A Word from the Founder
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.
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.
This man has been connected to the crimes of armed burglary, grand theft auto, domestic abuse and horse theft.
When The Long Riders’ Guild spoke to Fipps, back on April 16th, 2002, we had no reason not to believe the first definition of who he said he was. A self-described cowboy, Fipps spoke to us by telephone and described how he was about to set off on a 1,900 mile ride from Centre, Alabama to Vernal, Utah.
And the purpose of his journey?
“I’ll be collecting food and
money to feed America’s hungry children,” he told us.
|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.
It was an unsigned email entitled “Fraud Cowboy” that tipped us off.
Richard Fipps poses with his dog after his suspect ride from Alabama to Utah.
Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph courtesy of The Cullman Times.
The message came rattling in at dawn on July 16th, 2005 and it didn’t pull any punches.
“Follow the link to Nevada
Public Radio to hear Richard Fipps’ admission of guilt at
Then contact Las Vegas channel 13 for more information. They have also done an expose on Fipps. The television channel has a wealth of important information on his last charity ride. He states he raised over 1 million dollars during his ride, yet records show less than five hundred dollars were received by the mission. As Fipps is a convicted felon, it should come as no real surprise that this has occurred.”
That’s the kind of message
that grabs our attention here at Long Riders HQ.
We put aside our morning coffee and called Ky Plaskon, the National Public Radio reporter, who had just stumbled into the biggest horse-heist in modern history.
Ky Plaskon is a radio man who doesn’t know the difference between a bay and a bosal. But he’s a good reporter with a nose for news. So when he got a tip that a Las Vegas-based equestrian traveller was involved in a charity ride scam, Ky did what any news hound would do.
He went hunting.
What Ky quickly discovered was a guy called Richard Fipps, who claimed to be a cowboy celebrity. According to his spiffy new website, Fipps, who said he had made a record ride from Alabama to Utah, was now riding from Mexico to Canada to raise a mountain of cash for orphans and battered women.
It all sounded good.
Maybe too good.
Especially when Ky discovered that the charity cowboy might not actually be riding the range. According to a neighbor, Fipps was soaking up the rays in a Las Vegas back yard.
“I realized that I had been seeing this guy here (in Las Vegas) and yet his website says he is in Bozeman, Montana in the middle of this big charity ride. It just didn’t add up,” the neighbor, Shane Landry, told the NPR reporter.
Realizing the public was being conned, Landry complained to National Public Radio that the cowboy who claimed to be sleeping under the stars was actually camped out in an air conditioned house on the north west side of Las Vegas.
Ky’s hunch was about to be confirmed.
The radio reporter discovered that Fipps was not riding across Montana, as his on-line diary stated, but was in fact residing with his girlfriend in Las Vegas.
So Ky called Fipps on the cell phone number listed on his website.
“Where are you now?” the reporter asked.
“Oh, sitting about 200 yards away from my camp here in Montana,” Fipps replied.
“Can you describe what you see to me?”
“Oh, rolling hills, the Rockies and a lot of blue sky.”
When Ky rang off, he checked Fipps website.
Sure enough, the charity cowboy claimed to be in Montana that very day.
It didn’t take long for the radio reporter to grab a video camera, drive across town, and film Richard Fipps at his girlfriend’s home in Las Vegas.
"I know there are people who claim to be a cowboy because of the hat they wear, but that's disgusting," the irate radio reporter told The Guild.
And there was more bad news for Fipps.
The film boys were on his trail too.
Las Vegas based Channel 13 had assigned the story to their chief investigative reporter, Glen Meek.
"The ride was supposed to raise awareness and money but ended up raising a lot of questions," Meek told his audience in the first of two special television broadcasts.
The reporter discovered that the cowboy, who claimed to be riding from Mexicali, Mexico to Alberta, Canada to raise money for battered women’s shelters, had been arrested in Las Vegas for domestic violence against a woman.
So what was it?
Was Fipps in court or in the saddle?
That’s when The Long Riders’ Guild received the anonymous email and started asking questions of our own.
As the world's first international association of equestrian explorers The Guild takes such reports very seriously. The Long Riders' Guild has Members in 32 countries, all of whom have ridden a minimum of 1,000 miles in a single equestrian journey. Moreover, our primary website contains more than 1,000 pages of equestrian travel information and we publish more than 100 equestrian travel books in five languages.
