Is Dick Feldman the Lake Placid Horse Show, or is the Lake Placid Horse Show Dick Feldman?
The answer is both: The New York show wouldn’t be what it is without him, and he wouldn’t be what he is without the show.
“I don’t like it — I love it,” he declares.
Although this is his 26th year as chairman, his enthusiasm hasn’t waned. He speaks proudly of running from ring to ring, making sure all is well; he picks up scattered garbage, loose dogs, lost children; then looks for things that don’t seem right, and gets them corrected. An exhibitor doesn’t have shavings? He’ll deliver them himself. And he presents trophies, too.
This all happens every day after he rides his horse over from his nearby Woodlea farm at 7 a.m., going around the entire grounds inspecting things and making sure everything is safe, always ready for more work on the project to which he has devoted himself.
“The horse show business is a hands-on business,” he says, explaining his non-stop activity.
Although the Lake Placid Horse Show, which is under way this week, and its sister competition at the showgrounds, next week’s I Love New York show, only run for two weeks in the summer, they are on his mind year-round.
“He wears the show on his sleeve,” said Lake Placid’s technical coordinator, David Distler.
“His heart’s in the right place. He wants to make Lake Placid one of the top shows. He wants everyone to come and love it.”
Dick’s philosophy toward those who are part of the show goes this way: “If you treat them as if they were your family, they will treat you like you were their father.”
He believes Lake Placid is the perfect location “if you want the experience of a beautiful place, cool nights, things you can’t do any place else — the mountain climbing and boating — it’s a real family destination.”
Show jumper Margie Engle, a regular at the show for three decades, agrees.
“Even if kids have brothers and sisters who don’t ride, there’s a lot to do,” she said.
Margie rarely has much spare time for recreation when she’s at a show. Still, in the break between the two shows, she and her husband, Dr. Steve Engle, have managed to enjoy other things, including hiking to the top of the ski jump where winter Olympians train.
Looking at the drop, she said, “I don’t think I’d ever do that,” an unusual admission from someone who has always been a daredevil.
Margie notes that Dick annually invites all the riders, trainers and board members to a meeting, where he asks what can be done to improve the show, and he wants them to be honest.
“I listen to what everybody tells me is wrong,” he said. “I don’t want to know what’s right, I know what’s right. I want to know what’s wrong. When we started this, I used to get 15 pages of stuff, now I can’t get five lines.”
But if there is a suggestion, he pays attention.
“What he can change, he does,” Margie said.
While that’s important, she’s even more impressed by his character.
“He’s a friend to everybody. If you need something, he’s there. He’s not the type of person who’s nice because of who you are. I’ve seen him talking to a leadline kid who’s nervous about going in the class. Whatever he can do to make people enjoy themselves at the show, he does.”
Candice King, another show jumper, has been competing in the show on and off since 1986.
Why does she keep coming back?
“They go above and beyond with the horse show, the presentations, the courses and the footing.”
She, too, is impressed by Dick and the way he handles things.
“He remembers every person by their name, comes and greets everybody,” she said.
Ringmaster Alan Keeley calls Dick, ” the anchor of that horse show. It’s his passion and he wants every class to run perfectly, he wants every person to be happy.”
An example: When some friends of his from Connecticut came to the show for the first time and he introduced them to Dick, “He just loved the fact that these folks wanted to visit his horse show. He carries around in his pocket a stack of cards, free dinner passes to all the restaurants.
“He told them, `Take this card, you go there, take everybody. Have a nice dinner. It’s on me.”
Alan’s friends were awestruck, but he explained, “That’s just how he is.”
Board member Philip Richter pointed out that “for people like me, who love riding, we also like other things. Lake Placid offers so many other things to do.” He particularly enjoys renting a house on the lake and waterskiing.
In addition, “The restaurant scene is fantastic, you can go to really good places like La Veranda, or to Tail of the Pup and eat picnic table style and bring the kids. The town is fun, the nightlife is fun.”
But it’s all particularly sweet because of the quality of the show.
“The facility is improved every year. We’ve come so far, and that’s thanks to Richard. If you look at where Lake Placid was in the ’70s, and I know because I showed there, and where it is now, it’s a quantum leap in structure, quality, services. The riders’ lounge is great, and they always have food out there.”
All those things, and more, make it “a favorite for a lot of people,” he said.
Horses are a lifetime focal point for Dick.? His family has been very involved in racing (they owned 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice), but his interest is show horses and fox hunters. He was the master of the Hidden Hollow Hounds in New Jersey and has been a member of Golden’s Bridge Hounds and Rombout Hunt in New York. A managing director of Barclay’s Wealth who is based in New York City, he still gets up before dawn to get in his daily ride. It’s a routine that’s been going on for decades.
He had a pony while still a tot, but experienced an epiphany as a 12-year-old, when his family took a vacation in Arizona and he got involved a whole different type of riding. As his folks got set to leave, he declined to go.
“I locked myself in a closet,” he recalled with a chuckle.
“I wasn’t going home, I was going to become a wrangler.” After his father and sister gave up and left, his mother finally was able to talk him into going home.
But his determination and love for horses have never dimmed.
“It’s been such a fantastic flight for me, my whole life with horses. The people are wonderful,” he said.
While his involvement also extends to being a trustee of the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, his proudest accomplishment is what happens in Lake Placid.
“This was a leaky roof circuit, an in-the field horse show 25 years ago,” he remembered.
“Today, it’s a premier circuit show. The only way that happens is if you put the money into the grounds, into the structure, into everything. There isn’t one thing you can forget; the minute you forget, you’ll be reminded,” said Dick, who takes particular pride in the grass grand prix field and everyone who works so hard to make the show a success.
Dick is devoted to the town, which goes all out for the show, with store windows decorated on an equestrian theme. Other non-equestrian features of the two weeks include the popular doggie costume contest.
The town, in turn, recognizes Dick’s contributions.
“I’m in the Lake Placid Hall of Fame with (skating film star) Sonja Henie and (Olympic multi-gold medal speed skater ) Eric Heiden,” he notes.
His first acquaintance with the town was in 1946, when his father decided to take all his relatives who had served in the armed forces during World War II to Lake Placid for a skiing getaway. That was his introduction to a place that has become such a big part of his life. It is also important to his wife, Diana, who spent summers there as a child.
“From the moment he first joined the board, I could tell how dear the horse shows were to Dick,” she said.? “We both recognize how important the horse shows are to Lake Placid.? When the horse shows succeed, the community benefits.”
Dick also enjoys his association with celebrities who come to the show, from rocker Bruce Springsteen and director Stephen Spielberg to Lorraine Bracco of “The Sopranos” and another actress, Glenn Close.
“You name them, they come,” he asserts
Any thoughts of retirement?
“None. Ever,” Dick says firmly. “I don’t play golf or tennis. I’m interested in horses. This is the best two weeks of my life.”