By Britney Grover
It’s hard to get Tony Sgarlata to talk about himself—much easier, in fact, to get him talking about horses, his dogs or the people in his life. That doesn’t mean he and his career aren’t worth celebrating. Tony is an accomplished rider, and in the course of 20 years of running his own business has trained horses and ponies to all levels and coached multiple zone and national champions. He is a strong proponent for the sport, giving back as a clinician and USEF “R” judge. Last year, Tony partnered with the USHJA to help riders understand changes to equitation tests for 2023. He has judged throughout North America, including at WEF, Tryon, Lake Placid, Old Salem and more. When he’s not traveling to judge, Tony can be found at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his partner, Brian, and their three dogs, or traveling the world, sans dogs.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Tell us about your family.
I grew up in a non-horsey family, but met my partner through our mutual friend Mason Phelps at a polo lunch.
How did your horse career start?
My riding career had a rather inauspicious start. I groomed and galloped young racehorses to pay for my riding lessons. Later, I groomed and showed sale horses. I worked for various stables, private owners and eventually had my own business for about 20 years. Today I mostly judge and try to balance the work travel with time at home.
Any favorite horses over the years?
My favorite horse was a hunter mare named Brunette. She was owned by Hunterdon Inc and was attractive, scopey and maybe a bit too smart. She was by a stallion named I Love You out of a full sister to the famous jumper The Jones Boy. I started her in the First Year Green division and by mid-summer she was sold.
What’s your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
Meeting interesting, creative, brilliant people is one of the best perks in the horse world. It’s right up there with those quiet times in the barn, or that moment a green horse has learned something new or, better yet, they taught me something.
If you weren’t involved with the horse world, what career do you think you would have picked?
If I weren’t in the horse business, I would be doing something in the art or design world.
If you could tell every rider one thing, what would it be?
It would actually be two things: Have empathy for the horse, and tip your in-gate. Without either of them, we couldn’t have horse shows.
If you had a week off, what would you do?
During time off, we’re either at home with the dogs or we travel.
Where is your favorite place you have been? Where would you like to go but haven’t?
Our favorite destination is the Amalfi Coast in Italy. But I’m equally as happy at a theater or museum in London or Paris. My bucket-list travel destination would be Tangier. The homes, art, textiles and furniture are incredible. I would love to see it.
Do you have a personal motto or catch phrase?
Say less whenever possible.
Who inspires you?
In business, I’m inspired by people that stay passionate about their career after many years. In my private life, I’m inspired by my partner, Brian.
Outside of horses, what do you like to do?
We lead a pretty low-key, quiet life at home. We both work a lot, so if given the chance we might have dinner out, a movie night at home or on occasion the two of us go to the theater or opera in Raleigh. We enjoy collecting 20th century art and mix it with ancient Chinese pieces.
What’s your favorite item of clothing to wear?
Favorite clothing would be more about accessories—Italian shoes and belts, Bvlgari watches and jewelry.
What’s your favorite meal?
My favorite dinner is anything we eat at our home with friends. Usually, the dogs—two Pugs and a Frenchie—are being rude and begging at the table.
What three things can always be found in your refrigerator?
San Pellegrino, fresh berries and there’s always turkey for the dogs
Something people don’t know about you?
I’m basically a quiet person, happy to be home walking the dogs, working or in the gardens.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
What would be the best gift in the world?
Honestly, I want for nothing. I’m grateful for what I have.
Photo by Andrea Wells