A glimpse into Rita's world
DIXON – At first glance, the sprawling 80-acre horse farm on Red Brick Road doesn’t appear to have many bells and whistles.
A gravel driveway leads visitors to two entrances guarded with large, wooden fences that open electronically. Just to the right of one fence is a small granite stone, with the unmistakable “RC” emblem etched in black.
The “RC” stands for RC Quarter Horses, owned by Rita Crundwell. The ranch houses 271 of her more than 400 world-champion quarter horses.
Just beyond the gates lie several fenced-in pastures for the horses to stretch their legs, gallop and graze.
In one pasture, dozens of dark and light brown horses gather to eat from a trough that looks like a large, hollowed out tire.
Just past the entrance is a large, silver barn that contains 38 15-by-15-foot stalls, many of them holding in a pair of horses.
Large industrial fans help keep the horses cool in the sweltering heat.
Some of the horses, with names like Hot X Willy and Attesty Cowboy, drink water from metal troughs or lie on straw bedding covering the floor.
Some brave horses come right up to the bars of the stall and sniff at the many visitors gawking at them and exploring the barn.
“I expected something a little fancier when I walked into the barn,” says Mike Jennings, co-owner of Virginia-based Professional Auction Services, Inc.
The small room connected to the barn is far more impressive.
Just beyond the log cabin-like facade on the outside lies a homey sitting-area decorated with leather couches, brown and black fur-lined chairs, and a brick fireplace that beckons visitors to sit and relax.
There’s a full kitchen with granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, and a fully stocked bar.
What’s overwhelmingly noticeable are Crundwell’s treasures.
Numerous trophies, ribbons, and medals fill a floor-to-ceiling book shelf and spill out onto the floor.
The awards, which include framed belt buckles, also line the fireplace and windows, sit on top of end tables and the coffee table, and spill out of metal buckets.
Small, pewter horse statuettes line several rafters in the ceiling. On the walls are large framed photos of a smiling Crundwell in a white cowboy hat, holding the reins of her champion quarter horses.
The trophy room is evidence of better times for the 59-year-old former Dixon comptroller.
Crundwell’s herd of horses will be sold in September, more than 4 months after Crundwell was indicted on a federal wire fraud charge.
Prosecutors say Crundwell misappropriated more than $53 million in city funds since 1990. Crundwell admitted to investigators that she used some of the money to fund her horse operations, according to court documents.
Crundwell is not contesting the sale. Marshals said Friday they’ve spent about $200,000 a month to maintain the herd of horses.
Professional Auction Services will conduct the sale, which be at the Dixon ranch. There also will be an online auction.
Marshals invited reporters from media outlets across the state to tour Crundwell’s ranch Friday in anticipation of the sale.
Jennings says he was surprised by the lack of flash at the ranch when he made his first visit to Dixon.
“It wouldn’t give you the impression that somebody was just doing excessive things just for show,” he says.
While the barn and grounds don’t scream “opulence,” the layout clearly was made with the horses’ safety and welfare in mind, Jennings says.
“When you look through the barns, it was made to really reduce the ability of the horses to get hurt,” he says. “I think when you look at the barn and the horse facilities, it was done nicely.”
He adds, “I think everyone could tell that she was pretty passionate about her horses.”
The trophy room, he says, “is pretty cool,” though.
Many locals assumed that Crundwell, who pulled in an annual salary of $80,000 as comptroller, made most of her money breeding and showing horses.
Most people not in the horse industry probably wouldn’t have suspected that anything was amiss, especially judging from the look of the farm, Jennings says.
Those in the horse industry may have thought otherwise, he said.
“Any time someone new comes into the business and starts spending a lot of money, that’s a question,” Jennings says.
That doesn’t mean there’s foul play. There have been some big lottery winners who have entered the horse world, as well as others who may have had a “big windfall” financially for various reasons, he says.
“There were enough people that could play at that level that we didn’t find it extremely different or worrisome,” he says.
A man, who did not want to be identified, has worked at the ranch for 10 years and is one of about a dozen employees caring for Crundwell’s Dixon herd.
He says he was “shocked” at the allegations against his former boss and the number of reporters who toured the farm Friday.
After Crundwell’s April 17 arrest, not much has changed at the farm, he says. The horses still are fed, given water, and bathed.
He says he isn’t concerned about where the horses will end up.
“I think they are all going to go to a good home,” he says.