By Doris Degner-Foster
Before the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping North American League qualifier in Las Vegas last November, New York-based rider and trainer Peter Lutz did something different that may have helped him win the competition. He transported the horses to the airport himself, then rode with them on the airplane during the cross-country flight.
“It was great to be the one watering them and checking their blankets. It was a nice way to reconnect with the horses and it was kind of like getting back to my roots,” Peter said. “It was an incredible experience to be with the horses on the journey and I think it contributed to my success at the horse show. I felt very focused, very connected to the horses while I was there and I think it was because I had done the entire journey with them from start to finish.”
Though he’s starting to get the recognition he deserves, Peter’s own journey has been long and winding, helping many others achieve their own shining moments along the way.
Moving Twice From New York City
Peter said he would’ve liked to have had more confidence at an earlier age to do things that sometimes seemed scary. “I tend to be a bit shy and quiet,” he said. “If I could do it over, I’d make myself a little bit more outgoing, a little more aggressive about taking a risk.” Peter’s friendly personality, talent and hard work seems to have overshadowed any lack of self-confidence he may have had at a young age, and as his riding developed, so did many friendships that were rewarding and beneficial.
Peter’s family moved from New York City to Fairfield, Connecticut, when he was 8 years old, and he quickly asked to have riding lessons. Although he was the first person in his family ever to show an interest in horses, his family was very supportive and he began lessons with Gincy Self Bucklin at Lion Hill Farm in nearby Easton, Connecticut. From that solid beginning, he later rode in the Fairfield Hunt Club lesson program where he did some small horse shows on the school horses there.
“I had a nice combination at the time, of lessons, barn shows and — through Sarah Dalton Morris — jumpers and cross-country riding and dressage,” Peter remembered. “I also became involved with Pony Club so from the time I was 11 to 16, I was doing local shows at the hunt club and some eventing.” In typical Pony Club fashion, he was very involved in taking care of his horse every day after school and loved it.
During a Pony Club rally at Coker Farm in 1990, Peter met Judy Richter. Although he was only 16, he became a working student for her, making the 40-minute drive to the farm almost every day after school and on weekends. He worked in the stable, taught beginner lessons, shipped horses and did whatever was needed. Recognizing his talent and dedication, Judy and her trainers Andre Dignelli and Kate Stoffel Oliver at Coker Farm made it possible for him to begin showing on the A circuit.
“It was an incredible opportunity for me to ride quality show horses for the first time,” Peter remembered. “It was made possible through the generosity of the people there at Coker Farm, the clients who were willing to let me show their horses in the equitation classes.”
Just a short year later, Peter won the Rolex Talent Search and the Maclay. “I had such a great background at Lion Hill and from the structure of the hunt club and experience with Sarah Dalton Morris and the Pony Club, that when I got to Coker I felt that I was ready for the next step,” Peter said. “I think that was why it ended up seeming very quick but I had a strong foundation and I was ready because of the advanced training I received at Coker.”
From that high point, Peter stepped back from riding to attend Yale, graduating with a degree in art history. He interned and worked for a short while at Sotheby’s in New York City before deciding on a career with horses. “I still enjoy doing things outside of the horse world when I have time,” Peter said. “I do have the experience [I acquired] in other fields while I was in college and working in the city. I’m happy that I did that and still have contacts and friends that relate to that.
“I always rode, even when I was at school,” Peter remembered. “I was still close enough to the barn to ride regularly and I couldn’t completely take myself away from horses, but I kept a balance between studies and riding. I wasn’t competing and going to Florida, but I was still involved and taught lessons on the weekends. That was my college job, and it worked out well.”
Upon deciding to pursue the horse business after college, Peter’s first job was with Sam Edelman. “I worked full time for Sam as his rider and trainer for two years, and he introduced me to the European horse world. We went together to look for horses to develop and sell,” Peter said. “That was an important time in my career because it was the first time I had quite a lot of horses to ride and show and I was running the stable for the first time with Sam’s support and help. Sam is a very smart businessman and it was very educational for me. We’ve remained friends and recently we were at dinner and laughed that it was 20 years since I worked for him.”
Success as a Trainer
With his education and contacts, Peter started out on his own. “After I worked for Sam, I worked for the Goutal family,” he said. “I trained Brianne and Clementine for six years when they were first riding ponies and then moved on to horses.”
