Written by: Rebecca Walton
Margie Engle is the only person ever to have won 10 AGA Rider of the Year titles. She’s probably also broken more bones than anyone else. Yet, she is still as hungry as she was 30 years ago when she embarked on her journey of a lifetime.
Winning at the highest level of any sport is no easy feat. But doing it for almost 30 years? Well that’s almost unheard of, but not for Margie Engle. The Floridian has consistently figured among the world’s highest ranking riders for almost three decades and she shows no signs of slowing down.
Just a year ago, the 55-year-old finished tied for first with teenager Reed Kessler in the US National Championship which ran alongside the US Olympic trials in Wellington. A trip to London looked a distinct possibility for Margie and the then 12- year-old Dutchbred Indigo.
So there was huge disappointment in the Engle camp when they were left out of the Olympic team last June. “On any given day, I think he’s as good as any horse in the world,” Engle said of Indigo. But 12 faults during an observation event in Lexington, Kentucky, probably cost them. “It’s a real roller coaster, this sport. The highs are worth it, but the lows are low,” she admitted.
“I was really happy with what Indigo did,” she adds. After the trials in Wellington, “he was second in Kentucky and second at Devon. I was really pleased with how he went. In hindsight, I think they wanted the riders to go to Spruce Meadows. The ones that went to Spruce Meadows seemed to be the highest on the list. I am hoping there will be more direction in the future, a little more transparency and more communication, and I think that is the direction Robert Ridland wants to go.”
Through the years Margie has won countless Grands Prix and broken many bones (foot, ribs, nose, shoulder, collarbone, ankle, arm, wrist, leg). Her latest, a fractured ankle last December, kept her out of the saddle for a couple of weeks – something she hates.
Margie has represented the United States at the Olympic Games, at Pan American Games, World Cup Finals, Nations Cups and World Equestrian Games. She was the first American to record career earnings of $4 million. There can’t be many other American riders who jumped their first Grand Prix in 1984 and are still at the top of the sport today.
“It sounds silly, but each win is something special in itself,” explained Margie. “When I first started, most of the horses I got were horses no one else wanted, or they were very young horses. People knew I was very hungry, and anxious to ride in the big classes, no matter what I had available. I was lucky enough that they were very successful.”
Margie Goldstein came from very humble beginnings. Her parents couldn’t afford regular riding lessons so she made up the shortfall by cleaning crates at a kennel. She took to selling programs for the big shows so she could gain entry. Born in Wellington, Florida, she grew up in South Miami, the daughter of a school teacher and an accountant. Often told she was going to be too small (she stands a smidge over 5 feet) to compete in the jumper ring, Margie rejected suggestions she would be better off in the racing world.
“They just said I wouldn’t be able to make it in this sport because of my size, and because I lacked financial backing,” explained Margie. “I was more the height for being a jockey and they would try and push me in that direction.” “If you want to ride you’ll be able to make it big in racing because of your size.” I guess I felt like where there was a will there was a way. If you are willing to work at something hard enough, and you don’t mind taking the downs, which are always going to be a part of this sport, with the ups, then you can make it.”
And make it she did; not only on the national Grand Prix tour, but on the international stage as well. At one point in her career she was considered virtually unbeatable. Her unmatched 10 time streak as AGA Grand Prix Rider of the Year lasted from 1989 to 2006. “I remember the first year it was very exciting for me because it gave me the opportunity to have sponsorship, which I didn’t have before,” Margie noted.
“They also gave away cars, so I won a Cadillac, which is the biggest thing I had ever won for myself. Before then I had never had a new car; I’d always had hand-me-downs.”
Through her dominance in the American Grand Prix Association she attracted both sponsors and new owners. “As far as buying horses and so forth, it opened a lot of doors for me.”
Along with recognition, came opportunities for international competition and team selection. The first of 17 World Cup Final trips came in 1988. Ten years later and she recorded her best result to date, sixth with Alvaretto in Helsinki. Her Olympic debut was made in Sydney, in 2000, with one of her most successful partners, Hidden Creek’s Perin. Their 10th place individual finish was the fruition of more than a decade’s graft and determination.
Three years later Margie helped the United States win team gold at the Santo Domingo Pan American Games, before clinching the individual bronze medal with Perin. The team medal was the USA’s ticket to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. “There was extra pressure with having to qualify for the Olympics, so when we won the gold medal there, and Perin won an individual medal, that was personally a big accomplishment for me.”
Margie was also on the US team which brought home the silver medal from the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.
She concedes there’s always a little extra pressure when you are competing for your country. “You feel like it’s about much more than yourself. There’s all the build-up and more leading up to it.” However, once you get in the ring, she says: “it’s really just you and your horse against the course.”
Much of Margie’s success would not have been possible without the backing of her horse owners. “I’ve been very fortunate to have very good owners over the years,” she affirmed. “They have been very supportive and are very nice people. You just try and treat people the way that you want to be treated. A lot of the owners I’ve had I think of as friends too. Most of them have been with me a long, long time.”
Owners include the Snodgrass family, Mike Polaski of Hidden Creek, the Garber family, The Griese family, and now the DeMartini family from Elm Rock.
Richard Demartini, who owns Margie’s latest sensation, the 10-year-old Oldenburg stallion, Royce, is very excited about the pairing. “We think that in time, Margie and Royce are going to have a great future and win a lot of Grands Prix. We are backing Margie and we have a relationship with her; she’s our friend. I think that’s the most important focus on a relationship. Together we own this horse that has the opportunity to compete at the highest levels, and that’s pretty cool.”
Indigo is co-owned by Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame Quarterback Bob Griese and his wife Shay.
“Margie Engle is one of the best riders in the world. She’s a great person and a great friend. Every time Indigo jumps, we go. Everybody pats me on the back, but I don’t know a damn thing,” Griese has admitted.
Last year when a trip to London didn’t materialize Margie concentrated on bringing along Elm Rock Partners LLC’s Royce, the Oldenburg stallion by Caf.