If Red Ryder had his way, the Harkaway Farm banner would probably have his name on it rather than “Freels Family.” After all, everything revolves around him, and he’s most definitely in charge, so why shouldn’t his name be embroidered on the green and maroon canvas?
“We always do things ‘Ryder’s’ way,” said Hannah Isop, who competes the gelding for her aunt Tracy Freels. “Ryder is always in charge, whether it’s on the ground or showing, competing, riding. It’s definitely Ryder’s world, and we’re just living in it. It’s worked out pretty well for us.”
The 16-year-old Selle Français (Hurlevent De Breka—Farandole Du Bois II, Umour Du Fenaud) didn’t exactly scream hunter when they first met him. He was sporting a bad clip job and scruffy mane, and he was on the thinner side, but Freels’ significant other, Kerry Critzer, was positive Ryder was a good one from the start.
“Kerry fell in love with the way he jumps,” said Freels. “[Critzer’s] not a horse person, but he has a good feel, an eye for it. He loved how [Ryder] jumped. So he’s actually the one that bought him for Hannah and me.”
Ryder didn’t turn heads his first year in the show ring. Isop showed him in the 3’6″ performance hunters, and he was usually in the middle of the pack, but things changed when he started jumping 4′.
“When he moved up to the high performance, it was a whole different jump,” Freels said. “So then we were like, ‘OK, that’s why we did this.’ ”
Ryder’s found a niche in the USHJA international hunter derbies, consistently finishing in the top five and winning the derby at Old Salem Farm May II (New York) in 2015. He competed in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships three times, finishing 10th in 2018. He’s placed second in the WCHR Professional Challenge at Capital Challenge (Maryland) twice and most recently finished second in the derby at New York Horse & Pony in Saugerties, New York, at the end of July.
Go behind the stall door to get to know the horse who knows it’s all about him.
• It’s only logical that the top dog in the barn gets the best stall. And which one is that? The one that’s front and center and provides the best view of the comings and goings throughout the day, of course.
“The first day we got him, we put him in a stall, and Tracy was like, ‘What did we do?’ ” Isop recalled. “We put him in a quiet stall, and he was like cantering in place. I think we tried like three different stalls and finally up front and center he was like, ‘Oh, OK, this is where I like it.’ ”
• Ryder is all about the scratches. His favorite spot is on his shoulder, but truly any spot will work.
“He’s a little bit of a high energy horse, so if I need him to relax—there’s no telling him to slow down—but if you give him a little scratch he’s like, ‘OK I can relax.’ He likes humans loving on him,” said Isop.
• His best friend is Isop’s other derby horse Believe, who is known as “Lucca” in the barn.
“They’re best buddies; they actually live next to each other at home,” said Isop. “I think because they travel so much together, they’re buddies. They even nicker a lot to each other. Brotherly love, a little brotherly rivalry, but mostly love.”
• Ryder’s routine is pretty chill. He knows his job, so he doesn’t have to pound in the ring. In the mornings he goes out next to Lucca, and then he spends a lot of time hanging out with his humans.
“He’s not much of a trail pony, so lots of bareback rides, flat rides, hanging out, grass,” said Isop. “Sometimes my mom [Susie Isop] will take him out of the stall and stand with him, and he’ll watch the rings, watch everyone ride. Sometimes I’ll teach lessons off of him because he really likes to be out there with everyone. So we do that with him so he doesn’t get too bored in his stall, God forbid. And at shows it’s very much the same, but no turnout, so he usually gets grazed. He gets a ride in the ring in the morning if that’s allowed and off we go. He lives a pretty good life.”
• Ryder loves an audience. If people could kindly fill the stands of the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park, that would make his day.
“He acknowledges the crowd,” said Hannah. “He’s like, ‘Hey guys, what are you doing? You watching me?’—in a good way.”
• Ryder loves making friends. He knew the interview was all about him and had a few things to say to the recorder himself. Also maybe that camera is tasty? You don’t know if you don’t sample it.
“He wants to touch everything,” Hannah said. “He comes across very friendly, but almost too much. Because, as you see, he goes into their space and wants to say hi and then will nip at them. So he’s a little over-exuberant with friends—dog or horse friends. And although he likes to say hi to everyone, he doesn’t always like everyone. He wants to say hi, and then he wants his own space. He loves my mom; he loves all of us. She really dotes on him at home.”
• Ryder might look tough, but he’s a sensitive soul and likes things done in a particular way. He favors gentle grooming sessions. He hates flies but also fly spray, so he goes out in lots of fly gear and in the mornings before the bugs get too bad.
• Treats are a way to his heart, and he’s not picky. Any form of sugar will do.
“Whether it be molasses or carrots, apples, peppermints, we don’t discriminate; we have a bit of a sweet tooth,” said Hannah.