By DOUG GRAVES
DAYTON, Ohio — To many competitors at the prestigious Dayton Horse Show, winning is everything. For these people the prestige of being crowned champion of a class and laying hands on a blue ribbon is the pinnacle of equine success.
Then there’s Charlie Poppe. He’s a veteran of some of the most luxurious horse competitions whose winning hardware would fill most houses. His horses and tack are among the priciest around. Yet his smile says it all – horse competition should be fun.
“When this ceases to be fun I’ll quit,” said Poppe, who lives on a farm near Cincinnati. “I do this for fun, and it shouldn’t be cutthroat.”
In the Carriage Pleasure Driving event at this year’s show Poppe finished second, though his winning smile and hearty laugh would have made you think otherwise. This retired businessman is living it up in show arenas across the Midwest.
“My wife wishes I’d take up bowling,” he said. “It would be a lot cheaper. I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t expensive. It’s easy to drop $1 million on this hobby without even trying.”
He adores all aspects of horse shows, and the horse and carriage is his true passion. He’s president of the Ohio Valley Carriage Club and a director of the Carriage Assoc. of America.
“I was in my 20s when I started doing this, and there were still a lot of people left from the original carriage era who were involved with carriages,” he said. “Everyone was older than I. They always called me the ‘kid’ and no one understood why a young guy like me wanted to do this. But I had 100 jumpers long before I started with carriages.
“I’ve been doing this 40 years. We started with big horses, then we moved to Morgans. For 30 years I drove Welsh cobs.
My trademark was driving a team of four white cobs.”
Four horses led to much more tack and many more carriages. “We have close to 40 carriages and 10,000 carriage-related items. It’s addictive and I do it for the love of it,” he said.
“Carriages have allowed me to go where my wife and I would have never been invited. We’ve gone to the Rockefellers’, to Martha’s Vineyard. We’ve met lots of famous people thanks to the carriages. We also collect historical vehicles as well. We have some that were previously owned by the Vanderbilts and the DuPonts.”
At last year’s Lebanon (Ohio) Carriage Parade he drove three Welsh cobs that were hauling a restored burgundy and hunter green shooting brake built for Evalyn Walsh McLean – the mining heiress who once owned the Hope Diamond.
The limelight doesn’t faze Hoppe much these days. For instance, prior to competing at the Dayton Horse Show earlier this month Poppe captured first place at the U.S. National Park Championships, one of equine’s largest stages.
“I probably do about 15 shows a year,” he said, admitting he doesn’t keep count. “We’ve been as far as California, but traditionally we try to stay within the Carolinas to Michigan.
“I love going to shows and seeing people with carriages I’ve known long ago. At one show there were nine vehicles in the ring, and of the nine I had owned eight of those carriages at one time or another.”