Friday, June 24, 2016

Secret Lives of Horses

Ricardo: A Tribute

by Pam Gleason, photography by Gary Knoll painting by DJ Fitzgerald

At 26, Ricardo is enjoying his retirement. A 16.3 hand Oldenburg gelding, Ricardo lives at Breezy Hill South in Aiken, where he shares his grassy paddock with Juan, a tiny miniature donkey. Ricardo likes living with the little donkey, whom he considers to be his peer, despite their difference in size and athleticism. This is at least partly because Ricardo is, and has always been, the consummate gentleman. He would never push another animal around just because he was bigger and stronger.

When Ricardo was younger, he was a showjumper. In 2000, when he was 10 years old, he was imported to the U.S. from Germany by Karen Hagerty to be her show horse. Karen was a senior vice president at the insurance brokerage firm Aon Corporation in New York. She had ridden when she was growing up, along with her sister and her stepfather, Linzee Whittaker. As an adult, she had been working so hard she had not had much time to ride, but now that her career was going so well, she was hoping to have more time to enjoy herself, and planned to have many years with her beautiful new horse.

Ricardo was a joy to ride, had a wonderful temperament and Karen loved him. When he turned 11, Karen threw him a birthday party, complete with a horseshoe-shaped carrot cake, forty guests, and party favors for all the other horses in the stable. But her time with him was short. Aon Corporation had offices high up in the World Trade Center, building two. That was where Karen was working on September 11, 2001. When terrorists guided airplanes into the World Trade Center Towers that morning, Karen made it down to the 78th floor where the express elevator might have carried her to safety. But she didn’t make it. Along with 2605 other people in the buildings that day, she was lost. She was 34.

After the tragedy, Ricardo found a home with Karen’s family, Linzee and Lena Whittaker, in Westchester County, New York. Linzee, who grew up on Long Island, was a lifelong rider who showed in the equitation finals at Madison Square Garden when he was just 14 on a wonderful Thoroughbred named Candlewick. As an adult, his job as an overseas country manager for the insurance firm AIG took him and his family around the world. He and his daughters rode wherever there were horses – in the Bahamas, Panama, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia, among other places.

Linzee had become a foxhunting devotee by the time Ricardo came into his life. Ricardo, whose career had been in the show ring, soon learned how to be a foxhunter. “He was nice and quiet and peaceful in the ring, but he was always a little wild on the hunt field,” says Linzee. “He was always jigging and jogging.”

AIG gave Linzee early retirement in 2003, and that February, he and Lena came down to visit Aiken during Whiskey Road Foxhounds Hunt Week. They both loved the city so much, they started looking for a house right away. It wasn’t long before they found one that they liked. By June, they had moved in, bringing Ricardo to Aiken with them.

Over the next few years, Linzee spent most of his spare time riding on the hunt field. In addition to Ricardo, he bought two more horses, Lucy and Nevada. He rode Lucy on the Aiken Hounds drag hunt twice a week, took Nevada out with the Flat Branch Hounds twice a week, and hunted Ricardo with Whiskey Road once a week.

Linzee and Ricardo also returned to the show ring, competing in the Working Hunter Division. “I worked with Daniel Geitner, who helped me a lot,” says Linzee. And the pair were very successful. In fact, Linzee rode Ricardo to the 2006 South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association Working Hunter year end high point award. That year, they also showed at Penn National and at the Washington International Horse Show. Linzee was enjoying himself, and so was Ricardo. The horse was big and bold and powerful, and carried himself with the kind of presence that made you notice him. The pair seemed destined to go on to even more success in the future.

But then, in mid-January 2007, Linzee was riding Lucy in the Hitchcock Woods with the Aiken Hounds. Lucy misjudged a fence, hit her front legs and pitched Linzee head first into the ground. That is all that he remembers about the accident that put him in a coma for five days, nearly cost him his life, and ended his riding and showing career.

After this accident, Linzee leased Ricardo out to be shown for a short time, and then retired him for good. At first, the big horse lived together with Nevada, who was younger. But, since Nevada tended to push him around and eat his dinner, Ricardo lost weight and was not doing well. That was when he moved to his current home at Breezy Hill South. For many years, his pasture mate was Cody, a retired hunt horse that belonged to Mike Rubin. After Cody died about a year ago at the age of 32, Ricardo was paired with Juan the mini donkey, and they spend their days grazing or loafing in their run-in shed. Linzee, who plans to keep him forever, goes out to visit frequently.

“He’s a marvelous horse, a great guy,” says Linzee. “Whenever I go over to see him, I can drive up and beep the horn, and he will come to find me, wherever he is and whatever he is doing. He’s that kind of horse; one of the finest horses that ever lived.”

Justine Wilson, who takes care of Ricardo at Breezy Hill South says he is definitely a special guy.

“If he were human, despite his advanced age, I believe he would still open car doors, wear a bow tie and properly ready himself for a cocktail at the Willcox at 5,” she says. “He is absolutely the kindest, most gentle soul I have had the pleasure of knowing in a horse and I just adore him. Perhaps that is why he and Linzee are so close-- they are so much alike!”

Justine says that Ricardo’s favorite things are peppermints and a good bath. “To this day, whenever I give him a bath and turn him out he runs around like a 2 year old, scaring the heck out of Juan! He’s so joyful in these moments it brings tears to my eyes. He’s always at the fence to greet me and knows the honk of Linzee’s horn from afar when he comes to visit. He always comes over for the giant bag of apples and carrots that Linzee brings religiously. I truly cannot say enough about him. He has no vices and I don’t think he ever has. He is just the sweetest old man and a very special soul.”

There is a large portrait of Ricardo in the Whittaker’s sitting room. The painting shows Linzee and Lena holding the horse in a green field. Linzee is dressed in his riding clothes, but Ricardo is wearing Karen’s saddle and saddle pad. Just to the left of the trio, Karen’s two cats, also left behind when the towers fell, sit in the shade of a tree. The painting is serene and peaceful, a quiet tribute to a marvelous horse and to the young woman who should have been his partner and his companion all these many years.

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from The Aiken Horse.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.