A Simple Truth
This is a story of horses and the man who misused them.
It is a twisted tale, one which stretches from the palm-studded shores of Florida to the soaring Rocky Mountains of Montana.
Sadly, a string of emotional and financial victims litter this trail of equestrian treachery.
Yet we now hope to reveal to you the activities of the man who, after successfully hiding in the shadows for many years, masqueraded as a Long Rider in order to prey on the goodwill, the charity, the trust, the generosity, the religious conviction, and the love of others.
We must begin our story by reminding you of a simple truth.
“The love of the horse has always been a bond between all men, a kind of international lingua franca that bypasses the barrier of language and brings them closer together,” wrote the beloved North American equestrian philosopher, Edward Larocque Tinker.
The tribal elders of The Long Riders’ Guild simply say, “We all speak horse.”
The horse is a semi-sacred animal to human beings all over the planet. He represents bravery, fleetness, mystery. Consequently, when a Long Rider and his horse enter a village, people respond as if by ancient instinct to the sudden appearance of this unlooked-for Centaur. It is the horse, more than the man, who holds the key to the hearts of these trusting people. And though he may have entered the village a stranger, because of the horse’s help, the Long Rider’s journey parts the mists of misunderstanding and leaves behind a memory of brotherhood.
Unlike modern equestrian activities, the ancient art of equestrian travel is not, therefore, a competitive event. It is more often a source of personal inspiration akin to a mounted spiritual journey. Throughout history, a special breed of human has summoned up the courage needed to climb onto that altar of travel, the saddle. Then with their eyes on the horizon, they ride off in search of a host of private goals.
Though the date on the calendar changes, the Long Riders in the saddle today remain remarkably true to our collective aspirations and beliefs.
Three North American Long Riders epitomize what I am referring to.
While their outward journeys differ, each of these extraordinary equestrian explorers symbolizes the values of The Long Riders’ Guild.
George Patterson rode over the Himalayas in the winter of 1949 to alert the world that Tibet had been invaded by the Communist Chinese.
Madame Catherine Waridel rode 8,000 miles from the Crimea to Mongolia to research the ways of the Central Asian nomads.
Robin and Louella Hanbury-Tenison made the first modern ride along the length of the Great Wall of China.
These are the type of men and women who represent the philosophy of The Long Riders’ Guild. Their rides are quiet triumphs that strengthen the bonds of friendship from one ocean to the other. Every mile they ride renews our collective humanity and celebrates our ancient emotional bond with the horse.
It is because of this dedication to the search for inner quality, and outer courage, that The Long Riders’ Guild maintains the strictest control in terms of the people invited to join this, the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers.
Sadly, like all human endeavors, equestrian travel is not without its law-breakers.
These people vary as greatly as their crimes.
There are the petty liars, like the American man who claimed to have been shadowed for days by a hungry mountain lion.
There are the grand charlatans, like the English man who claimed to be in war-torn Afghanistan, but was actually photographed sitting on a horse in snowy Wales.
There are the thieves, like the lady in Australia who “borrowed” the horses of her unsuspecting host, only to be caught many months later when she was seen giving a television interview with the missing horses standing behind her.
Worst of all are the horse killers, like the American man who slew his Siberian horse through neglect and then ate its heart in a grisly celebration of his ignorance.
These are the equestrian criminals who abdicate their responsibility, degrade the value of honesty and pave the way for other liars in the wings.
They are poles apart, these two streams of equestrian travellers.
One is wholesome and devoted to the care of the horse and others.
While the other is seeking to fulfill personal ambitions and selfish desires.
The Long Riders’ Guild maintains a private international list of those people whose equestrian deeds disallow them from being named as Long Riders.
Moreover, we publish a special section called the Hall of Shame, wherein we list deceased horse killers, equestrian frauds, etc.
We have never listed a living equestrian outlaw.
News of a massive fraud
While no intentional public deception is trivial, we have the unhappy duty of announcing a truly bad case, a shocking lesion in the equestrian community, a tale of distorted truths and assumed identity involving the worst case of Long Rider fraud in modern history.
The dictionary defines a hoax as an act which purports to describe something that actually occurred or existed in the world.
For example, Sir John Mandeville claimed to be an English knight who journeyed to India in 1322. Yet Mandeville has been described by researchers as “the greatest liar of all time.”
