By Lauren R. Giannini
Ralph Caristo is the real deal: one of the nicest people on the planet and in the horse world. As a horseman, trainer and “R” judge, he’s earned a first-class reputation. He’s the longtime Chef d’Equipe of the Zone 2 show jumping teams for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships where, in 2005, he was the first recipient of the Caristo Cup, named in his honor and presented annually.
Last year at Devon, where he judged many times, Ralph was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was honored with the Jane Marshall Dillon award from the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association for many years of service within the horse industry and for helping countless young equestrians.
Ralph and his wife, Holly, emphasize sportsmanship and team spirit. Their core family values travel with them from Glenview Stables in Saugerties, New York, to its winter counterpart in Wellington, Florida, and all around the horse world. They love what they do and put their hearts and vast experience into helping riders of all ages achieve their dreams.
“Our business is basically training and sales and going to all the shows,” said Ralph. “As for the Young Riders, the championships started out as a great way for the juniors to get team experience with all the emotions and pressures of competition. It’s good to start them young. We don’t really train the kids to ride — we’re the organizers. We’re very fortunate in Zone 2 to have a great pool of young riders and they bring their own trainers. I teach the kids about team competition and how you go about it. I couldn’t do this without Holly. She’s the brains behind our program.”
The NAJYRC, governed by the International Equestrian Sport Federation (FEI), serves as a showcase and springboard for riders 14–21. The FEI is the “big league” and that’s where the Caristos come in. “We train riders to be appropriate for the competition, to be a team,” said Holly. “We teach them etiquette for the competition. No schlepping around. They have to dress properly. I try to get belts and matching polo shirts and hats. We like to prep them as a team to look like a team.”
“Oh, we’ve had a few on the rebellious side, but by the time we get done, they’re totally on the team,” Ralph said. “We get the kids for less than a week. We watch at the horse shows, so we kind of know what they’re like before they even get on the team — this one should handle it well, that one needs to be coached. We always have the full support of the parents. They give us free rein with their kids. So many great kids — they love the team experience — and we’ve been so proud of them.”
With a medal count of 16 or more team golds for Zone 2 (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania), it’s like a roll call of rising equestrian stars: Reed Kessler, Georgina Bloomberg, Brianne Goutal, Jessica Springsteen, Katie Dinan, Lillie Keenan, Michael Hughes, Mattias Tromp, Sarah Segal and Chelsea Moss, to name a few. Their own daughter Heather earned three NAJYRC team gold medals and an individual bronze.
“It really means a lot to them to get that team experience. We never had any child or teen who didn’t enjoy the team experience,” said Ralph. “We also do the Prix de States at Harrisburg — it’s the same format. As long as we’ve been doing it, we’re still excited and look forward to doing it each year.”
All In The Family
In the 1960s, Ralph straddled two worlds, training Thoroughbred racehorses and running his own hunter-jumper business in New York state. He met Holly, a Grand Prix jumper rider, at a horse show, when he changed the flat tire on their trailer. “I fell for Holly the moment I saw her, but it took me a few years to win her heart,” said Ralph. “I still fall for her, and we’ve been married 40 years.”
Although he still loves Thoroughbreds, Ralph focused on his hunter-jumper business and, in 1968, took over Glenview Stables, making it a training and sales enterprise with a family atmosphere which would be perfect for raising their four daughters. Robin, Karen, Lynn and Heather grew up riding and training at Glenview. Heather continues to ride and train for Glenview, and her husband, Jesse Williams, supervises the horse care and serves as Heather’s right hand man on the ground.
“I’m extremely lucky. My mom and dad are wonderful parents and fantastic role models for everyday life and the horse world,” said Heather. “It’s been incredible learning everything they have to offer. My dad always taught me when you talk to someone, look them in the eye. That’s a great life lesson, a sign of respect, a sign that you’re paying attention and appreciating what that person has to say and giving them the moment. It doesn’t really have to do with horses, but it’s ingrained in me.”
Patience is another major Caristo lesson. “Especially with the horses — so much patience, really taking your time to teach the horse, not just expecting them to do something or get it right the first time,” said Heather. “Take a deep breath and be patient with each animal. That’s taken me a long way, especially with the young ones I’ve had and the ones I’ve brought up to the Grand Prix jumper level. Patience is one thing I always take with me.”
Heather competes at the FEI Grand Prix level. She’s also skilled at developing horses from the lower levels where they learn their jobs. Right now, she has two horses with serious talent that are not for sale.
“I want to go to the Olympics,” said Heather. “I have a couple that really try for me and my parents have been very gracious about letting me keep them and work through the ranks. We bought Evening Star as a 5-year-old, and last summer I got to ride him in two FEI five-star Nations Cups. We brought him from not really being able to jump courses to competing internationally for the U.S. That was a huge accomplishment for the whole family.
“The other horse is my stallion, Qui Vive des Songes Z, now 10,” continued Heather. “I call him ‘Chewy,’ because he makes noises like Chewbacca. Evening Star and Chewy may be similar to look at, but riding them over the course is a very different story. Chewy is more challenging at this time, because he doesn’t have as much experience. But I foresee in his future that he will mature as Evening Star has and will be a lovely ride. I’m aiming for the Olympics in 2020. I’m quite excited about it and, having grown up with my family so involved in Young Riders, it’s given me a great foundation for these types of team competitions. You never know what’s going to happen, but it’s sure nice to dream.”
With nearly 50 years in the business, Ralph and Holly have sold many horses and ponies, brought countless kids and adults through their Glenview training program, and taken many Zone 2 teams through the NAJYRC experience. They still do all that, and they’re totally on board with their youngest progeny’s quest.
Ralph stated emphatically, “Heather can chase that dream and we’re right there behind her. Yes, those two horses are valuable, but there’s no horse whose value is worth more than our daughter. That Chewy stallion — a guy offered us a lot of money, and I looked the guy right in the eye and said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘How can you say no so quickly?’ I said, ‘Because we love our daughter.’ He said, ‘Fair enough.’ One of the biggest thrills we ever had was watching our daughter — ”
Ralph paused for an emotional moment. This is what makes him great, why he’s so good at what he does. He really cares. He gets the whole dream and takes it to heart. After several seconds, he continued: “One of the biggest thrills we ever had was watching our daughter ride to represent the U.S. last year in Falsterbo. That’s what it’s all about. It was such a thrill. Heather has this dream, and we have these two horses — we’re right there to support her all the way.”