BY ANN JAMIESON
Both Frank and Mary taught their daughters Laura and Wendy to ride. “We were so lucky with our kids they took instruction really well, we were always grateful for that,” says Mary. The girls were lucky, too. They couldn’t have had better mentors!
Laura says that both she and Wendy wanted to ride. There was no arm twisting involved. Offered other activities, they both favored riding. “Our parents gave us every opportunity to do other things, but our passion was always for riding. And they were always there for us; I think it’s just in our blood.”
While Laura obviously was aware of both her parents’ history, “He was my Dad and I respected him for who he was and not just his accomplishments. He always stressed the horses’ interests first. He made sure they had enough breaks, didn’t overjump them made sure they relaxed and enjoyed their job.”
Laura would like to follow in her parents’ footsteps if circumstances allow. “I think the Olympics is everyone’s dream if they ride at that level. Times have changed, there are so many more riders capable today. Now it’s a matter of who has the best horse that day as to who is able to do that. I would love to do the Olympics if the right horse came along but I try to do the best I can with the horses I have and set realistic goals. You have to be satisfied with that.
“My dad was very smart, very straightforward, not a man of a lot of words but he told you what he thought. He was very normal to me, a really good dad, and a lot of fun to be around. He really enjoyed his sport and was also into football and baseball. He took a lot of pride in his people whether his teams or his students or us really doing well. A big proponent of the United States, he backed the team and was very loyal and dedicated to both. He took a great deal of pride in being a member of the team and representing the team and the U.S. and American pride and doing things for your country. And was very much a team player. The team events were first and foremost in his mind. You did everything for your team even if it sacrificed your individual success. Now,” says Laura, “people seem to be focused more on individual success.”
Wendy was first up on a horse at the age of two, aboard her father’s Olympic show jumping mount and top sire Good Twist… but in a western saddle. Frank was away in Europe at the time, and the employees at the farm put her up on the horse.
Encouraged to pursue what suited them, Wendy says she and Laura tried tennis (which they played in high school on the junior varsity team), dancing, swimming (though not competitively), and twirling. They didn’t stick with any of them, and twirling ended abruptly when the sisters kept whacking themselves in the head with the baton, prompting them to think perhaps they should don their hard hats before attempting the sport. They thought perhaps dancing was better, “because there wasn’t anything to hit us.”
While their parents gave them every opportunity to do what they chose, they chose to ride. “It was there, it was in my backyard, those horses were my playmates. We went out and we rode, it was all in the opportunity. It was right there for me!” says Wendy.
They didn’t get their first pony immediately. Frank and Mary wanted to be sure the girls were serious about riding before getting them one. Initially, they took lessons at another farm, but soon their parents realized, “Hey, we can do that!” Realizing the girls were as smitten with horses as they were, they added a bay pony named Peanuts to the family.
Frank instilled in his daughters that, “If you are going to walk in the ring, go in to win. But don’t overreach, ride at the level you can be competitive in.” While the girls were anxious to compete in the Grand Prix, always bugging him, “When can we go in the Grand Prix?” his answer was always, “When you’re ready, we’ll put you in the Grand Prix.”
Wendy had a wonderful junior jumper named Good Enough, a son of Good Twist and her mother’s mare Anaconda. “He was the best junior jumper out there, but he wasn’t a Grand Prix horse.” While she competed with him in some smaller Grand Prix, like at Sussex, “He couldn’t quite make it over the wider oxers at a Grand Prix.”
Wendy remembers watching her father compete on Good Twist many times, including at Madison Square Garden. Good Twist was important not only for his many accomplishments in the ring but for the horses he sired, many of which were horses Wendy and Laura showed. “He had the biggest influence on my life because I showed a lot of his children. We were such a tight family unit. We traveled together to the shows, and everyone respected my father.” She never looked at her father as the celebrity that he was among horse people, because “He was just my dad and he was always with us.”
Frank became chef d’equipe of the U.S. squad in 1980, a role he continued to play for the next 24 years, bringing unparalleled success to the team. He always taught his riders “Don’t interfere, don’t get in the way, leave the horse alone and let him do his job.” Although they didn’t get to compete in 1980, the year the U.S. boycotted the Games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the team more than made up for it by winning their first Olympic gold in 1984 in Los Angeles. The history-making team was composed of Joe Fargis and Touch of Class, Conrad Homfeld on Abdullah, Leslie Howard on Albany, and Melanie Smith on Calypso.
