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.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Five Henry Stable

Jumping into the Horse Business

by Pam Gleason, photography by Gary Knoll

On April 14 and 15, 2016, McLain Ward, the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, will come to Five Henry Stable in Aiken to conduct a showjumping clinic. McLain, who at 40 has been at the top of the game for many years, rarely gives clinics, and getting him to come to Aiken is something of a coup, especially in 2016, an Olympic year.

“We were looking for someone to give a clinic,” says Jane McDonald, who owns Jane McDonald Training and Sales. Jane’s husband, Cameron McLeod, is the manager and trainer at Five Henry, and Jane herself used to work for McLain Ward. “Someone suggested that I call McLain, and so I did, and he said okay,” she explains simply.

The two-day clinic is for 24 riders, and it sold out almost immediately after it was announced, even with the relatively steep $1000 rider’s fee. But perhaps this is not surprising: being able to learn from a horseman of Ward’s caliber is a rare opportunity indeed.

Above and left: Cameron McLeod with Aagaardens
El Capitan (Chief), a 6-year-old Danish
Warmblood gelding, currently for sale at Five Henry.
The McLain Ward clinic is the first public event put on by Five Henry Stable, which was established in March 2015. Five Henry is located just off Route 302 in the middle of the polo and eventing corridor east of Aiken. It has a large arena with professional Martin Collins footing, a set of show-ready jumps, and a grass derby field complete with schooling and competition banks. Set on about 20 acres, the facility includes an attractive, breezy stable and ample turnout for the horses that live there.

These horses are a small collection of well-started as well as seasoned jumpers and eventing horses imported from Europe. Hugh Lynch, who owns Five Henry, selected them specifically for amateur riders, and imported them to sell on the American market. Hugh, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. with his family, is a fairly recent convert to the horse business. His career has included many years of working at Bank of America, followed by successful ventures in real estate and other businesses. His wife Stephanie is the co-owner of an investment firm that manages money for college endowments and foundations. As Hugh explains it, he got into horses through his daughter, Avery, a 14-year-old eighth grader who rides at Fairytale Farms in Charlotte.

“She started riding and showing when she was 8, and she got very serious about it,” says Hugh. “So I got interested in it, too. I got very interested in the horse side of things, and pretty soon I began to think about starting a business.”

Although Hugh did not have in-depth experience in the horse show world before, he did grow up on a farm in western Virginia where his family raised beef cattle. He had ridden Quarter Horses when he was young, and he was comfortable being on a farm and in the country. He and Stephanie discovered Aiken a few years ago when Avery started coming down to show at Highfields.

“We love Aiken,” says Hugh. “It’s a charming town and there is such a robust horse community here, we thought it was a good place to set up shop.” Hugh says he was particularly impressed by the fact that there are so many different competitive opportunities in Aiken that it is possible to put a lot of show miles on a horse very quickly. “We love Highfields, and we’re very excited about the new shows at Bruce’s Field. Now that I see how strong the eventing world is here, I am interested in that, too.”

After making the decision to base his business in Aiken, Hugh found the property that would be Five Henry, formerly a polo farm, and started converting it into a jumper stable. He also learned as much as he could about all aspects of the horse world, by reading, asking questions and consulting with top horsemen, including Scott Keach, a member of the Australian showjumping team who is based in Florida over the winter. Through Scott and other connections, Hugh became acquainted with horse professionals in Europe. In his first year in business, he has made a number of overseas trips and imported about half a dozen horses. Three are currently in Wellington where they are in training with Scott Keach and Kurt Martin (an event rider), while the rest are at Five Henry. There, they are trained and conditioned by Cameron McLeod, who competes in showjumping and eventing. One horse, imported from Ireland, spent the winter eventing under Jane McDonald and shows promise in that discipline.

Hugh is a student of conformation, and has developed a keen eye for a horse with potential in the show ring, which complements his highly developed skills as a businessman and entrepreneur. Although Hugh’s intention was always to select horses suitable for amateur riders, at least one of the jumpers he picked out has Grand Prix potential and is remaining in training with Scott Keach to continue his development.

Buying and selling horses can be a tricky proposition, and Hugh recognizes that. “I was and am very humble about the horse business,” he says. “I think it will make you that way pretty quick if you aren’t. I’ve got an analytical background and I have taken a methodical approach to learning. I know there are no guarantees, but I try to mitigate the risk with thorough vetting, proper care and putting the horses in the right place for them.”

“We’re not trying to be big,” Hugh continues. “Our goal is to find good horses that we like, with the idea that someone else will like them too. The first thing I always ask myself when I am looking at horses is what would I let my daughter ride? For an amateur horse, you want all the scope, but you also have to ask yourself is he careful, does he have a good mind? Reputation is very important to us, and we hope always to stay on the high road and to do things right.”

Cameron McLeod will be competing Five Henry horses in the jumper classes at Tryon, N.C. this spring before coming back home for the Aiken Spring Classic at Highfields and the Aiken Charity Horse Show at Bruce’s Field. Meanwhile, Avery Lynch is doing well on the hunter circuit in Charlotte and will be going to Devon in May. The Lynch family seems to be on an upward path in the horse world.

And the name Five Henry? Where does that come from?

“Five Henry Street was the address of a house I lived in when I was in college in Virginia,” say Hugh. “College is a special time. I lived there with six really good friends; we have a reunion every five years, and we’re always remembering Five Henry Street and all the things that went on there. So when I was looking for a name, that is what I thought of.”

 - 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.