November 2015 - The Gallop: Richard Spooner Insights

International grand prix veteran tells young riders he’s a poster boy for persistence.

by Kim F. Miller

“Persistence” was the short answer veteran Grand Prix show jumper Richard Spooner gave to young riders seeking advice at the Del Mar International Horse Show.

His talk was part of the great rider/fan get-togethers West Palms Events has been incorporating into its big shows. At the Sacramento International last month, it was clinics by Rich Fellers (see story, page 18), Buddy Brown and Kristin Hardin. In Del Mar, Richard’s rapt audience included Pony Club members, Onondarka

photo: Kim F. Miller

Medal Finals participants and members of the Compton JR Posse.

The fun session was held Saturday, Oct. 17, right before the Longines FEI World Cup™ in which Richard and Cristallo finished fifth.

Here are some paraphrased highlights of Richard’s inspiring and fun talk, prompted by smart questions from delighted young riders.

Question: Did you do the Onondarka Medal?
Richard: I did. It was a fantastic experience, even though I was terrible when I started riding at 10. I started on the lunge line, for maybe seven or eight months. I fell off so often that my instructors knew they had to pull the horse off the lunge circle quickly, so it wouldn’t trample me as I lay there on the ground.
I was terrible!
At our barn Christmas parties, they gave out awards for best hands and heels down, etc... I got the award for most persistent. I was thrilled at the time, though later I realized it wasn’t maybe the greatest award. But, honestly, being persistent is what has pulled me through over time in this sport. When things went bad, I just kept going: I kept pushing forward, I kept my nose down and I stuck to my art everyday.
I think ninth was the best I did at an Onondarka, but I was elated to get a ribbon at a real show. I couldn’t believe it!

Richard and Cristallo at the Del Mar National. photo: Kim F. Miller

Question: Did you do Pony Club?
Richard: No. I did baseball and tennis and things like that until one day a relative wanted to take a riding lesson, so we were at a barn for that. After about 45 minutes of sitting in the car, I got bored and went out to look around.  And that was it. Just being around the horses, I knew I wanted to spend more time with them. And that’s been the case throughout my career. The love of horses has driven my success in the business and my life has really been enriched by them.

Question: What’s your favorite breed for show jumping?
Richard: In my mind, it’s Warmbloods. In my heart, it’s Thoroughbreds. I really started my career with Thoroughbreds, including Kirk and Bradford.

Question: Do you have a favorite among the horses you’ve ridden?
Richard: I have great affection for all the horses I’ve ridden, but Robinson is the horse that made me. You might be too young to remember him. He’s a gray, gregarious athlete. He was eight when I got him and we grew up together and he really made me. 
Robinson is 27 now. He lives at home with his goat “Nanny.” Before we got him Nanny, he’d get upset when we’d take off for a show without him. Now he’s like, “Go ahead! Go! I’m gonna have a good time here with my goat.”

Question: What’s your advice for training your eye to see a distance?
Richard: Practice! I had a terrible eye! I had “one fence-itis” for about three years. But my trainer, Jamie Mann, just kept working with me and working with me. It was practice. Repetition. Little jumps, little boxes on the ground. It doesn’t need to be big jumps. She just kind of beat it into my head. Then, all of the sudden: I got it! Once you get it, you are really playing the game. That’s when the joy comes in.
Keep at it. You’ll get it. It just takes a long time.

Question: How do you stay calm under pressure?
Richard: The funny thing is that pressure is what you make of it. Pressure forces you to improve yourself. I remember competing in Aachen, Germany. I think I was the anchor rider in a team competition in front of 60,000 or 70,000 people and I was nervous. And then it hit me: This is what you’ve been waiting for. All of the hours you put in have led up to this moment. Make pressure your friend, not your enemy.

The Gallop welcomes news, tips and photos. Contact Kim F. Miller at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 949-644-2165.