Clyde Rice, the patriarch of a far-ranging family of trainers, jockeys and consignors, passed away Monday at his home in Anthony, Florida. He was 79.
A native of Antigo, Wisconsin, Rice was a high school teacher before deciding to pursue a career in the horse industry. Several times leading trainer at Penn National in the 1970s and 80s, he became a pioneer in the yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking market, raising horses at his Indian Prairie Ranch in Anthony.
Rice grew up alongside future Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and the two men shared a passion for horses.
“He was a dear friend and I can’t tell you what a great horseman he was,” Lukas recalled Monday. “We grew up about a half-mile apart and spent our whole boyhoods with these horses and traveling miles and miles to sales and shows. He was special and he had a great knack, a really good eye for a horse.”
According to Lukas, the two men honed their skills for picking out horses from an early age.
“Starting out at ground zero, without the backing of a farm or pedigree, we had to find horses that looked like athletes that we could afford,” Lukas recalled. “We would go to a sale or two a week when we were in our 20s and we’d look at horses of every shape and size and I think that background really served us well when we got to the level of a Keeneland or a Fasig-Tipton sale. And Clyde had a beautiful eye for it.”
Among the horses selected by Rice and trained by Lukas was two-time champion Life’s Magic, 1985 champion juvenile filly Family Style and Grade I winner Tiltalating.
Lukas and Rice hit the rodeo circuit together and Lukas fondly recalled the moment when he decided maybe rodeo wasn’t for him.
“We were trying to rodeo–Clyde was better than me, he was a lot better than me,” Lukas smiled. “And we were in Dakota or Nebraska and we were steer wrestling with two Quarter Horses and I saw they were running 300-yard Quarter Horse races. I said to Clyde, ‘Maybe we should sharpen up our two rodeo horses and we can make more money, too.’ The first time we tried it, we won both heats and I said, ‘I’m never going back to rodeo again.’ I was getting so beat up with the rodeo, I couldn’t even brush my teeth the next day.’”
Rice, who is survived by his wife of 59 years Jean, is the father of trainers Linda and Wayne, as well as Woodside Ranch owner Bryan and former jockey Curt. Among his six grandchildren are pinhooker Brandon, trainers Kevin and Adam, jockey Taylor and Ashley and Cash.
Lukas acknowledged Rice’s lasting legacy would be his family.
“He was a wonderful family man and his family are all outstanding horsemen,” Lukas said. “His legacy will continue on with his family.”
Bryan Rice remembered of his father, “His greatest legacy is most certainly the people that he has touched. He helped everyone that had an interest in helping themselves. He has been an inspiration to watch, follow, learn from, live with and most of all to call family or friend.
Rice’s eldest grandson Brandon, who operates RiceHorse Stables with his wife Alexandra de Meric, credited his grandfather with his career in the racing industry.
“My entire career, along with numerous family and friends, have been inspired by Grandpa Clyde being in the horse business,” he said. “I call my business RiceHorse Stable, but he’s the one that created Rice horses. I just named my business it. If a horse is a Rice horse, it’s a graduate of the Rices. And I named my business that as a play on his legacy, on what he stamped on his horses.”
Brandon continued, “Grandpa was a brave man to leave the security of teaching in a salaried job in Wisconsin and take his young family and his young wife and decide to make a living in the horse industry, which we all know can be challenging and full of ups and downs. He raised all of his children in it and consequently all his grandchildren are now being raised in it. He was kind of the beginning of our entire family making a living in the industry.”
Asked what lessons he learned from his grandfather, Brandon said, “It was probably less about what he said and more about what he showed us. What he showed us was how to scout and find good horses and then, when working with them, I think he had a very kind and patient hand that horses just naturally responded well to.”
Ocala horseman John Stephens, married to Rice’s niece Jill, started working for Rice in 1989, and admitted the horseman was a unique talent.
“There are lots of guys who do what we do, but he was one of those special people,” Stephens said. “Lots of people have success at business, but then you have that guy who is leaps and bounds above everybody else. That was Clyde. There are plenty of people who are good horsemen, but he was in a league of his own. He was just special when it came to the horse.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Heirs Baxley Funeral Services in Ocala. The family asks donations be made to the American Diabetes Association.