April 2018 - Kudos Cristallo
Written by by Kim F. Miller • photo: Wendy Gleason/Malibu5starnaturals.com
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 07:09

A life-changing horse bids a quiet farewell to the Grand Prix circuit.

by Kim F. Miller • photo: Wendy Gleason/Malibu5starnaturals.com

"The last thing I wanted was that horse,” recalls Richard Spooner of Cristallo, the jumper with whom he wound up winning nearly $3 million in Grand Prix prize money. That was 15 years ago when the Holsteiner gelding by Carentino was 5. “I was still showing Robinson in the big classes and the last thing I needed was another maniac.”

Richard’s longtime friend Bob McDonald had been urging Richard to try Cristallo for a few months. A longtime horseman and the husband of U.S. dressage Olympian Debbie McDonald, Bob knows a good horse when he sees one. He saw Cristallo as a 4-year-old at a Holsteiner auction in Germany. Signs of the “maniac” Richard referenced were evident as he wasn’t ridden in the auction. “I just saw him free jump and he was like a gazelle,” Bob recalls. “I took a gamble on him."

Working with Cristallo for a few months during the show circuit then called “Indio,” Bob remembers several inquiries but knew that most weren’t the right fit. “He would have been too much horse for them.” Of Richard as a fit, however, Bob pronounced: “I’ve found you your next World Cup horse.” He was right: the “match made in heaven” contested five World Cup Finals, in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Richard remembers eventually sitting on Cristallo mostly as a favor to Bob. “He said, ‘I know you don’t want him, but I have someone else interested and if you try him, it will be easier to sell him.” That someone else never got a chance. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll sit on him. He had that powerful feel and I knew right away there was nothing he couldn’t jump.”

After that decisive ride, Richard bought Cristallo and sent him to Duncan McFarlane to get off to a good start. The youngster joined Richard’s program in the fall of his 5-year-old year.

Cristallo finished his career where he started it, in the California desert. Ryegate Show Services’ first entry for the handsome bay is a World Cup qualifier in February of 2006. He finished second and earned a $6,600 prize for the Spooners. Twelve years later, in the Jan. 28 Sunday Grand Prix at HITS Thermal, the 20-year-old logged a clear first round to finish seventh and pick up his final paycheck of $2,800.

Many milestones came in between. The International Equestrian Federation website lists results dating back to 2007. From that year’s World Cup Finals forward, Cristallo requires seven screens’ worth of international results, totaling 332 competitions and 27 wins in just that decade. His many career highlights include being a Nations Cup veteran, with victory-earning rounds for the U.S. team in St. Galen, Switzerland and Rome, in 2009. He’s a three-time winner of the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo, in 2008, 2009 and 2013, victories that account for $400,000 of his remarkable career earnings: $2,745,565 per Ryegate. Closer to home, he’s a three-time victor in the Nexen Cup Derby at Spruce Meadows, including last year at 19.  

A Life Changing Horse

On a quiet day in mid-February, at their high desert property in the Los Angeles area’s Agua Dulce, Richard and his wife and training partner Kaylen decided that this year’s Thermal class would be the last line on his resume. They pulled his shoes and released him to pasture within nickering distance of Richard’s first equine superstar, Robinson, and Robinson’s beloved goat.

Along with Robinson, Cristallo is the Spooners’ second horse of a lifetime and one who literally changed their life. “Fifteen years is a long relationship and ours was not a normal relationship because that horse, for at least a decade, changed our life and our lifestyle,” Richard says. The Spooners felt that his talent could not and should not be contained to North America. They began competing more in Europe and eventually moved to France for two years to campaign the world’s most challenging jumping circuit in Western Europe.

Cristallo may have equals in ability, but likely not in longevity and reliability, so much so that he was a rare horse “you could plan your life around,” Richard explains. “Normally you can’t really make life changes wrapped around just one horse. But he was so sound and solid, we were able to.” In 15 years of competition, Richard felt it appropriate to scratch him from a class on only two occasions. One was the Aachen Grand Prix when the then 9-year-old was finishing a long European tour and needed a break. The other was last summer at Spruce Meadows. A many-time winner at the famous international venue in Calgary, Canada, the 19-year-old had won his third Derby there. Richard planned to show him the following week but a corn on a front hoof stymied that plan. “He’s the Jack Lalanne of the equine world.”

“It was actually to the point of being ridiculous,” Richard continues. “The vet bills for his career were so nominal. He never had to see the vet unless it was to be vaccinated or wormed.” The now 30 year old Robinson was like that, too. Although the Spooners’ horsemanship is highly regarded, Richard attributes part of the phenomena to “dumb luck!”

Wild At Heart

Up until his very last class, Cristallo continued to be the “wildest horse I ever had,” Richard notes. Kaylen played a huge part in training Cristallo, much of which included settling him enough to be rideable, a relative term in his case. Half-day trail rides in the high desert hills surrounding their home stable helped “get him to where he was not so crazy and so fresh all the time,” Richard explains. “Once she got the edge off of him, he was easier to ride, but he was always a long way from an easy horse.”

Lunging was a big part of “Monkey’s” routine, at home and shows and right up until the end. Richard calculates Cristallo travelled 26,000 miles, a little more than the 24,900-mile circumference of the earth, all on the end of a lunge line.

On the ground, however, he’s a perfect gentleman. “He is quiet everywhere except for when you get on him.”

As Cristallo hit his high teens, the Spooners looked for signs that he was ready to retire. About two years ago, they stepped him down from the 1.60M Olympic scale courses to the 1.45 and 1.5M level, where he continued to excel. Cristallo sent his sign only very recently, by not pulling on Richard’s hands. “He’s always been a big-time puller. He could pretty much pull Jesus off the cross, I think. But he stopped pulling. He let me know that maybe he wasn’t as excited to do it as he used to be.” And that was that.

Word arrived to fans in the form of four silver shoes pictured with a short message on Facebook. At present, no further fanfare is planned. “I don’t think he cares,” says Richard. “He’s not crying himself to sleep because he didn’t get a retirement party.”

Chatinus, Quirado RC and Arthos R are among the young stars excelling in Richard’s current Grand Prix string. They will no doubt carry him many years forward in the sport. When it comes to barn bragging rights, however, they’ve got a long way to go to catch Cristallo.