Consequently, when a person claiming to be a "Long Rider" defrauds the public, as well as a long list of trusting merchants and charitable organizations, The Guild does everything in our power to alert the international equestrian community, as well as immediately ejecting the culprit from our midst.
Because Fipps had been listed as a Member after he supposedly made his 1,900 mile ride from Centre, Alabama to Vernal, Utah, we started asking questions about both that ride, as well as the second ride he had supposedly just completed from Mexico to Canada.
What we immediately discovered was that the idea for the border to border ride was apparently lifted from well-known cowboy poet, TJ Casey.
According to Casey, Fipps attended a meeting in Midland, Texas where the poet revealed plans to organize a cattle drive between Canada and Mexico. When he went to raise support, the mounted poet was surprised to learn that Fipps had appropriated his idea, turning it instead into a Christian-charity-cowboy ride.
“It’s the most underhanded thing anyone ever did to me. I can’t believe he (Fipps) can do what he does to people, then turn around and do it some more,” Casey told The Guild.
What the poet didn’t realize was that Fipps had come away from his first journey armed with an important realization. You stand a better chance in fooling the public, if you’ve first fooled the media.
And that, we discovered, is what Fipps did soon after he launched his new charity ride scheme in Nevada.
Here’s a little rule of thumb.
If you want average people to believe you’re a genuine Long Rider, just pull out a battered newspaper article which says you are.
It’s a funny thing about reporters.
Tell them your grand-daddy played baseball with Babe Ruth, and they’ll demand to see photographs, old uniforms, a battered bat, and maybe even dental records.
But lower your eyes modestly, hold your battered cowboy hat in your hands, scuff your beat-up boots back and forth slowly through the dust, then tell the reporter in a humble voice that you’re a cowboy riding for Christ, out to help suffering women and starving kids, and you’ll hook ’em every time.
|Counterfeit cowboy, Richard
Fipps, conned newspapers in several states into believing he was a
legitimate Long Rider.
Click on photograph to enlarge - courtesy of the Vernal Express.
If you don’t believe me, ask Helen Afrasiabi.
She’s the Las Vegas Sun reporter whom Fipps fooled in December of 2004.
Mind you, Helen wasn’t the first reporter to fall for Fipps’ fairytales.
He had already conned the Vernal Express and the Cullman Times into believing he hung the moon.
All three papers were victims of an elaborate fraud, once which Fipps carefully constructed to entwine eager reporters into writing a feel-good feature story that would eventually aid his cause.
Yet, while the earlier stories were written after the fact, one of the reasons Fipps’ second ride nearly succeeded was because of Helen’s well-meaning, albeit naďve, reporting. Fipps fits the profile of a classic equestrian liar, in that he invented a long list of fantastic equestrian stories, none of which the reporter thought to verify. Afrasiabi, for example, believed Fipps when he said his ride from Alabama to Utah set a world record that was recognized by the Horsemen’s Association of the United States. That claim was as phony as the $1 million he said he raised for charity.
The man who claimed to be an Old West hero, out to raise money for needy children and battered women, played the Sun reporter for a fool.
Even worse, once the story was published, Fipps elaborated his hoax, moving on to incorporate the power of the internet in his effort to falsely lure sponsors and unwitting financial donors into his equestrian net.
The internet is like the rain. It lends fragrance to the rose but also strengthens the poison of the deadly nightshade.
Patrick McCarrick at the Las Vegas based Absolute Internet Marketing knows all about that power. In an effort to help the needy in his adopted hometown, the soft-spoken Irishman donates the services of his company to a different charity every year.
Thus, it seemed like a natural fit when the charity-minded website wizard met the man who claimed he was about to raise money for hungry kids and battered women. Of course the article in the Las Vegas Sun helped convince the webmaster that Fipps was legit.
McCarrick’s company created a beautiful website entitled “Cowboys Helping Kids.” It contained a biography of our “hero,” a map showing the route Fipps planned to take from Mexicali to Alberta, a guest book, a list of sponsors, photos taken of Fipps riding outside Las Vegas and most importantly, an on-line diary.
It also cost McCarrick more than $5,000.
But if it was the cowboy myth that helped elevate Fipps into power, it was thanks to McCarrick’s website, and the click of Fipps’ suspicious neighbor’s computer mouse, that laid bare the internet based deception.
According to Fipps’ diary,
his second ride began on April, 26th, 2005.
“Today the ride started…We crossed the border from Mexico into the USA this a.m. There is nothing but beautiful scenery down here…” Fipps reported to his webmaster.