Peter’s business began to grow with other students to the point where he needed help and he found it in an old friend. As teenagers, he and fellow working student Mary Manfredi rode together at Coker Farm and the year that Peter won the Finals, Mary placed third. They remained good friends while Peter went to Yale and Mary attended Vassar and lived and studied in Italy. In 2002, Mary began helping Peter with riding and teaching. It developed into a successful partnership. Peter explained that their business is a balance of horse training and sales — which includes buying trips to Europe to meet with contacts he’s had for many years — and a great group of students who show on the A circuit.
“Mary is a very good teacher and rider and we offer a really good balance; our students and clients are equally comfortable with both of us,” Peter said. “An example of that was when I was in Las Vegas. Mary stayed home and taught everyone and gave me the opportunity to go away. It’s a great partnership.
“I’m very proud of some of the riders I’ve trained,” he adds. “Brianne Goutal, whom I trained on the ponies years ago, was always a beautiful rider, then she moved on to horses and later went to Europe, so I’m very proud that she has done so well internationally and that she’s also training people now. When I was in Vegas, Audrey Coulter was in the Grand Prix — in fact, she finished in second. Mary and I spent many years training Saer and Audrey Coulter and both girls went on to compete in the Grand Prix level successfully, so that makes us very happy.”
Peter also mentioned Kelly Tropin, champion in the 3’6” Amateur Owner division hunters at Washington on a horse named Chablis whom he and Mary bought as a 4-year-old to develop and later sold to Kelly. He explained that she’s one of his students who has a serious full-time job but is still an interested and hard-working rider. “I’m proud when my students learn to love the sport, whether it’s Brianne as a competitor and now a teacher, or Kelly as a professional economist who loves her horses and continues in the sport to grow and learn,” Peter said with pride. “I think they all appreciate their horses and the sport and I’m proud of that.”
Finally, It’s Peter’s Turn
For the last few years, Peter’s focus has been on teaching and developing horses, and less on his own show career, but that changed recently. He’s really excited that he now has the opportunity to keep some of the horses that he’s been developing to the Grand Prix level and to enjoy showing them when they begin to do well.
“I met Katherine Gallagher through Michael Meller, a horse professional I’ve known for years. Almost two years ago, Michael and the Gallaghers asked me to ride a nice horse named Carneyhaugh Manx for them,” Peter said. “I was also riding and showing Robin de Ponthual for McLain Ward and I really liked him so I spoke with Michael about him, and after discussing it with the Gallagers, they purchased the horse. With their support, we’ve been able to bring him along last year and we’re really now enjoying the benefit of the support and hard work. We’re developing additional young horses for the future, both in Europe and the U.S.”
Peter said that last winter in Florida, he used the time to become better acquainted with Robin, showing in the jumper classes but not the Grand Prix. “As a rider, I like to take my time getting to know my horses before I push them,” Peter said. “So we started to push Robin last March. We did our first big class at Live Oak and it went fine. It all came together in May when we did the Grand Prix at Old Salem. We were close; he had a rail here and a rail there but it was within reach. It was starting to feel really possible.”
Last fall went very well. In the Hampton Classic, they had only one rail down, and won third and fourth in two Grand Prix at the Gold Cup. There was only one rail down in Central Park, and they won two thirds in Harrisburg. The Gold Cup was a qualifier for the World Cup and the points toward that, coupled with how well they’d done in the recent shows, made the option of going to Las Vegas for the Longines FEI World Cup qualifier a reality.
“We felt confident that going there would be a great experience because we’d shown well and had some great results,” Peter said. “Again, this is where I’m so grateful for the support of Michael and the Gallagers — that they were able to make that possible. They said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s go!’ because they believed in the horse and me.” Peter won by a fraction of a second and his student Audrey Coulter was just behind him in second place.
The win in Las Vegas has placed Peter in ninth place in the standings in the East. “They take your four best results and I’ve only done two,” Peter said. “Since I’ve had great results two out of two, my goal in Florida is to do two more World Cup classes. There are two in February: one in Wellington and one at Live Oak in Ocala, so my plan is to do those two shows and I think if it goes well and I make the World Cup finals, then we will go.”
It’s been said that many of Peter’s friends and former students couldn’t be happier for him. After all, it’s his turn to shine.
About the writer: Doris Degner-Foster has competed in horse trials and dressage but lately rides with Harvard Fox Hounds when she’s not interviewing interesting individuals in the horse sport. She enjoys writing fiction and is working on a middle-grade series about teens who ride horses and solve mysteries, and a mainstream mystery about a horse that appears in different people’s lives to help them through a crisis. Follow her blog at: