Richard Spooner’s newest grand prix mount seems to be working out pretty well for him. Over the weekend at CSIO**** Coapexpan in Xalapa (Mexico), Spooner and Gerardo and Alfonso Pasquel’s Big Red were the only U.S. pair to post a double-clear round in the second leg of the North America, Central America and Caribbean league of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup.
The U.S. team of Spooner, Christine McCrea, Jonathan McCrea and Ali Wolff finished in a tie for second with Canada behind the home team of Mexico.
Spooner and Big Red then capped their weekend in Xalapa with a ninth-place finish in the Grand Prix of Veracruz, posting their third clear round of the weekend before finishing with two rails in a hotly contested nine-horse jump-off.
Spooner got the ride the 11-year-old Westphalian gelding (Ludwig Von Bayen—Lisa, Lamoureux I) just last September, and although the pair did not progress quite fast enough to be in contention for the U.S. Olympic Team Short List for the Olympic Games in Rio, they’ve been putting good results on the board. The duo already finished third in the $200,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping qualifier at the Wellington Masters (Fla.) in February.
Spooner also counts fan favorite Cristallo, the speedy Chivas Z and 10-year-olds Chaventyno and Mighty Mouse among his string of horses, and with several young horses coming up the ranks, including Quirado RC and full sibling homebreds Aces High and Ace of Diamonds, he is arguably building his strongest stable in several years.
The Chronicle caught up with Spooner to talk about his banner weekend in Mexico and what’s ahead for him.
COTH: Tell us about your rides at Coapexpan.
Spooner: This was definitely something I was trying to focus on for Big Red for a lot of reasons. The owners are from Mexico, and it was important for the team to do well for the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup series to qualify for the finals in Barcelona.
Spooner and Big Red jumping to a clear round in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in Coexpan. Photo by Anwar Esquivel
You want to do well anytime you’re competing and representing a team. You want to put your best foot forward, and Red put four best feet forward. He was fantastic. It was very exciting to do it in Mexico. I was very happy to be back on the team. I haven’t represented the team in a while, and it was a very good group of riders.
Obviously I would have liked to have seen a three-way jump-off, but it wasn’t to be. I couldn’t have been any happier for the Mexican team, and I couldn’t have been any happier for Big Red. He had a banner day.
Frankly, I can say that he should have gone clear in the jump-off [of the Grand Prix of Veracruz] as well, but I made a few mistakes as a rider. I tried to get a little too tricky in the jump-off. I tried to bend a line in the jump-off. It was a very advanced test, and I think that got us into a little bit of trouble. There was a vertical with a liverpool set behind it [that was] down, but it was no fault of Red’s. He was prepped to jump two clear rounds, but as a rider I made some small mistakes in the jump-off that cost us the win.
The whole focus when I ride on a team for the United States is the Nations Cup, so I really try to get everything ready for that class and do the very best I can, and anything before or after that is just gravy or icing on the cake.
How has Big Red’s development progressed since the winter?
He’s a special horse, and of course we’ve known that from the beginning. He’s kind of the magic concoction, so to speak, because he’s scopey, careful and rideable, and he has a fantastic amount of blood, but his blood doesn’t get him into trouble. He’s not over-the-top with his energy level. He’s not spooky. He has no problem with the open water or ditches. There just really isn’t a lot in his repertoire that he doesn’t handle.
Spooner and Big Red in Mexico. Photo by Anwar Esquivel
Now, his jump has gotten to be incredibly consistent, because he’s starting to know where I’m going to be as a rider, and I’m able to count on where his jump is going to be. He’s clearing the jumps by a consistently high amount, and he’s having the same bascule over every jump—the verticals, the oxers, the triple bars. He’s staying straight and balanced.
He has all the tools that he needs. Of course, it’s just a constant quest for more experience. I am very grateful to the team to have given us the opportunity to represent them and help us gain the experience that he needs to keep progressing and that we need to keep going forward.
How has your partnership grown?
I have to say, my relationship with Red has really reached a position now where he and I know what each other is going to do. We’re very familiar with each other now. I think in the beginning, it was a bit like a box of chocolates. We didn’t know how each other was going to react to the others’ motions, but now we’re much more comfortable together, and he really jumped phenomenal all week [in Xalapa].
