Growing up, Ronnie Mutch,Victor Hugo-Vidal and I rode with many other successful juniors at Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien, Conn. Ronnie won the AHSA Medal Final in 1950, Victor won it in 1951, and I won it in 1952, along with the ASPCA Maclay Final.
Mary Gay Huffard, who won the Maclay in 1950, and Glenna L. Maduro (now De-Rham), who won the Maclay in 1953, rode with us too, as did Nancy Moran, May Litchfield, Margot Moran, Ann Hobbs, Kathy Taft, the Kellam family, and Patty Heuckeroth, whose father ran the club with an iron hand in a very soft velvet glove.
Of course, there were many other kids at the club at the time, too numerous to mention. In fact, the young Ox Ridge “gang” had almost a stranglehold on the junior classes.
Victor, who was our ringleader, had a mind like a steel trap, and it never stopped working. He was also very outgoing, like his mother, Ginny. While Victor’s mother and his father, Vic, were by no means poor, they were not as affluent as some of the other kids’ parents. Victor had to learn at an early age to “beg, borrow, and steal” horses so he’d have horses to ride and show. Because of this, Victor became a master at promotion and showmanship.
From very early on, Victor started to go down to White Plains, N.Y., and take lessons with our great mentor Gordon Wright at Secor Farms. Victor ended up being a working student for Gordon.
Probably my mother really “discovered” Victor after he got his driver’s license. My mother was a great delegator, and I’m sure she organized Victor to taxi me around—to horse shows, lessons, foxhunting and social activities.
At any rate, I remember those years in the early to mid-1950s well. Victor became my mentor and older brother. I probably was the first of Victor’s many proteges. Michael Plumb came soon after. Victor, being a born teacher, loved developing a protege.
Victor was then considered “avant-garde,” and he was. He was rather a Renaissance man and absolutely an individual. If you said something was white, he’d insist it was black. Victor was very outspoken, very determined and absolutely his own man. Nobody was quite like Victor.
Victor picked up on dressage when nobody had ever heard of dressage. In fact, his first wife, Elaine Shirley Watt, was one of our top dressage riders and rode in the 1956 Olympic Games.
Victor was the person who first whetted my appetite for the other disciplines. He rode saddle seat equitation, placing in that division at the National Horse Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden, and we’d sit there watching the entire show for 18-hour days—and that’s when it was an eight-day show. That’s how I started judging—we’d sit by the hour and mark our programs.
Victor must have been one of the very first to discover two of the greatest horseman we’ve ever had in this country: Bert de Nemethy and Gabor Foltenyi. And he really understood and appreciated their talents and knowledge. We`d watch them train horses by the hour and try to incorporate their ideas into what we already knew.
Nobody mastered the hack classes like Victor. In those days we had the hunter hack classes, where the top eight horses were asked to jump two fences, gallop and halt. (And in these days gallop meant gallop!) Victor had his horses voice-trained, so they would peel down the side of the ring to stop on a dime. Victor would drop the reins and put his hands on his hips. He was a showman!
During Victor’s earliest days as a professional, be became very involved in Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford Village, N.Y. Mrs. McIntosh, an A&P heiress, owned this beautiful riding establishment. Victor taught her daughter, Karen McIntosh, and many others at Sunnyfield. Karen later went on to represent the United States in dressage in the 1964 Olympic Games.
Victor set up shop at Cedar Lodge Farm in Stamford, Conn., in the late 1950s or early 1960s, his East Coast base for 20 years. Out of Cedar Lodge Farm, Victor produced many champion horses and many championship riders.
Probably Victor’s best-known horse during those years, and the horse he had the most success with, was General C. This flashy, chestnut gelding was best known for his consistency, as a first year green hunter and as he graduated to a second year horse and a regular working hunter. Victor had great fun riding this nice horse.
After the fall shows in 1968, Victor and I decided to travel to Africa. We had a great trip and covered the entire continent. We even took a long safari in East Africa with two other bachelors and a wonderful English girl guide named Jane.
Victor, Ronnie, and I were always extremely competitive with each other, right up until the end. It probably all started at Ox Ridge in the gymkhana days. Deep down, we were really good friends, but we were deadly rivals in the ring.
Victor married Holly in 1971, the same year he was voted Horseman of the Year by the American Horse Shows Association.
Victor pulled up stakes toward the end of the 1970s and moved to California where, for the next 20-odd years of his life, he continued his teaching, clinics and judging.
Victor took his new home of California under his wing and championed its causes to the hilt. He was the state’s biggest public-relations person! And he steadfastly stood by the sport he loved so dearly and never wavered in his incredible enthusiasm.
I know somebody was looking down on Victor and me just a few days before he was hospitalized. We were both in Del Mar at the USET’s Show Jumping Selection Trials. Believe it or not, it was at the in-gate. Victor and I had the longest, nicest, best talk we’d had in years.
You see, our paths rarely crossed anymore. It was like turning back the clock, as if we’d come full circle to where we began our friendship—riding, at horse shows, and where else, but at the in-gate. No, it wasn’t timing, luck, or coincidence. That was something much, much more. Thank God.