But nothing in the supposedly 72-day-long journey was true.
Fipps was able to maintain his fraud by duping the webmaster into posting phony travel reports on the website. These reports were telephoned in every morning.
“We would come in at 8 a.m. and find messages that had been called in at five thirty that morning” McCarrick told The Long Riders’ Guild.
The on-line diary thus purported to document Fipps’ 2,140 mile journey.
When his neighbors and the local media became suspicious, Fipps sent in a week’s worth of updates in a single day. After Ky Plaskon, the radio reporter discovered him in Las Vegas, Fipps suddenly informed his webmaster that the Canadian authorities had said his horses would not be allowed to enter that country.
With the heat on, Fipps was trying to end the imaginary ride.
All the while the webmaster was becoming suspicious.
Though he couldn’t actually prove that Fipps had ridden every step of the way, McCarrick turned his internet sleuthing abilities to the material he had on hand.
When he began inspecting the website he had created, the webmaster discovered that two of the Montana guest book entries actually originated at Fipps’ Las Vegas address.
“Cowboy I have enjoyed meeting you. You are a blessing. Anytime you are in Montana you are welcome around my fire. Keep going and God be with you,” Carl Richardson supposedly wrote on July 8.
Likewise a second message, reportedly from Mike Jones on June 27th, stated, “I seen you this morning with all the horses while on my way to work. You’re a true cowboy.”
|In this posed photograph,
Richard Fipps, the "true cowboy," can be seen trying to pull his reluctant
horse over the edge of a cliff.
Click on picture to enlarge - photo courtesy of AIM.
“I was genuinely shocked when I learned we had been duped.” McCarrick told The Guild.
But the damage was done and this time the internet had helped Fipps move into a bigger league of deception. Merchants in several states had donated t-shirts, signs, clothing, an RV, truck accessories, a combination horse trailer and equestrian equipment to the cowboy crook.
That’s when The Long Riders’ Guild called Allen Russell.
Let me tell you about my friend, Allen Russell.
He lives in Montana, where he raises and trains horses. He’s a nature photographer, a quiet man who doesn’t say much. But when Allen talks, you better listen.
That’s what some thugs discovered when they tried to kill him and his horse, Kono. The Montana based Long Rider was making his long, lonely way from Canada to Mexico, when a carload of drunks roared by. The beer bottle they threw nearly took Kono’s eye out. Then the car spun around, and took deliberate aim at the bleeding horse and his Long Rider.
With no escape route, Russell stepped down from the saddle, pulled his pistol and calmly unloaded it into the on-coming automobile. It ground to a steaming halt at the same as time the father of the drunken teenagers inside came flying up from the opposite direction. Father and Long Rider sorted out what should be done, then Russell completed his border to border ride, journeying along the same basic route Richard Fipps had been telling the world he had just completed.
The Long Riders’ Guild asked Allen to inspect the on-line diary of Richard Fipps.
What the real equestrian explorer discovered was a patchwork of deceit and distortions.
The ride was supposed to take the charity raising cowboy on a 2,140 mile journey, with the route beginning in Mexico and finishing in Canada. Fipps website reported that he would be “heading up through the California / Arizona border along the Colorado River, the trail heads up through the eastern portion of Nevada, and on through Idaho and Montana before finishing in Calgary.”
But saying you’re going to ride this long, dry route, and actually doing it, are vastly different things.
“It’s tough country,” Russell recalled in a telephone conversation with The Guild, “with fences and gates all along the way. Yet I noticed right off that Fipps refers to riding the open range. Believe me, the open range disappeared fifty years ago.”
Another thing that struck the genuine Long Rider as being odd were the lack of media reports regarding Fipps progress across this news-hungry portion of the United States.
“When I made my ride, I was doing it for private reasons. So I tried to avoid any publicity. But I couldn’t surface for more than twenty minutes in a small town before some local reporter would be looking for a story. Even though I never asked to be interviewed, there were at least twenty articles written about me during the course of my trip.”
With a wealth of such small, but crucial facts, it didn’t take long for Allen Russell to conclude that the on-line diary was an equestrian fraud.
“The whole diary is comical. It’s full of mistakes and lies,” he said, "and what I found unusual was how little he talked abut his horses. All Long Riders develop a deep relationship with their horses and are greatly concerned with everything about them, both because they are their means of transportation and their friends."