Coapexpan was a big target for this horse. What is the next major goal for him?
The next thing that’s on his agenda is Spruce Meadows. It’ll be his first [time there]. Spruce Meadows is a different type of show jumping, and I think it will be a phenomenal experience for him, and I’m very optimistic that he’s going to shine there.
I’ll probably start him gently and let him get used to the environment and then build from there. I’d love to see him do the [ATCO Queen Elizabeth II Cup] and, you never know, maybe the $1.5 million [CP International] at the Masters if we get so lucky.
How is Cristallo?
Cristallo hasn’t owed me anything for about four or five years, and he just keeps giving. He was incredible in Miami [at the Global Champions Tour of Miami Beach, where he had the final rail of the jump-off in the American Invitational and finished seventh] and almost jumped clear in the [$500,000 Rolex Grand Prix during the final week of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington]. He just had one down there.
Cristallo and Spooner jumping to seventh in the $130,000 American Invitational at the LGCT of Miami Beach. Photo by Molly Sorge
I can’t say enough about that horse. He’s a consistent winner, and to this day he still gives me more than I deserve. He’s going to go to Spruce Meadows as well, and I’d like to do him in the derbies there, because quite frankly it’s pretty easy for him. He’s quite good at that.
He feels really fresh, he’s ready to go, and I still plan on doing him in grand prixs, just not as often as I used to. Of course, most horses, even when they’re 8, 9 and 10-year-olds, can’t do grand prixs as often has he used to, because he could go absolutely every weekend—and he probably still could, but I’m just not willing to do that with him.
Now, he just has to perform for me when he feels fresh and really wants to do it. He almost had that Invitational, and I just hope he lasts forever; that’s all that I can say!
How are your young horses coming along?
Chaventyno, who is owned by Legacy Equestrian, is just 10, but he’s a bit of a green 10. He doesn’t have a load of experience, but he’s very scopey and talented, and I think he’s going to pulse train. He needs to jump, sometimes the big class and sometimes the medium class, just to get in the ring and get a lot of experience. He has a lot of potential, so I’m really excited about him. He will come to Spruce Meadows as well.
I have some much younger horses, a few 7-year-olds as well as some 6-year-olds. Quirado is owned in partnership by Rancho Corazon and myself, and that is an extraordinary horse. He’s big, and he’s going to be a little bit of a “slow big” because of his size, but he’s incredibly scopey and careful, and I’m really optimistic for his future.
[Aces High and Aces Diamonds] are 6-year-olds by Ace, a stallion I used to do in some of the grand prixs and World Cup classes, out of a mare named Ezra, which I used to do in the speed classes and some grand prixs. They’re also unbelievably talented, and I have some others that are coming along.
There’s hopefully a lot on the horizon, and I’m very excited to have such a nice group of young horses—as well as the older ones. Chivas Z has been an unbelievable contributor. He was incredible in Wellington. He really took care of everybody else. He was my flagship in Wellington; he was just incredible. He’s going to head up to Spruce as well. I’m really excited about the horses the good group of owners I have is putting under me.
What is your breeding program like?
I’ve bred in different places in California. We basically did a lot of embryo transfers with the mare, Ezra. I’ve been breeding for maybe 15 years. I try to do it gently, because it’s very costly, and they multiply like rabbits! You have to be careful with how much breeding you do. One year, I’ll breed maybe three or four, but then I’ll skip two or three years, because they add up so quickly.
[Ace of Diamonds and Aces High] are the last ones that I bred, and basically, I do it for fun. I’d love to have top horses out of it, and I’m getting very lucky with these Ezra babies, but I do it mainly for fun, if I have a mare that I’m partial to and stallion that I’m partial to or familiar with, or maybe that I’ve owned or ridden. Then I go ahead and breed them, but I certainly don’t breed to make money!
What’s ahead for you?
I’m going to Del Mar (Calif.) this week and next week with Cristallo and Chivas and some of the young horses. Then I have a few weeks to gear up for Spruce. Right now, that’s the plan.