It sounds like a dream arrangement: taking over an older, experienced grand-prix horse to ride in lower-level competitions, where he can soar over less-demanding fences. Showing one of these horses with mileage, however, means careful maintenance to keep him in top form without strain, since such mounts often have old injuries that could flare up if they are not cared for properly.
Philip Richter, a 41-year-old amateur rider, got the chance of a lifetime when he began riding the well-known grand-prix horse Glasgow, but their success came with meticulous attention to the animal's welfare. In this article, Philip describes the transition, and along with Glasgow's other caregivers, details the program they've followed to keep the horse healthy and happy.
Philip Richter will never forget the day in 1997 when show jumper Norman Dello Joio grabbed him for an urgent conversation behind one of the tents during the Festival of Champions competition at the US Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey.
"Norman looked at me with a combination of awe, excitement and desperation, telling me how he had to get Jamaica Jackpot, this horse that was in Scotland," Philip recalled.
"You need to talk to your mom and your dad. We've got to put a syndicate together," Norman had insisted.
"He knew the horse was extraordinary when he sat on it," Philip said.
The syndicate assembled in a hurry included Philip's mother, Judy Richter, Norman's longtime supporter and mentor who was wowed when she saw a tape of the horse; her sister, Carol Hofmann Thompson, and grand-prix rider Lisa Tarnopol, as well as friends Tony Weight, Danny Magill, Ira Kapp and David Weisman. The large number of investors was necessary because of the cost of the horse, renamed Glasgow after the city in the region where Norman found him.
It never crossed Philip's mind that eight years later, in 2005, he would be the one riding the regal Dutch-bred chestnut gelding. After a successful career at the highest level of the sport (see "Who Is Glasgow?" at left), Norman decided it was time for Glasgow to stop jumping in grands prix, but that it wasn't time for him to stop jumping entirely.
At 15, the horse "needed some aspirin and medication to feel his best," said Norman. "To this day, he has all the heart in the world, and he's a fantastic show horse. I thought with Judy Richter being such a knowledgeable horsewoman, she could give him the care he needed and let him show in a limited way and still have a fantastic life.
"My gut was if we just retired him and turned him out, he would fall apart pretty quickly physically. The horse really loves jumping and competing, so I thought this would be the best solution."
So Norman told Philip he wanted him to ride the horse in the Amateur-Owner Jumpers, where the fences ranged up to 1.4 meters (4-foot-6) with 1.45-meter spreads, as opposed to the top height of 1.6 meters (5-foot-3) and width of 2 meters (more for water jumps and triple bars) in grand-prix championships.
The syndicate that owned Glasgow wanted what was best for him, and Norman noted he would get the finest care after Philip took over the reins.
The investors were well aware of Glasgow's veterinary needs, although much of the cost of keeping and campaigning him had been covered by his considerable winnings.
"I think nobody would have felt good selling him to some random amateur to show who wouldn't have known his particulars and gone the extra mile to make sure he got the best care," said Philip.
Winning the Lottery … with Conditions
An accomplished Amateur-Owner Jumper competitor, Philip had a predictable first reaction to the idea of showing Glasgow: "I just won the lottery."
But taking over a big-name horse has its downside. Everyone remembers the heyday of such an animal. It's a lot to live up to.
After thinking about it, Philip was more reserved. "I was a little bit nervous," he acknowledged.
Glasgow, now 20, definitely enjoyed quite a reputation. What if the horse didn't perform well for Philip? It would be a blot on the name of an animal who was once one of the world's best jumpers.
"As an amateur, I can get on and make a lot of mistakes," Philip observed.
On the other hand, if they did well, it would be what everyone expected. After Philip and Glasgow finished their victory gallop in the prestigious Saturday Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic in Lake Placid, New York, last year, someone at ringside asked, "How can you not win on Glasgow?"
The comment smarted for a minute, but Philip conceded, "It's a true statement, really. The horse could jump the High Amateurs with one leg tied up around his ear."
That said, however, "Glasgow's not an easy horse to ride. He sights in at jumps and is really aggressive to them. He's a handful," Philip said.
In addition, Philip faces the added challenge many amateurs do—limited riding time. As a partner and a managing director of Hollow Brook Associates LLC, a New York City-based registered investment adviser, he often just gets in the saddle at shows and does only a few of those a year. He concentrates on the most competitive fixtures, such as the Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania, the Hampton Classic in New York and the Old Salem Farm Horse Show in New York.
The beginning of the relationship between Philip and Glasgow "was the crucial time. I think we got along really well from the start," said Philip. One reason is that Philip is comfortable riding a hot horse like Glasgow; another is the horse was "incredibly well-broke and responsive." And, as Judy pointed out, "Norman made it all work: Norman, [Norman's son] Nick and sometimes [Norman's assistant] Sean Crooks school the horse and get him ready. You don't just take good care of him and walk in the ring at Lake Placid and win."
But there was still a lot for Philip to figure out with the horse. "I've learned to let him go and let him tell me what he can and can't do. It's a matter of trusting him and leading him to the jumps, not telling him to go to the jumps," he said.
Occasionally Philip has found that to be too much of a good thing. "One year at Lake Placid, the last line on the course was eight strides; then in the second round, a flying seven strides." Or so it seemed.
"I gave him the reins and was clear. I wound up doing it in the six, not the seven. I landed and saw the distance." Philip said. "You can get away with things on a horse like that, which you can't get away with on a lesser horse. That's well and good, but you have to be respectful."