Free Rein With: Ralph Caristo

Mar 12, 2010 - 4:50 AM
"I'm so lucky, because I love what I do," said trainer, judge and long-time North American Young Riders Championship Zone 2 chef d'equipe Ralph Caristo. Photo by James Leslie Parker.

Since taking over Glenview Stables in 1968, Ralph Caristo has made a big name for himself as a top trainer and sought-after judge. While he’s trained six American Horse Shows Association and U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse Of The Year honorees and presided at every major show in the country, his biggest contribution to the sport came through his work with young riders.

Accompanying one of his daughters, Heather, on her first trip to the North American Young Riders Championships inspired Ralph to champion the program. During his 12 years as chef d’equipe, seven Zone 2 junior and young rider teams and six individuals have earned NAJYRC gold. In 2005 a group of admirers honored him by creating the Caristo Cup, awarded annually to an NAJYRC chef d’equipe who exhibits the same sportsmanship, horsemanship and enthusiasm as the award’s namesake.

Caristo is quick to share the credit for his accomplishments, pointing out that “having good people around makes me look good.” Those good people include his family—best friend and wife Holly Caristo and daughters Robin Dinger, Karen Caristo, Lynn Forgione and Heather, who ride and train at Glenview—as well as professional riders Jenny Fischer and Kevin McCarthy, manager Christina Kalinski and long-time head groom Carlos Zambrano.

Name: Ralph Caristo                                                                                  
Home Base: Saugerties, N.Y. & Wellington, Fla.

What’s the hardest part about being a judge?
Having the people understand that the view they see at the in-gate isn’t the view that we see in the judges’ box. While they’re whooping and yelling, they can’t always see that the horse just hung a leg. The only person who’s going to leave happy is the blue ribbon winner, but you’d better get it right, because all your peers are watching.

If you could take a turn riding any horse, who would you choose?
Indian Summer. Heather picked him out in Switzerland. As a first year green horse [in 2004] he won every class at Devon [Pa.], then my wife won everything on him. He gave us the most amazing thrill.

What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the show world over the past 20 years?
Overall, the riders are better, the horses are better, and the trainers are better. Each year everyone gets smarter, the horses get better and the riders are fantastic.

What three things do you always keep in your fridge?
String cheese to eat when Holly’s not looking, Perrier water and ice cream.

What’s your biggest judging pet peeve?
People don’t understand that the numerical score isn’t always an accurate reflection of the round, and that’s why I’m not the biggest advocate of that system. If a horse goes around the ring and skips a change, some [judges] will be hard on that and some won’t. Or if a horse has a light rub, one judge might give it a 73, another would say, “Oh it was just a tiny rub, he jumped it great, it’s an 81.”

When was the last time you rode a horse?
Eleven years ago I rode a horse named Udo.

Where would you like to see young riders go?
I’d really like us to send a team to Europe. Our kids here are as good as anyone in the world. Look at Lucy Davis [who won the $28,844 Young Masters League Final at the Frankfurt CSI-W (Germany) aboard True Love (see Jan. 8, p 26)], who did it on her own. I’d also love to see the trainers get more involved in every zone so that at [the NAJYRC] we can have teams from every zone.

What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?

What’s the last thing you tell riders before they go in the ring?
I always say: “Make sure you have a good canter to the first jump and have fun” to the clients. I tell the professionals to make sure they have a good canter—but I don’t tell them to have fun.

If you couldn’t work with horses, what would you do?
I would probably be a professional caddy.

Jack Russells, yes or no?
Oh yes! We have three dogs: Lilly, a tricolor Jack Russell; Minnie, a black-and-tan Jack Russell, and Miss Delia, a Schipperke.

If you could give one piece of advice to riders who are going to show in front of you, what would you say?
Make sure you’re turned out well, make sure you’re focused, and do the best you can.

What’s the most important lesson you learned the hard way?
I wish I would have listened to my parents more as I was growing up. The older I got, the smarter they became.

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