Dom Conicelli, shown aboard Taz Precious Peppy, is a successful businessman and an active member of the reined cow horse industry, but his generosity and humbleness make him the revered man he is today. • Photo by Primo Morales.

Gettin’ Personal With… Dom Conicelli

Humble. Kind. Generous. These are just a few of the traits associated with 85-year-old Dom Conicelli.

As a past president and current director for the Atlantic Reined Cow Horse Association (ARCHA), a semi-competitive showman and successful businessman, it might seem unlikely the Skippack, Pennsylvania, resident is known more for his compassion and generosity than his success. But, his attributes fit seamlessly with a moniker he was given years ago – Mr. Nice Guy.

Born and raised in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, just five miles outside of Philadelphia, Conicelli was introduced to the saddle as a baby by his father, who would walk Conicelli around the paddock at his job. Conicelli’s interest in horses steadily grew, and he started delivering papers in his early teens to support his hobby. Of the $2.50 he earned each week, a certain amount was always earmarked for the weekends.

“I spent most of it on horses,” he said, adding that the stable rate was 50 cents per hour. “I would use that money to go to the hack stable and ride for a couple hours a weekend.”

After graduating from Conshohocken High School in 1950, Conicelli attended the Villanova University business school. He worked weekends on the labor gang at Alan Wood Steel Company for 75 cents an hour, which Conicelli remarked “was pretty good, considering Villanova tuition was $240 a semester.”

In 1954, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent two years of service in Germany.

“Having a college education, which was not so common then, I was offered the officer candidate school and possibly flight school, but that would’ve required four years active duty and four years reserve,” he said. “I didn’t want to know anything [that would make me] valuable to the Army. Besides, I was engaged to ‘Floss’ at the time and anxious to get home.”

Conicelli and Florence, his high school sweetheart and late wife, married in 1957, not long after he returned home from Germany. He went to work for General Motors repossessing cars for seven years before taking out a $5,000 loan to enter a partnership on a used car lot, which he has since parlayed into a beyond-successful family business encompassing five dealerships and an auto auction. Conicelli expressed his appreciation for his three children – Dom Conicelli Jr., Lori Hammond and Donna McNally – who help run the enterprise.

“They kind of act like I’m important once in a while,” he said with a laugh.

It wasn’t until Conicelli hit his 30s – after taking up bow hunting and archery – that he started to get heavily involved with horses again.

“I bought a pointer that I took to George Tracy in Brodbeck, Pennsylvania, for training,” he said. “George trained horseback field trial dogs, so I bought two Tennessee Walkers, a trailer and a truck, and participated in field trials with the Tracys for more than 20 years.”

While Conicelli might be known for his involvement in the cow horse industry now, he wasn’t a fan of the stockier mounts he saw early on.

“I hated Quarter Horses,” he admitted. “The only time I saw them was on the trail, and you kind of plunk around on them, you know.”

As luck would have it, though, the end of a business deal years later gained Conicelli “a couple Quarter Horses, saddles, pads and bridles.”

After debating what to do with his haul, he put a cow in front of the horses at the suggestion of a friend and, as with a lot of like-minded individuals in the industry, he fell prey to the adrenaline rush. He began team penning every weekend, but in 2004, he started researching reined cow horses and took a particular interest in a household name of the Quarter Horse industry.

“I just wanted a Smart Chic Olena,” he said.

He found one in Smokum Chicy (Smart Chic Olena x Smokums Miss Doc Bar x Smokum Oak), a 5-year-old mare owned at the time by Holy Cow Performance Horses’ Nancy Crawford, and shown by National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Hall of Famer Sandy Collier. 

Conicelli and Collier became friends thanks to that purchase, and during Conicelli’s first NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity experience in 2006, he asked Collier to find him a futurity prospect.

That horse was Tazs Precious Peppy (Pepto Taz x Splash A Little Cash x Nu Cash). The decision to buy the Collier-recommended mount proved successful, as she rode the mare to win the 2008 NRCHA Hackamore Classic Open Championship.

One of Conicelli’s greatest joys is sharing his love of horses. He is proud to teach his great-granddaughter, Ava, about them at his Kinda Silly Ranch in Pennsylvania. • Photo by Donna McNally.

Over the years, Conicelli has owned, ridden and bred many successful Western performance horses, boasting respective earnings of $257,632, $13,434 and $26,327, according to Equi-Stat. Though Conicelli said he’d have horses at his Kinda Silly Farm either way, he attributes his current active status in the industry to his resident trainer, Mark Sigler, and assistant trainer, Alex Ciavardelli.

“I only bought these horses because Mark came with me. This kid works so hard; I’ve gotta give him something to show,” he said, laughing. “Alex has been with me almost three years now. I love her to death, and I feel the same way about Mark. I couldn’t do this without them. I always tell them I’d adopt them if I didn’t have so many kids.”

Conicelli’s success is admirable, but his accomplishments are not what have made him a beloved member of the industry – it’s his honest personality.

“It’s an interesting thing how someone can be in business, be as successful as he is, and still I’ve never heard anyone say anything but high praises,” Collier said. “He’s done so much for the NRCHA. He’s encouraged people, he’s bought horses for people, he’s sold horses for people…he’s just an amazing man.”

Similar thoughts were reflected by another longtime friend and fellow cow horse competitor, Edie Petaccio, who began working for Conicelli out of high school and recently celebrated her 30-year work anniversary.

“He’s my best friend,” she said. “You learn about being a great person and a giving person when you’re around him. He’s contagious.”

She went on to explain that the time, money and effort Conicelli gives to whatever he’s involved in – whether it be adding money on top of entry fees or donating to community outreach – is a natural, everyday occurrence.

“He wants people to succeed,” she said. “You can’t find anybody that does not like the man, and that goes for our community, the horse world and the business world. It’s hard on the East Coast since there’s not a lot of cow horse people here. It’s growing, but it’s growing because of him.”

Predictably, Conicelli was quick to redirect those accolades toward someone else, to whom Conicelli credits the rise in cow horse interests in the northeast.

“I don’t charge ARCHA members or prospective cow horse riders to take a lesson, and use my cattle and facility,” he said. “I left it up to Mark, and I know of no instance of him taking a fee. It is Mark’s willingness to help everyone that has helped grow our membership.”

Regardless of his efforts to shine the spotlight elsewhere, Conicelli was recently given proof his influences resonate throughout the horse industry. During his 85th birthday party last October, he was shown a video message from Collier, surprising him with an early congratulatory announcement of his induction into the NRCHA Hall of Merit for 2018. 

“I don’t know where it came from,” Conicelli said. “I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough for the notoriety. They’ve still got to whistle or yell when I get my lead change.”

While Conicelli isn’t quick to brag on himself, he doesn’t hesitate to share his enthusiasm for being a family man. When asked what he thought about his achievements over the years, his answer was nothing if not an honest reflection of his character.

“Out of everything, I am most proud of my family now consisting of seven grandchildren and so far seven great-grandchildren.”

Conicelli isn’t as competitive as he used to be, but he’s still riding several times a week, has hopes to go to a few shows in the next couple years, and he’s looking forward to seeing his next crop of foals drop in 2018.

“It keeps me young,” he said, proving age is just a number when it comes to hanging up one’s spurs.