Lacking any reality, Russell believes Fipps created an internet-driven Old West fantasy designed to hoodwink his urban donors and readers. Tales of soaring bald eagles, glorious sunsets in the Rocky Mountains, galloping herds of mustangs, and cowboys roasting marshmallows around the campfire make for pleasant reading, but have little to do with the harsh realities of equestrian reality, Russell said.
“My favorite story was how Fipps cooked up jack rabbit dumplings in his Dutch oven after a long day in the saddle. Jack rabbit? Give me a break ! Listen, when I made my ride I was so tired that I lived on oatmeal and rice 90% of the trip. The bottom line is that Fipps doesn’t speak the language of a real Long Rider,” Russell said emphatically.
|Curiously, though Fipps claims
to have ridden from Mexico to Montana, his website is innocent of
photographs taken along the way. This image was taken at Shirley
Shown's Bighorn Ranch near Fipps' home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Click on picture to enlarge - courtesy of The Las Vegas Sun.
Armed with his conclusions, Long Rider Allen Russell telephoned Richard Fipps at his home in Las Vegas. When the equestrian explorer informed Fipps of the fact that he had actually made the ride from Canada to Mexico, and that he was calling on behalf of The Long Riders’ Guild, Fipps refused to discuss the journey, put Allen on hold for ten minutes, and thereafter refused to answer his phone.
If The Guild had any doubts left, they were dispelled the next day by Shirley Shown at the Big Horn Ranch, outside of Las Vegas. Earlier this year, the elderly rancher had hired Fipps to train two young horses.
“I remember, he showed up with a great big truck and a sassy horse trailer that said ‘2002 Cowboy of the Year’,” she told The Guild. “Right away, all my boarders warned me that this guy was a phony. But I’m an older lady, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.”
Yet Shown didn’t have any qualms about saying Fipps lied to the public about his latest ride. Soon after meeting him, Shown agreed to let Fipps board his horses on her ranch. Having heard about his planned ride to Canada, the trusting rancher asked her new boarder how his plans were progressing.
“He told me the ride had fell apart,” she recalled.
Shown was stunned, therefore, to see Glen Meek’s report, on Channel 13, wherein Fipps claimed to have traversed a large portion of North America.
“According to his diary, Richard claimed he was on the road on April 28th. But I can tell you, his horses were right here at my ranch.”
In fact, Shown confirmed that Fipps’ horses had only left her property on rare occasions, never for more than three days in a row and that they were trailered when Fipps took them away.
She recalled, “You never heard such a sweet talker. He ended up taking me for more than $900. I just can’t imagine that a person could do this sort of thing time and time again.”
It was the old, old story of man’s faithlessness to his fellow-creatures and betrayal of his trust. Only now a former ally and The Long Riders’ Guild were closing in on Fipps.
City Editor Matt Hufman doesn’t like to be fooled.
So he wasn’t pleased when I called him to say that his reporter, Helen Afrasiabi, had been sold a bill of phony goods by a pretend cowboy called Richard Fipps.
Afrasiabi was no longer working for the paper, he told me.
I didn’t ask why.
The straight-talking editor immediately assigned the story to a new reporter named Jennifer Lawson.
I don’t know what Hufman told her.
But I bet it included the
words “no prisoners.”
Lawson dug in and got Fipps on the phone.
He spent his time complaining that television reporter Glen Meeks had spread lies about him.
“I offered to let him set the record straight,” Lawson told The Guild.
He declined to talk and told her not to call again.
Armed with more discoveries, and Fipps’ refusal to talk, the Sun ran a follow-up story, only this time the headline was a little more realistic than the first one had been.
“Cowboy Charity ride called Hoax,” the Sun reported.
Yes, word was getting around.
“It was important for us (the Las Vegas Sun) to correct the record and to expose this guy as a fraud.” Lawson summarized.
Of course all this activity hadn’t escaped the attention of various law enforcement organizations.
Because Fipps had supposedly been linked to two previous counts of horse theft, stock detectives in several states began investigating his movements.
Sgt. Chris Jones, of the Las Vegas police department, confirmed that their fraud department had initially investigated Fipps. But because of the wide geographic area involved, the case had been referred on to the Nevada Attorney General’s office for further investigation.
Citing their need not to discuss their cases, neither the Attorney General, nor the FBI, who were also alerted, would confirm to the press that Fipps was under investigation.
And while it seemed to be good news that earthly authorities were looking into the actions of Fipps, there was a higher power still to be discussed.
