Horse show leader mourned

Dick Feldman was Lake Placid event’s driving force

Richard Feldman smiles at the Lake Placid Horse Shows in June 2013. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — Richard Feldman, a Lehman Brothers executive who said his real legacy was with the Lake Placid Horse Shows, died last week at the age of 83.

Feldman was a lifelong horseman and is remembered for building the Lake Placid Horse Shows into a nationally prominent event and a powerhouse of this Adirondack village’s summer economy. He was chairman of the Lake Placid Horse Show Association for 26 years from 1991 to 2017.

Born on Jan. 22, 1935, he died on Thursday, March 8 after a long illness.

In 40 years working for Lehman Brothers, he became the company’s youngest national sales manager and eventually a senior vice president and managing director of investments. But he said the Lake Placid Horse Shows meant more to him.

“I am at an age when you ask what have you done to leave a mark on earth,” he told Lake Placid News columnist Naj Wikoff in 2009. “For me, it isn’t my investment business. It is this, the Lake Placid Horse Show. This is my legacy.”

Richard Feldman, right, longtime chairman of the Lake Placid Horse Show Association, poses with new Chairman Philip Richter at the horse shows in July 2017, when Feldman announced he was passing the reins. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Ed Weibrecht, who owns the Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid with his wife Lisa, submits the same letter to the editor to the Enterprise and Lake Placid News each June, saying the horse shows are “probably the most important event we host all year.” He knew Feldman well, having been on the LPHSA board from 1977 until a couple of years ago.

“He had an incredible passion for the [Lake Placid] community and for the horse world,” Weibrecht said. “Those two things are two of his greatest loves, and he brought that passion together to make the show one of the most prominent shows on the circuit, and it greatly benefitted the community. It still benefits the community.”

Roby Politi, the town of North Elba supervisor, former Lake Placid village mayor and owner of Merrill L. Thomas Real Estate, said Feldman “really was one of the people who truly made a significant difference in the success of Lake Placid and the region. His contribution is just immeasurable.”

Politi said one of Feldman’s greatest thrills came in 2009 when he was inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame, despite being a seasonal resident, and when he and his wife Diana were grand marshals of the village’s Fourth of July parade.

“I think he was so honored, being an outsider, to be accepted in this area,” Politi said.

Feldman told Wikoff that year, “When they called and told me I had been elected to the Hall of Fame, I had one comment: This is my Academy Award, and I mean it.”

Feldman was recruited to the LPHSA board in 1987 by then-Chairman Martin Stone and took the reins from Stone four years later.

“Martin Stone saved it after [co-founder] Ruth Newberry passed away,” Politi said. “It was in real trouble … but Dick was the one who really established the horse show. … And he was someone in the horse show business who was so respected. So many people came here because of Dick Feldman: the Springsteens and the mayor of New York, [Michael] Bloomberg … they all came here because of Dick Feldman.”

A press release from Phelps Sports, which handles media relations for the LPHSA, said Feldman “made it a point to ride every day” and was a member of various riding organizations.

“He also has made his mark in horse racing, owning, with his family, the thoroughbred Bet Twice, who won the Belmont Stakes by 13 lengths and was second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 1987,” the release said.

Under his leadership, the Lake Placid Horse Shows rode out the 2008 recession with minimal losses and at one point expanded to three weeks before settling back to two. The shows now include more than 1,000 horses.

“He was often heard to say, ‘Don’t tell me what’s good about the horse show; tell me what’s wrong with it! That’s the only way we can make it better,'” the Phelps release said.

One big recent improvement was to install new footing on the show grounds. It cost more than a million dollars and was paid for by board members and sponsors rather than by the town of North Elba, which owns the property, as Feldman explained in a 2014 interview with the Lake Placid News.

“Last year, I was told point blankly by some of the larger stables that if we did not put in the new footing, they would not come back,” Feldman said. “I’ve been in the horse world all my life. It’s not what I do for a living, but my family has a big horse operation in Kentucky, I rode for the United States team, I did everything there was to do — play polo, I was a master of foxhound — so I know the horse game, and they all know me. They’re not lying to me when they say, ‘We’re not coming back.'”

Weibrecht said that when the event began in the 1970s, “It was just a neat little show, and it went on to be one of the premier grand prix in the United States, certainly in the Northeast.” More than once, he added, the U.S. Equestrian Team would select its Olympians in Lake Placid.

“Dick was a great guy and a great friend, and he had unlimited energy for the horse show and the people who showed on the show,” Weibrecht added. “He put a very personal touch on the show. He went around and visited with almost every person who came.”

That was unique, Weibrecht said, but Feldman went even further in his unpaid position.

“He worked for the show year round, trying to enlist sponsors and supporters. … He and his wife Diana would visit other shows in the off-season, such as Palm Beach in the wintertime … and meet and greet with the riders and remind them about Lake Placid, lobby them to make sure they came back to Lake Placid next year.

“He put as much time into this as I think he did into Wall Street.”

Another unusual thing is that the Lake Placid Horse Shows have been profitable.

“Dick made sure,” Weibrecht said.

Feldman retired at the most recent horse shows last July. New Chairman Philip Richter, 47, of New York City, said at the time he will have to rely on the whole board to help keep up the octogenarian’s pace.

“If you know him, you know he plans well in advance,” Richter said of Feldman. “He named every single person in every single seat on the bus and said what he wanted them to do, and he did a great job at that. It’s a little bit like a symphony.”

Memorial services for Feldman are tentatively planned for April in New York City and in Lake Placid during this summer’s horse shows, from June 26 to July 8.