Valley attorney Wendy Riddell finds harmony on horseback
As the founding and managing partner of the legal firm Berry Riddell, which specializes in all areas of real estate, including development and construction, transactions and leasing, finance, litigation and more, Wendy Riddell is one of the Valley’s top-rated attorneys.
The Phoenix native began practicing law in 1998. “I was fortunate to be hired right out of school by the firm Beus Gilbert. Ironically, my current partner, John Berry, was the hiring partner there at the time,” she recalls. “Paul Gilbert, the firm’s co-founder, was very forward thinking and afforded me the flexibility to both practice law and be a new mom.”
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After about six years with Beus Gilbert, Riddell had the opportunity to continue practicing with Berry. “John focuses more on Scottsdale, whereas I have cases nearly everywhere else in the Valley,” she explains. “We have a very diverse practice, representing commercial and multifamily developers, homebuilders, health providers — you name it.”
But when not running a successful law firm, Riddell can be found training with her horse for dressage competitions.
Riddell was introduced to dressage at a young age by her mother, who was a top athlete and competitor in the field. Dressage, derived from the French word “dresseur” for “training,” is an equestrian sport in which the horse and rider perform a series of compulsory movements and footwork that increase in difficulty as they move up the levels. Similar to figure skating, the movements are paired with sound, creating a musical freestyle. Riddell does traditional dressage, which requires an English tack and saddle, which are flatter and less ornate than their Western counterparts.
As a young adult, Riddell competed professionally. She has been awarded bronze, silver and gold medals from the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and won numerous state and regional championships; she also competed in such far-flung destinations as Canada, Germany, Holland and Belgium.
It wasn’t until Riddell attended Colgate University in upstate New York that she realized how important riding and competitive dressage was to her and how passionate she was about the sport.
“When I went to college, my parents told me I could not have a horse. They wanted me to really experience college and said that they would be willing to talk after the first year if I got good grades. I lasted all of a week before I needed to be back on a horse,” Riddell remembers. “I had been riding horses since I was 4 years old, so all I had ever known was riding every day. By the end of that first quarter in college, I had three horses in training with me. Given the accomplishments I had achieved already, many of the amateurs in the area were happy to pay me to ride and train their horses, and to teach them. That’s when I realized this was a very necessary passion in my life.”
At age 19, Riddell received a grant from the United States Equestrian Team (USEF), through which she was on schedule to be an Olympic competitor. This allowed her to train and compete for a year with her personal horse at a farm just outside of Dusseldorf, Germany.
However, after competing at an international level, Riddell decided that she did not want to be a full-time horse professional but instead wanted to pursue law and create a family. “I ultimately met my husband the week I returned home and started law school at Arizona State University,” she comments.
Although Riddell is no longer involved in international competitions, she still engages at a local and national level with her two girls, 19-year-old Kenzie and 15-year-old Kali, who have ambitions to participate in the Young Riders and Junior Young Riders programs, which are akin to the Junior Olympics and regulated by the USDF and USEF.
“Dressage is a sport that appeals to people who are very detail oriented, competitive and structured,” Riddell explains. “The amount of Olympic gold medalists who are doctors or lawyers just goes to show how it attracts that type of person. Both of my daughters have those personality traits, and I think that’s why they became so interested in riding and why they prefer competitive dressage over any other form of riding.”
The equestrian sport has become not only a hobby that Riddell and her daughters are passionate about but also one of their biggest sources of bonding time.
“I’m very fortunate that I get to spend so much time with my daughters doing something that we all enjoy,” Riddell notes. “A lot of times, I’m asked how I can justify such an expensive hobby, but how many parents get the opportunity to hang out all weekend with their kids, who actually want to be there with them? To me, the sport has really brought my family closer together.”
In addition to fostering precious family time, competitive dressage has allowed Riddell to build skills that she uses every day in her career.
“In competitive dressage, you have to have a lot of tenacity to compete with horses,” Riddell says. “You have to be willing to figure it out and make it work. Using finesse and grace, I have to convince the horse to do what I want it to do. This skill also is very much needed and applied daily as a zoning attorney.”
Even with a busy work schedule, Riddell always finds the time to ride.
“If there are circumstances that prevent me from riding for a few days, my husband always tells me to find a horse somehow, some way,” Riddell says. “It’s very peaceful, and it’s just a very important part of my life.”