There is another aspect to this case.
Fipps profaned God.
As this article demonstrates, this architect of deceit has systematically wounded and victimized a series of well meaning people. One of the ways he did this was by his heavy handed misuse of the Christian community.
He told one reporter that
his covenant with God provided constant guidance.
His website boasted that “Evidence of Fipps’ devotion is proudly displayed on his rodeo jacket, which bears the phrase, “This cowboy is sponsored by the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” where others’ are commonly adorned with sponsors’ logos.”
“It’s the American cowboy way,” Fipps said.
Listed as one of the “Sponsors” of the Mexico to Canada ride was the “Cowboys for Christ” organization.
Yet Ted Pressley, the Founder of the biblical outfit, told The Long Riders’ Guild that Fipps was not associated with them, nor had they authorized him to list them as sponsors on his website.
Another well-known charity that felt Fipps’ sting is the “Happy Trails Children’s Foundation.”
Legendary western entertainers Roy Rogers and Dale Evans spent a lifetime devoted to children and their support of children at risk is well documented. The Happy Trails Children's Foundation carries on the work with abused children that were so important to Roy and Dale. The foundation built the Cooper Home in Apple Valley, California to provide a safe haven for children at risk, who have been severely abused and/or neglected. Prominently listed on the Sponsors page of the fraudulent “Cowboys Helping Kids” website, was the charity started by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
In a telephone conversation with The Guild, Joel Dortch, the Executive Director of the charity, expressed disbelief when he discovered that Happy Trails was listed as a Sponsor.
“We don’t know him (Fipps) and we certainly never gave him a penny. He’s obviously trying to associate his actions to our good name.”
In a follow-up email directed to The Long Riders’ Guild, Dortch shared his views of the situation.
“It is very interesting to me that we are shown as a 'Sponsor?' This appears to be a direct indication that he is using our good name to further his fraudulent agenda….Because of our close association with the legendary western entertainers Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, we must constantly be on guard against misuse of our name and reputation… Lesson learned!”
It was a lesson in deception that apparently stretches all the way across America.
Though Fipps was exposed in Nevada, his misuse of Christianity apparently has its roots in his home state of Florida.
According to court documents, Fipps was arrested for armed burglary in that state.
“During the course of the trial, the defendant carried a Bible with him. On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the defendant whether he had carried the Bible with him when he committed the offense?”
The judge wrote, “The evidence of the defendant’s guilt was overwhelming.”
Fipps was sentenced to several years in Florida state prison.
When informed of Fipps’ misuse of Christianity, famous Scottish missionary, turned Long Rider, George Patterson shared his opinion of the man.
“In my now distant youth, I had a friend who warned me, ‘Watch out for the man who prays on his knees on Sunday, and preys on his neighbors the rest of the week.”
|Though he claimed to be a devout
Christian cowboy, Richard Fipps left a trail of deceit stretching from
Florida to Montana.
Click on photograph of Fipps in an attitude of prayer to enlarge it - photo courtesy of AIM.
It is The Guild’s job to reassure the public that they can trust the word of a Long Rider.
If the ride is for a charity, then the funds should be accounted for at the conclusion of the journey.
If an equestrian traveller misuses the public’s trust, you can count on The Guild to expose the crime.
If horses are in any way abused, The Guild will inform local animal control officers.
As I said at the beginning of this long study in deceit and treachery, we have a collective need to protect ourselves against a man whose actions have brought shame on the legacy of The Long Riders’ Guild.
Fipps emerges as a strangely vampiric figure who fed, with a calculated ruthlessness, off the energies and compassion of those around him. His selfish actions now threaten to poison the complex and constantly evolving relationship which exists between Long Riders and their trusting hosts. Such actions, which are akin to a hateful virus, cannot be allowed to attack the vision and mission of The Guild.
“In my world there is a God and He knows what we need,” Fipps once told a naďve reporter.
Speaking on behalf of our international organization, I can say that The Long Riders’ Guild represents the equestrian Argonauts who take to the saddle to make a genuine life-changing equestrian journey. Consequently, The Guild will not tolerate the presence of a person who incorporates a horse into a deceptive criminal act.
The Long Riders’ Guild has, therefore, chosen to place Richard Fipps in the Hall of Shame.
He will be the first living fraud listed there, guaranteeing that future generations of Long Riders will recall the lasting legacy of this equestrian knave.
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