“You laugh because I’m different. I laugh because you’re all the same.”
Such is what Richard Spooner’s popular 18-year-old Holsteiner gelding Cristallo (Caretino—Cambrina, Cicero) probably thinks when he watches the masses of horses parade around the schooling areas of the top-level horse shows he attends, all marching along in a row, each in a perfect frame.
Working in frame is not for Cristallo. The opinionated bay, known for both his difficulties and his purely unbridled talent, has never believed in conventions. In his early years, he was so difficult to ride that Spooner nearly sold him; he instead turned him over to his wife Kaylen to work with, and even she could do little more than trot when she first began riding him.
More than 10 years later, Cristallo boasts countless grand prix victories in five-star events and Nations Cups across the globe and is a veteran of six FEI World Cup Finals. He’s a three-time winner of both the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Monte Carlo (Monaco, 2008, 2009 & 2013) and the Nexen Cup Derby at Spruce Meadows (Alberta), which he claimed in 2012, 2015 and again this year when he defended his title at the venue’s National Tournament on June 12. And he’s done it all his way.
The Chronicle went behind the stall door to learn more about what makes the quirky bay tick…
- He’s mellowed out—slightly—as he’s aged.
When Cristallo was brought out of his stall, this writer wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the high-energy bay be cooperative? Would he even remotely stand still for a photograph? Surprisingly, Cristallo was a perfect gentleman on the ground. He didn’t even need to be cross-tied when he was first taken out for his grooming. Then he stood still as a statue as he posed for pictures.
Cristallo has clearly mellowed as he’s aged, but his professionalism overpowers his maturation. He is indeed the consummate pro, and he knows he is great, but he still definitely has a playful side. While being groomed, the striking bay bobbed with his head, nodding up and down while seeking attention, as if to say, “I know, I’m the king of this place, and I’ve still got it!”
“Look at me!” Cristallo shows off his playful side.
- It took Richard six months to be persuaded to first ride Cristallo when he was a 5-year-old.
“It was ironic,” Richard said. “Before Cristallo, I had a horse named Robinson, and he was a bit of a tricky horse as well. When I had Robinson and he was winding down his career, [rider] Bob McDonald said to me, ‘I have your next horse,’ but I did not want another crazy horse. For six months, I ducked and weaved and dodged all of Bob’s advances to try to get me to ride Cristallo. Finally, he asked me a favor. He wanted me to help sell him. So, I sat on him, and I got off and said, ‘I have to have him.’
“How does that saying go, you gravitate toward people who share the same level of sanity?” he added, wryly.
How could you not be gravitated toward those eyes?
- He’s the king of the lunge line.
“Cristallo lunges a lot. I did the math the other day, and he’s lunged about 600,000 miles thus far in his career, give or take 50,000,” Richard joked.
“Even at 18, he has to lunge before he shows,” he said. “Now, I can get away with riding him without lunging, but before, I couldn’t even really ride him without lunging him. He’s unbelievably fit.”
“Who are you calling 18?” Cristallo has the physique of a young horse.
- He goes by the nickname of “Monkey,” a moniker he shares with both Laura Kraut’s Olympic gold medal partner Cedric and fellow show jumping superstar Uceko, of Kent Farrington’s string. However, the similarities between the three pretty much end there.
- He can barrel race.
Early on in the gelding’s career, Kaylen would create a barrel race pattern with standards to help teach the unruly bay how to improve his turning. Trail riding also was, and still is, a big part of Cristallo’s routine. The gelding has been trail ridden in the mountains of California and has even gone to the beach and swum in the ocean.
- He dictates his own schedule.
“Now that Cristallo is 18, I don’t really make plans for him,” Richard said. “His plans unfold for him.”
- He loves a good roll. The first thing Cristallo does when entering his stall is get in a good back itch on the ground. He is most often found with pieces of shavings stuck to his back and withers. He enjoys undoing the diligent work of his grooms, largely so he can get pampered again, fully milking his treatment as the barn’s top horse.
Cristallo eagerly awaits a good roll after his grooming.
- He’s Richard’s horse of a lifetime.
“Over the last 13 years, he’s changed my life,” Richard said. “I went places I never dreamed I would go, let alone get to show there. At one point, he was ranked the best horse in the world, and that’s a dream that he achieved that I never thought I would have.”
Cristallo: a horse of a lifetime.