In the 1986 World Championships in Aachen, they took team gold with Conrad Homfeld on Abdullah, Katie Monahan on Amadia, Katherine Burdsall on The Natural, and Michael Matz on Chef. In 1987 at the FEI Show Jumping World Cup in Paris, Katherine Burdsall and The Natural scored the win, while Lisa Jacquin and For the Moment came third. In 1988 the team took silver in the Seoul, South Korea Olympics, with Frank’s homebred Gem Twist, ridden by Greg Best, taking the individual silver. Team members were Lisa Jacquin and For the Moment, Anne Kursinski and Starman, and Joe Fargis and Mill Pearl. Frank repeated the result in 1996 in the Atlanta Olympics with team silver again, this time with Peter Leone and Legato, Leslie Burr Howard and Extreme, Anne Kursinski and Eros, and Michael Matz and Rhum IV.
Frank retired from his chef d’equipe position after the 2004 Games in Athens.
Gem Twist meant the world to Frank. After riding his sire, Good Twist, to numerous victories, he bred Gem and brought him along to spectacular successes. He didn’t have the most auspicious start, however. Mary recalls that as a youngster, “He was one of the clumsiest horses I ever rode.” She spent time strengthening and conditioning him with hours of hill work, and he turned into the superstar we all know.
With Greg Best, Gem won the 1985 USET Talent Derby as a six-year-old. He then continued on to win his first two Grand Prix, the Grand Prix of Tampa, and the Grand Prix of Florida, finishing that year with the AGA Horse of the Year title, and a team silver from the Pan Am Games. Greg and Gem earned two silver medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and he was named World’s Best Horse at the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He took his second AGA Horse of the Year in 1989 with Leslie Lenehan aboard, when Greg was injured and couldn’t ride. Leslie also rode Charisma and Gem Twist in the (USET) Show Jumping Championship at the Bayer/USET Festival of Champions to a tie for first place.
After a layup due to an infection, Gem returned to the show ring with Laura Chapot as his rider. Although she was still a “Young Rider” (under 21) she and Gem stormed the show world just as he had done with his previous riders. They won the World Cup Class at the $100,000 Autumn Classic at New Hope Farms in Port Jervis, New York, with Laura garnering the Budweiser Rookie of the Year Award. Laura then piloted Gem to his third AGA Horse of the Year title. The following year, they won three World Cup qualifying classes, including the Volvo Grand Prix of Florida, held in Tampa. The record 80 horse field made it the largest grand prix jumper class of all time.
They won their last class together, the World Cup USA East League Championship, held at the same venue where he’d won his first Grand Prix class with Greg, nine years earlier. Gem was formally retired at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden on November 1, 1997, earning a standing ovation from the crowd. He earned more than $800,000 during his career.
Wendy says her father was particularly proud of the “Best Horse in the World” title that Gem earned.
Laura says, “He was a spectacular horse, one of a kind. While my father wasn’t usually an emotional person, he really cared a lot about Gem. It was a very special time with him and a very special horse. For him to go through with Greg and Leslie and then with me (to the AGA Horse of the Year Title) was very special for him.”
Gem continued to accompany the family to horse shows after his retirement, staying close to those who loved him. He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2002. About Gem Twist, Frank said, “He had it all. More than any other horse, he had the desire not to hit the jump. A good horse like this you don’t have to train because he has it all…you just want to tell him the truth, and go with him.”
More than a Rider
Frank, thinking about his life and the honor of being on the team, once said that “coming close to winning some gold medals, which I did a couple of times, how can a person who’s not very wealthy dream of being able to do that?”
The U.S. Olympic Committee stated that Chapot’s influence “reached every aspect of show jumping.” Much more than a rider, Frank used his talent and knowledge “to take the next generation of the U.S. team to the highest levels of the sport.”
Chrystine Tauber was privileged to ride with Frank as a member of the U.S. Show Jumping Team. “He always inspired you to be highly competitive in every class,” she recalls. Some great advice he gave her was, “If you don’t win the first class, you cannot win them all!” As Chef d’Equipe, Frank “was a fervent supporter of the Olympic effort, and deserves a great deal of credit for making show jumping what it is today in the United States.”
Wendy adds, “He loved competing for the United States of America,”
Frank stressed, “If you’re going to walk in the ring, go in to win.” He told his students and kids, “Let them go clear,” and by that, he meant give the horse all the tools they need to do the job they did. Don’t hang on their face. Don’t overuse your aids. You do your part and allow the horse to do his part.”
He taught his daughters to “be competitive. Don’t try to overreach.” When they wanted to do the Grand Prix, Frank told them they would do it when they were ready.
They didn’t think of their Dad as a star, he was just their dad, someone they saw every day, they traveled to the shows with him, and “It was just the way it was for us.”
At Frank’s memorial, Wendy was “profoundly struck by how many people considered him to be a very good friend.” So many people he influenced, from Billy Steinkraus to Peter Leone and McLain Ward, all remembered Frank as someone willing to step up and help anyone, teach anyone, someone who befriended them all and stood by them. “Whether it was walking the course or whatever help they needed, he offered it to them. He was my dad and that was what he did. If you needed help, and he was able to, he helped you.”
Wendy named her son Frank in honor of her father.
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About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years.
She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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