In 1980 Rosie Ruiz, a 23-year-old New Yorker, was the first woman to cross the finish line in the Boston Marathon. The problem was that no one could remember having seen her during the race. It was discovered she had ridden the subway part way, then jumped into the race during its final half mile. Officials stripped her of her Boston victory.
What dictionaries fail to mention is that fraudsters like Mandeville and Ruiz create victims, as our tale demonstrates all too well.
For the man in question in our story recognized the ancient emotional appeal of the horse, donned the mythical symbolism of the cowboy clothes, flung on the cloak of charity, attached these concepts to the spiritual power of Christianity, and then set out to perpetrate a cold-blooded financial deception on a trusting American public.
His name is Richard Fipps and in thirty years of equestrian exploration, we have never seen a more deliberate modern attempt to deceive and misuse the trust of the public.
|Richard Fipps appeared to be a
honest cowboy when he announced he was riding from Centre, Alabama to
Vernal, Utah in the spring of 2002.
Click on picture to enlarge.
With such a worthy goal at the heart of his journey, The Long Riders’ Guild placed Fipps’ “Riding for the Children” equestrian journey on our “Current Expeditions” page.
We also offered our assistance in terms of putting him in touch with other Long Riders along the way. Oddly enough, Fipps expressed no interest in contacting other equestrian travellers. His needs, he said, were being taken care of by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. Noting his reluctance to share anything more than the news of his departure, The Long Riders’ Guild bid him adieu, and became involved with other equestrian affairs.
Fipps set off, dropped out of sight, and the victims began to fall.
The first casualty was the very charity who had helped put him on the road.
Fipps was telling the truth.
There really was a noble charity sponsoring his ride.
Originally the ride was supported by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, a respected charitable organization headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, which has more than 275 ministries throughout the United States. The AGRM, which annually provides more than 33 million meals to needy people, agreed to link up with Fipps so that he could bring awareness to their need to collect non-perishable canned goods for the food banks and rescue missions located along his route.
To help bring about this worthy plan, the AGRM paid for the registration and maintenance of a website for Fipps, as well as providing him with a free cell-phone.
“At first, we figured it would help raise awareness and encourage people to give,” said Phil Rydman, Director of Communications for the AGRM.
“In the beginning, he (Fipps) was a big hit – he can tell a great story (not always factual as we have come to find out) and he is a flamboyant character. I remember he rode his horse right into the lobby of one of the newspapers in a small town that he was passing through,” Rydman recalled.
Yet soon after the ride began, officers of the charity began receiving complaints about people associated with the ride drinking heavily in camp, and then riding drunk the next day.
Another thing that left Rydman uneasy was his discovery that Fipps wasn’t just sitting in the saddle but was also holding the steering wheel of a pickup truck. In one interview the suspect cowboy told the media that he had spent 91 days living on the open range between Alabama and Utah. This claim didn’t match Rydman’s concerns that Fipps was driving back and forth to his home in Alabama.
“He said he had to periodically drive back home to pick up additional supplies. So I don’t believe he spent the entire time on the trail. With what we know now, that should have been more of a concern at the time than it now appears to be,” Rydman told The Guild.
With mounting calls of disreputable behavior, and growing suspicions that the ride was a logistical fraud, the alarmed charity alerted their missions that “Riding for the Children” was no longer a project which the AGRM wished to be associated with.
It was too late.
Small town newspapers carrying flamboyant claims were discovered by The Long Riders’ Guild. One such an article, released shortly after Fipps completed his suspect journey to Utah, was published by the Cullman Times, in Alabama. In this story Fipps bragged that he had collected “more than $1 million, all of which went to orphanages and missions.”
The AGRM strongly denies the validity of this claim, saying that their organization only received $225 in donations from two individuals associated with the Fipps’ ride.
Likewise, Fipps’ claims to the same Alabama newspaper that he was inducted into the “Cowboy Walk of Fame,” and was a guest on the David Letterman television show, have proved to be unsubstantiated.
With the ride nearing Oklahoma, the AGRM decided to pass control of the website on to another, unsuspecting, party. Then, with Fipps disappearing into the distance, the charity thought they had heard the last of him. Little did the AGRM realize they had just allowed Fipps to journey on into Oklahoma and thereby grandly elaborate his tale of horseback deception.
When the AGRM discontinued their involvement with the “Riding for the Children” website, Fipps needed help quick.
