Free Rein With: Margie Engle

Feb 21, 2011 - 4:38 PM
Photo by Kenneth Kraus/

Grand prix rider Margie Engle began her life with horses by imploring her non-horsey parents for lessons and trips to the local barn. She grew up in the Miami, Fla., area and started riding at Gladewinds Farm, where the Kramer family ran a lessons and local show business.

Engle worked off her lessons, and the Kramers put her on all kinds of ponies. She eventually started teaching and taking other children to shows in her teens, and her business grew. She showed hunters and trained students all over the East Coast, though her heart lay in the jumper ring. By the mid-’80s, she was taking the grand prix world by storm.

Engle still operates under the name Gladewinds Farm as a tribute to the place where she got her start. Since those early days of grand prix fame, Engle has been one of the winningest riders on the U.S. circuit. She has a Pan American Games team silver medal to her credit from 1999, rode on the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games team, placing 10th individually, and helped the U.S. team take silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

She might stand just 5’1″, but her presence is large. Her sense of humor is legendary, and she’s always ready to slap cards down on a tack trunk for a quick poker game. She’s been married to veterinarian Dr. Steve Engle since 1995.

Name: Margie Engle
Age: 52
Home Base: Wellington, Fla.

What’s your favorite vacation spot?
I have two. We got married in the Cayman Islands, and we love going back. The water is beautiful there, and it’s great for water sports. My husband scuba dives, and I snorkel, mainly. We relax and read.

I love Vegas, too, and not just for the gambling! They have great restaurants, and I like going to the shows. I do like to play poker there. We try and stop in Vegas when we go to visit family in California. It’s a real playground for adults.

What’s the most important lesson you learned the hard way?
There are so many! I learn most of my lessons the hard way; I’m one of those people. If you tell me the stove is hot, I have to touch it!

What’s your drink of choice?
Propel flavored water or plain water.

What makes you laugh?
I’m pretty easily entertained. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedian I didn’t like. I can hear the same joke 20 times and still laugh at it.

Who does the cooking in the Engle houshold?
Neither one of us cook a lot—we’re so busy. But of the two of us, Steve probably cooks more than I do. He makes a phenomenal omelet. He’ll make one and wrap it up, and I’ll have it for lunch or dinner. He eats very healthy, and he uses egg whites and spinach and all kinds of vegetables and mushrooms—anything we’ve got in the refrigerator—in there. And I put hot sauce on the omelets, since I like my hot sauce.

Jack Russells, yes or no?
No. I don’t have a dog now, but I had dachshunds since I was born. My parents always had dachshunds when I was growing up, and that’s the only other dog I’ve owned.

What three things can always be found in your refrigerator?
Yogurt, hot sauce and fruit.

In retrospect, what’s the best decision you’ve ever made?
To stay in school. I loved school, but I wanted to do the horses full time. I went to night school at one point because I was riding all day. [Engle attended Miami Dade Community College and Florida International University and completed a business degree.]

At the time, I thought it was only something to fall back on in case the horses didn’t work out, but I’ve used that education a lot in the horse world. There’s a lot more to the business of it than just riding.

What kind of car do you drive, and how many miles are on it?
I drive an Audi TT, and it has around 9,000 miles on it.

How would you describe your driving skills, NASCAR or soccer mom?
A little of both, depending on my mood!

What was your first horse like?
I never actually owned my own horse growing up. I did a lot of catch riding as a kid, and one of my favorites was a pony named Garnet I rode for the Kramers at Gladewinds Farm. I think she was my favorite because she was very stubborn and a challenge.

How many horses are in your barn now?
We have 30 in my barn at Gladewinds. There are 10 more at Hidden Creek Farm, and then I have a lot of outside people I’m helping.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
When people aren’t honest and straight with you.

What one item from your wardrobe most personifies you?
I’m in riding clothes 99 percent of the time!

When is the last time you cleaned a stall?
I’m no stranger to cleaning stalls. I used to do it all the time—that’s how I started, working. I don’t know when the last time was that I actually fully cleaned a stall, but I’ve been known to pick out a pile here and there. My husband cleans stalls really well—he always leaves them clean when he goes in to work on a horse, and he cleans and beds it so well you want to sleep in it yourself. It’s immaculate when he’s done.

Which horse from your past do you wish you had the chance to ride again?
I’ve been so lucky to have so many good ones, but Saluut was one of my favorites. Saluut was the horse that I felt like I had a really special bond with. What he lacked in scope, he made up for in carefulness and heart. Anything I asked him to do, he’d try. He never said no. I could ask him for the craziest turns and the most ridiculous angles, and he’d turn himself inside out to do it.

Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I hope to have some nice grand prix horses; maybe I’ll have it narrowed down to three or four special grand prix horses. I’d like to do it as long as I can and am physically able.

Do you have any superstitions, like lucky socks or rituals?
I am superstitious of saying things. I try to avoid saying things like “This horse is going great” or “He’s really jumping well,” because it seems like it always jinxes it. If I’m trying one, I won’t say “He’s going great!” until I get off.

What TV do you watch?

I like crime dramas like “Criminal Minds” and “The Mentalist,” but then “Dancing with the Stars” is something random I enjoy watching. I don’t know why—I thought it was silly to start, but then I got hooked on it.

Looking back on your career, what advice are you glad you didn’t take?
Growing up, everyone basically told me to give up. They said that I was too short to ride all the big horses and that without the financial backing, I’d never be able to make it in the horse show world. But the more people told me I couldn’t do it, the more it made me want it. That’s when being stubborn worked for me. My parents always told me that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I took it to heart.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Free Rein With: Margie Engle ran in the Feb. 21, 2011 Show Jumping issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

Category: Interviews

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