Larry Glefke: A Horseman—and an Obituary—Like None Other

D. Larry Glefke running to catch one of his many wins.

BY Piper Klemm

Larry Glekfe died on September 15, 2023, leaving behind a legacy of winning and a whole lot more. He was very smart, he understood the horses to a degree few have matched, and he always attracted those at the top of the game to work with him.

Back when there was something to be king of, Larry was the King of the Hunter Derby. A newly formed spectacle, the USHJA International Hunter Derby was anyone’s game until Glefke set his sights on it. He quickly outwitted the excitement by bringing volume and understanding the qualities and training horses needed to win.

From a lifetime of producing hunters and horses, he cashed in on bringing a half dozen to many more horses to each USHJA International Hunter Derby with increasingly wild prize money for hunters every year, and they went everywhere around the country. Soon, anyone else couldn’t stand a chance. Who else could be that handy or had horses that prepared or a rider who simply had the experience? Mindful scored a 217 in the handy round of the Devon Derby in 2014 with two raw scores of 95, bonus points of 10 and 9 from the two panels and all four high options.

He couldn’t stop winning—to the tune of almost $14 million in prize money and a likely staggering amount in horse sales and other deals. The crowd loved every second of it because no matter how far ahead, no one ever played it safe. Kelley Farmer never missed a high option or an inside turn, even if it was a mistake that day. They were fearless and took their lumps on course when hubris bit them. They were playing a larger game than anyone else—they weren’t playing that one horse and that course, they were playing the aggregate.

The only place in the whole country that this strategy didn’t bring home the blue was Derby Finals. In a testament to how competitive you had to be all year, it was like Larry was training the precision and trying to chase him made every single person in the division so elevated that the derby night was the one time he wouldn’t end up on top.

D. Larry Glefke

I remember press conferences where he would say something outrageous right into the microphone, seemingly daring all of us to print it. None of us did. He was on top of the world.

I remember I once brought half a dozen young riders to a press conference—they were curious to see what goes on in that room. In walks Larry with a beer cursing about being second. He was second to his other horse. Apparently, he felt the wrong horse won.

I remember a Pin Oak Charity Horse Show derby where they worked with a skeleton staff. During all the hustle and bustle with the top 12 coming back, one horse walked in and laid down a beautiful handy round with a tail wrap still on. The hollering from the in-gate made the church ladies in the VIP levitate.

Then came the absolute millions upon millions of dollars USEF spent trying to catch Glefke allegedly drugging horses. The frenzy that followed was certainly one for the media, and in the end, villain and hero were totally muddied when the governing body’s lab appeared to spike the B sample.

The system that couldn’t catch him was mocked by naming horses “Shameless,” “Paper Trail,” “Consent.” Larry never did anything a little bit.

I chased the derby circuit and barely kept up, watching almost every single one in the country and reporting on them for a couple years in the 2014-2016 range. When Glefke became mired in controversy and started missing them, I kind of stopped attending. So did most of the crowd. As the excitement dropped, the show managers saw an out to drop the prize money. The standalone derbies by and large died.

The Derby Years, the first decade, the decade of so many names and personalities, was over. Whether you loved Glefke or hated him…saw him as the hero or the villain of the hunter derby…it was always exciting. His whoop was contagious. He was excited about every single round, every single trip, and wanted to win every single class.

Even after having a stroke, at the horse shows he watched every round methodically, clearly obsessed with everything having to do with the sport. He was meticulously invested in every single second. He cared about every class, every win, every jump, and everything in front of him.

Larry was not exactly known for being a role model, and yet there was so much to learn from him. So much knowledge and horsemanship died with him, whether it is how you would do it or not. No one has ever trained a larger quantity of winning hunters to more prize money, and it was an era of Derby Kings and Queens that seems to have passed, so it is unlikely that we will see it again.

This sport has always been shaped by those who are brilliant, those who are loud, and those who bend the rules. Larry was all of those things and with his throne abdicated, it is time for a new King or Queen to breathe life back into the USHJA International Hunter Derby.

D. Larry Glefke running to catch one of his many wins.