He found it, in spades, when he teamed up with Jo Hargrave.
Though Hargrave originally supported Fipps, she now describes him as “a habitual liar, a rounder and a schemer.”
The blonde Oklahoma horse woman, who has been in the radio business for twenty-six years, is one of America’s most celebrated cowboy radio personalities. During the course of her career spinning records, Hargrave has met enough country western and cowboy stars to fill the Hollywood Bowl. But even though she’s seen her share of celebrities, the rancher turned disc jockey prides herself on keeping her feet on the ground.
It comes as a shock, therefore, to discuss her one-time friendship with Richard Fipps and realize how he misused her and her radio show. Because in the true sense of the Old West, Hargrave believed that you can trust a man in a cowboy hat who gives you his word, especially when he gives it to a woman.
The professional business woman with a soft heart began by interviewing Fipps for her “Keepin’ It Cowboy” radio show during that progressing summer of 2002.
She recalled speaking to Fipps by cell phone as he made his way towards Oklahoma. Hearing the sound of horse hoofs clip-clopping down the road over the telephone opened an ache in the disc jockey’s heart. A lifelong horse woman, Hargrave admitted that it was the alluring thought of riding the open road that really enticed her. But not being able to ride across America herself, and believing that she was about to assist a legitimate cowboy who wished to feed poverty-stricken children, Hargrave urged her listeners to open their homes, their hearts, their pantries and their pocketbooks to a man she still believed in.
And who could blame her?
In an interview done at the same time with London’s Horse & Hound magazine, Fipps had bragged to a British reporter about owning a vast ranch in Alabama. He capped off that interview by telling his English readers, “I’ll be sleeping under the stars for the whole trip.”
It was a comforting cowboy folktale, one which neither the British reporter nor Hargrave thought to question.
How were they to know that no such ranch has ever been found, and at the time of the ride, Fipps was the owner of the “Southern Star Tow Truck Company,” located in Centre, Alabama, a tow truck company that has been linked to the crime of grand theft auto.
If the English reporter had no reason to suspect the counterfeit cowboy, Hargrave did the day Fipps showed up at her Oklahoma studio. He was hauling his horses and sleeping in an air-conditioned trailer.
Despite her original misgivings, it was the withdrawal of the logistical assistance previously provide by the Gospel Mission charity that smooth-talking Fipps used to pull on Hargrave’s heart strings.
“I felt so sorry for him when the Gospel Mission pulled their support,” Hargrave recalled.
Thus a well-meaning on-air chat ended with Hargrave becoming increasingly involved in a fraudulent horse ride. The radio interviewer eventually ended up hosting Fipps’ website, fielding telephone calls, arranging accommodations for his onward journey and ultimately paying a string of bills he left behind.
“He promised to reimburse me but never did.”
What hurts worse than the loss of any money is the realization that she, and her listeners, were emotionally manipulated by Fipps.
“I know he donated can goods to some food banks along the way. But I was embarrassed by some of his actions. I mean when I met him he said things like, ‘that sounds like a good angle.’ I was so shocked. It didn’t sound like the same person I had been talking to on the phone. Suddenly I was beginning to feel embarrassed that this man was calling himself a cowboy,” Hargrave told The Guild.
The subject of our story didn’t seem to share Hargrave’s concern.
“Someday,” Fipps had told a reporter, ”I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I rode across the country, and I did it for a reason.”
Jo Hargrave wishes she had known the real reason before she agreed to help Fipps.
“I can’t deny that I’ve shed some tears over this situation. We all thought this man was the greatest thing there ever was. What none of us realized was that we weren’t helping those worthy causes. We were donating to a charity called Richard Fipps.”
A Misplaced Warning
Jo Hargrave may be trusting, but she’s no fool.
After Fipps left Oklahoma, she followed his ride with increasing mistrust. At one point, strongly suspecting that Fipps was not actually riding, she sent a request to a California-based Long Rider, asking him to alert The Guild of her suspicions. That request was never passed on.
Thus, because Fipps had stayed well off our radar, his fraudulent activities eluded us. In late 2002, when word reached The Guild that Fipps had reached Utah, and therefore had ridden more than a thousand miles, he was listed as a Member.
What we didn’t know was that if Fipps’ first journey had underlying troubles, his second ride was about to strangle truth in its cot.