Judy Richter: Then and Now

Photo courtesy of Judy Richter


The Beginning

Judy Richter’s parents literally met on horseback. Philip Hofmann and Mary Kain were frequent guests at the Saddle & Sirloin in Kansas City, Missouri, “where the fast young crowd would go,” says Judy. Clients would ride, then dine, and “do a little carousing.” They hit it off immediately. 

Both of them were lifelong horse lovers, growing up with ponies in the backyard: Philip in Ottumwa, Iowa, and Mary in Maysville, Kentucky. 

Mary was quite prosperous as a buyer for a big department store, and already owned a horse, Gypsy, a chestnut mare she bought off a truck from out west. Philip was an underpaid shipping clerk for Johnson and Johnson, so Mary bought him his first horse.

Evidently, someone in the upper echelon of Johnson and Johnson noticed Phil, and he was promoted to New England Sales Manager. By then he and Mary had married, and they moved to Boston and then on to the company headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey (where he ultimately became the first non-family CEO). Their horses were shipped east by rail to live in a dilapidated farm the Hofmanns had purchased in North Branch, New Jersey.

Misty Morn, Judy’s only pony, was a rescue who was saved on her way to slaughter (photo mid 1940’s). Photo courtesy of Judy Richter

Growing up in New Jersey

The farm, where Judy and her younger sister, Carol, grew up, housed about a dozen horses that they rode and cared for. The farm’s location was only a mile from where the United States’ first civilian riding team (prior to that the team members were always selected from the armed forces), headed by Arthur McCashin, was located.

Mr. McCashin would import young horses from Ireland, make them up, and sell them. He had a Russian groom, known as The General, who had been on the Russian Olympic team and walked out of Russia in a fur coat when the Bolsheviks took over the country. 

“The General was a genius horseman!” Judy exclaims. “He raised the standard of riding in New Jersey exponentially.”

Being located near the U.S.E.T. headquarters offered unparalleled opportunities. On Sundays, any local children who showed up would be treated to free lessons by USET Team members. Bill Steinkraus, who lived on the grounds, could often be heard practicing his violin.

After school, the girls rode over in hopes of seeing their idols but seldom did as the team members generally schooled in the morning. Luckily no one was around to tell them they couldn’t jump the jumps scattered all over the polo field, so they did. Their game, generous horses rose to the occasion, often jumping much higher than what they appeared capable of.

Besides the USET, there were other educational opportunities available in New Jersey for young riders during the 1950’s. The Somerset Hills Pony Club, headed by Mrs. Arthur McCashin and Mrs. Hofmann, was “one of the best in the world.” Besides learning from the Pony Club and the USET, the girls were able to spend time fox hunting with the Essex Fox Hounds.

The Hofmann family (Mary, Carol, Judy, Philip). Photo courtesy of Judy Richter

When her father needed a horse for fox hunting, Judy’s mom sent her along on a trip to Canada to “make sure he didn’t do anything foolish.” It didn’t stop him. 

Watching an unbroken three-year-old jump on the longe line, they were impressed with his ability. Phil bought the horse on the spot, but only succeeded in getting bucked off when he attempted to ride him.

Mr. Coker (named after the owner he was purchased from) was a Canadian Thoroughbred by Panasonic. Although he was a bit of a rogue initially, biting and kicking, he was talented.  Judy started him in the green jumpers, and moved up through the open jumpers, counting herself lucky to have such a talented horse to ride in her teens.

In fact, they did so well that Sir Harry Llewellyn (who won British show jumping team gold in the 1952 Olympics and was captain of their Olympic team) offered to buy him.

Mr. Coker was not for sale.

Mr. Coker. Photo courtesy of Judy Richter

Judy attended Kent Place School, an all-girls private school in Somerset, and later Smith College. She chose the latter because she could ride her bike to the barn, where they even had an indoor ring! Mr. Coker enjoyed four years at Smith. 

Judy’s sister Carol went on to compete for the United States in the Olympics, and established her own highly regarded Quiet Winter Farm in New Jersey.

Max Richter emigrated from Hamburg, Germany to the United States and “had a real job” working for a paper company. It turned out that his boss was the Hofmann family’s neighbor. Judy met him when she came home from school for winter break. 

Max had done quite a bit of riding in Germany and his attention initially appeared to be on Mr. Coker. While Max later invited Judy to the New York City opera, she thinks “he really wanted another chance to ride Mr. Coker.” 

When they married, they named their business Coker Farm, long before there was ever a farm. 

Family Life

The couple lived initially in Manhattan. Judy commuted to Rosemary Hall in Greenwich, Connecticut where she taught English. They moved to a garage apartment in Greenwich and later bought a cottage on four acres. They had two sons, Hans and Philip, and built a little barn to start a business with six horses. 

When Mr. Coker could no longer show, Judy sent him to a friend in Michigan, where he spent his golden years.

Judy began teaching Sue Bauer, who later married Ronnie Mutch. She trained Sue at home, while George Morris coached her at shows. Watching and learning from George, she came to regard him as one of her greatest mentors.

The Richter family. Photo courtesy of Judy Richter

Coker Farm

Ten years later, Max purchased the folding carton division of Riegel Paper. The same year, the couple bought “Coker” Farm in Bedford, purchasing the property in 1977 from a developer who had used it to mine gravel for the construction of I-684. 

The family went from a small farm “to a big, overgrown farm that needed a lot of work,” Judy remembers. 

While her father thought it was a foolish risk, with a young family, to take on a new business and a farm at the same time, Judy says, “We didn’t listen.”

