Ten Minutes with Andre Dignelli
A winning equestrian
Photos by Michael Dignelli
Andre Dignelli was a working student at Bedford’s Coker Farm in the 1980s. In 1985, he won the USET Finals; in ‘91, he took the bronze medal in Cuba at the Pan American Games. In ’94, Andre and his brother, Michael, bought a Katonah property and named it Heritage Farm. Today it’s one of a handful of places in the country where you can start riding as a seven year old and go all the way to the Grand Prix.
Your students have won top awards. In fact, you’re known for creating champions. What qualities do you look for in a young rider?
Ambition is number one. Next, work ethic. Talent is probably number three. Family support, both mentally and financially.
You’re known for a certain sartorial style. How would you describe it?
I love Ralph Lauren. He’s perfect for a fashionable equestrian lifestyle. We’re limited in what we can wear when we compete, so accessories are significant. Sunglasses, belts, what kind of jacket you’re wearing. Ralph Lauren’s country classics are fabulous.
Long ago, Judy Richter championed you when you were a young but hardworking nobody. How important is it to have a guardian angel/mentor?
I think it’s everything. To have someone believe in you, recognize your talent, help you develop it—that’s what Judy did for me. Also my brother, Michael. They both believed in me. I’ve taken that role for countless children. They need to know I believe they can do it.
You live a seemingly jet set lifestyle, traveling to Europe on horse-buying trips. At horse shows, you’re frequently photographed in the winner’s circle. Is your life really glamorous?
It appears very glamorous. I want to uphold that appearance. I feel grateful I’ve found something I truly love, and it’s afforded me this incredible life. Horses have brought me all around the world, shopping for them, competing. This sport has fortified my inner rock star. It is glamorous hard work.
It’s evident horses are your passion. If you didn’t ride and train, is there something else that would engage you so fiercely?
I get asked that question a lot. Truthfully, there hasn’t been a day when I thought about doing something else.
The fate of unwanted horses is of growing national concern. The SPCA says 150,000 horses ship to slaughter every year. Any thoughts how to heal or fix this?
It’s a problem even in my industry. We’re posed with the question of what becomes of these former champions. Some find homes with people who want to glance out into their backyard and see a wonderful older horse with a great story. Some go to therapeutic riding programs. Some stay at Heritage Farm and are retired there. I don’t have a good answer to the slaughter issue, but we do feel an obligation to these horses who’ve been so good to us.
What can humans learn from horses?
Parents often ask, “Why should Susie have a pony?” She will learn responsibility, compassion, and time management. Because interacting with animals is good for the soul. For me, it’s always been horses. I also have a dog.