But ask him about the passion he has for the two weeks of show jumping that take place in the village every summer, and Feldman has plenty to say. Feldman has been the chairman of Lake Placid’s horse shows since he was first named to the position in 1991, and although he doesn’t get paid to do the job, it’s one he lives for and plans on doing until the day he dies.
“I have a red barn on one side of the show grounds, and I have a tombstone waiting for me with my name and this Lake Placid Horse Show logo on the other side, in the North Elba Cemetery on the hill just behind those trees,” Feldman said while watching action in the grand prix ring Wednesday, June 29. “I don’t get paid to do this — in fact I donate to the horse shows — and it’s a job that I love. It’s supposed to be a part-time job, but I’m at it full time, 52 weeks a year. It’s a job I won’t ever walk away from. I’m going to do this until I die.”
A native of the New York City area, Feldman got his first glimpse of the Adirondacks in 1948 on a winter vacation with family members. Ever since then, he has called Lake Placid one of his homes, and as the horse show chairman, he wants to see this North Country community prosper.
“My No. 1 job is to bring people and horses here, and make sure it’s the best two weeks of their summer,” Feldman said. “If you don’t do that, they won’t come back. You can build this horse show, but if you don’t cater to the people who come here, they won’t be back next year.”
One of the world’s most decorated show jumpers, Olympian Margie Engle, competes annually in Lake Placid, and said Feldman makes sure the competitors and their crews are well cared for here.
“Richard Feldman is one of my favorite people,” said Engle, who is tied for the most career grand prix victories in Lake Placid with seven. “He’s a big reason that people come here each year. He strives to make this horse show the best anywhere.
“What’s great about Richard is that he listens to everybody,” Engle added. “He asks us all, ‘What can I do for you to make this better?’ From the little kids to the adults, he treats everybody the same.”
On the first day Feldman became chairman, he showed commitment to making the Olympic Village’s horse show one of the best in the United States. The first step was getting it out of debt.
“My first involvement with the horse shows was as a board member in 1986, and I became the chairman because I knew how to run a horse show,” he said. “On my first day, I told the board members, ‘If you don’t want to do what has to be done to make this horse show the best, you should leave.’ Five people walked out.
“When I took over, the horse shows were broke,” Feldman continued. “We turned this around to become one of the premier events in Lake Placid every year.”
The Lake Placid horse shows are entering their 42nd season, and Feldman said they annually bring $9 million to $11 million in revenue to the local economy. He said each year, around 800 people directly involved with the horse shows, including about 250 riders, stay in the area for the event, and the two weekends of the shows draw another 8,000 to 10,000 spectators over the four days.
“Weekdays are never good for attendance, but the weekends are always big,” he said. “Year after year, the people keep coming back to fill the stands. Great riders and great horses come back each year, and the spectators keep coming back to watch them.”
Feldman broke down his duties as chairman, and the first job he mentioned was assuring a good relationship between the Lake Placid business community and the horse show participants. He then said that the most important duty, as well as the most challenging, is taking care of the ground: the grass and surface the riders compete on in the three rings where the shows take place.
“Our two dirt rings are pretty easy to manage, but the grand prix ring is a different story,” Feldman said. “You have to have the right surface because that’s what the riders want. The grass needs to be deep tined; the roots go down 4 inches. The ground in this ring is constantly changing, sometimes day by day. A little rain each night, that’s ideal.
“These horse shows end July 10, and we start getting ready for next year the day after, on July 11,” he continued. “On July 20, we’ll completely rip the ground up and redo it. You can’t use sod. There’s so much work involved with making sure the ground is in the best possible condition. The shows are what they are because of the ground the horses are on.”
An avid horseman since he was young, Feldman competed during the early years of the Lake Placid shows and said he still rides horses every day. He also continues to work at his real occupation, managing money for Barclays Bank. But when it comes to doing what he loves the most, horses and the shows in Lake Placid are always at the top of the list.
“Nothing’s better than a horse,” he said. “They don’t talk back, and if you love them and treat them right, they can be better than a dog. I’ve never met a horse I don’t like.”
“I love seeing all these horses in Lake Placid. Every summer, these are the best two weeks of my life.”
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Lake Placid horse show chairman Richard Feldman relaxes at the North Elba Show Grounds on Wednesday, June 29.