As a trainer and rider, Judy says getting her judging license “just kind of happened.” There wasn’t much an applicant had to do to qualify. “All you had to do was get some friends to recommend you,” Judy recalls.

Judging proved very important in gaining Judy new clients. “Judging helped you find students or teachers you wouldn’t otherwise know about.” 

She would judge a show out west and riders such as Tammy and Shaina Masters, Shelly Keron, and Mike Crooks would ask if they could come back east and train with her. 

“The East was where it was at back then!” 

One of the Richter’s homebred horses, Hyllis, was loaned to Mary Chapot’s sister, Wendy Mairs for the Maclay Finals. At only four years old, and having been in an indoor once, the horse and Wendy went to Madison Square Garden…and won the finals. 

“He was a wonderful horse!” exclaims Judy.

For her, the most important qualities in a horse “are carefulness, generosity, and a calm brain. In riders, it’s devotion and determination.”

Judy depended on her working students, who helped her transform the overgrown farm into a beautiful and functional barn. Many of those working students have gone on to be top riders and trainers themselves. Among them are Ellen Raidt, Andre Dignelli, and Kate Oliver.

Her first really big winner in equitation was Alex Dunaif, who won the Maclay Finals in 1974. Judy remembers working off the truck on 33rd Street at Madison Square Garden. “Alex had to go first in the class and first in every ride-off.” Luckily, in the indoor, “It rode pretty much the way you walked it.” The win was “pretty exciting!”

Max with Johnny’s Pocket. Photo courtesy of Judy Richter

Johnny’s Pocket

Judy’s horse of a lifetime was Johnny’s Pocket. A college friend’s father, Tom Wilson, was Master of Foxhounds at Metamora Hunt in Michigan. A great horseman who raised his own horses, he became sick with cancer. Tom made arrangements to be sure his horses all had homes and were cared for before he died.  

He sent Johnny’s Pocket to Judy to sell.  The horse was a Thoroughbred sired by Court Affair. Scraping all their money together, the Richters bought him, because “He was just so good. He won five Grand Prix in one year, which was huge because there weren’t that many Grand Prix in the ’80s. He never had more than four faults all year. He was just a fabulous jumper and smart horse.

“He wanted to be good; he was a real trier. He knew when it was really important. He’d have rubs in the schooling ring, and then go in the class and never touch anything.”

Judy had Norman Dello Joio show him, as well as Katie Monahan Prudent and Ellen Raidt. “JP was so talented and he had just come into my life,” but Judy’s children were young, and she and Max had recently purchased Coker Farm. Not wanting to spread herself too thin, Judy made the decision to place Johnny’s Pocket with professionals.   

“He deserved a chance to be all he could be. It didn’t seem fair to hold back such a nice jumper.”  

Judy is “distressed nowadays to see extraordinary horses ridden, virtually abused, by mediocre riders.” She “likes to see great horses able to achieve all that they can.” 

Freedom, Judy’s favorite hunter. Photo courtesy of Judy Richter

Thoughts on Horse Showing Then and Now

One of Judy’s favorite shows is Devon. She feels that Devon is “in a class by itself when it comes to equitation because the equitation riders don’t have to qualify. 

“Taking kids from the 60s through the 90s to Devon was a wonderful learning experience. Watching all the other kids, they saw the level of riding there. It made the working students work harder and everyone try to ride better because, without several different rings, they can focus on just one, and watch the other people riding.”

She feels that it is unfortunate that there isn’t more cross-showing between the big A shows and the local shows now. “We used to all make our horses at the local shows. Everyone would be at the Greenwich Horse Show and the Fairfield-Westchester PHA show. By watching and listening, the locals learned how to move up.”

Judy would like to see an end to the mileage rule. “Though I’m now on the sidelines, I’m concerned that the mileage rule still protects old poorly managed horse shows and prevents new horse shows from starting up. I’m too far away from the trenches to offer solutions, but I do know it is still a major problem unless you “know somebody” and/or can buy the dates. “Horse shows that don’t conform to high standards should lose their dates.”

She considers herself lucky to have had great students and great horses. Mary Manfredi and Peter Lutz now have their businesses located at Coker Farm; both are former working students. “It’s really, really fun for me. They both do everything the way I did…only 10 times better.” 

Her son Philip continues to ride, competing in the amateur jumpers. His biggest leg up was when Norman Dello Joio gave him the chance to ride Glasgow. It was a huge opportunity.

Harvey Smith had discovered the horse in Scotland and sold him to Norman, who had tremendous success with him. So when the top tier of show jumping began to be too much for Glasgow, Philip had the opportunity to compete in the amateur owners with him. Judy recalls, “Glasgow was very careful. He didn’t want to hit the jumps.  

“He was very generous, if his rider missed, he kept going. He had a very calm brain and did his job no matter what. He could have jumped those jumps with one foot tied under him! He was very careful, which is so important with the light rails that are used now.”

Judy would like to see other talented horses like Glasgow have the opportunity to continue to compete. When the 1:60 classes become too much for talented aging horses, she would love to see them drop down into easier divisions such as Junior/Amateur, and Adult/Children’s Jumpers. “Competitive old horses don’t like retirement. The lower jumps are easier for them and they are wonderful teachers. They know what they are doing and they are safe, a trait we all love.”

Through a life devoted to horses, Judy has made a tremendous contribution both through her own teaching and riding and through her students, who can be counted among the most influential trainers in the country.

About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
Read More from This Author »