in north Texas.
As a trainer, Bingham was known for the patience and precision he brought to preparing quarter horses for competitions, and to coaching riders on how to gently direct their steeds and, perhaps, to read the body language of a steer that needed to be moved from point A to B.
Since he retired in 2000 as a P.E. teacher and coach at Novato’s Sinaloa Middle School, Bingham dedicated virtually all of his time to training horses, instructing riders and judging quarter horse events.
“Our vacations were going to another state or another city or town to judge a show,” said Gray, who had been with Bingham for about the past 15 years.
She said the two of them would be out somewhere in the North Bay or beyond and grown-up former middle-school students would approach the retired teacher and coach.
“They always came up and said, ‘Mr. Bingham, it’s so good to see you.’ That happened to us a lot.”
Gray said the encounters made Bingham feel good because as an old-school teacher with Midwest values, he’d been strict and demanding with his students.
Bingham was born in the Texas panhandle town of Canadian in 1939, but his family was living at the time across the state line in Oklahoma. His father would work most of his life as a horse trainer.
Jack Bingham Jr. was 9 when his folks moved to a ranch outside of Boonville in Mendocino County.
“They had a driveway eight miles long, to the county road,” said Bingham’s former wife, Darlene Bingham of Ione. The young Jack Bingham loved living in the California countryside, exploring the woods and creeks and refining his riding skills by observing and following the lead of his father.