Wendy Chapot Nunn: Choosing a Different Path

Photo © Kind Media

by Ann Jamieson

Wendy Chapot Nunn first sat on a horse when she was two. The horse was one of the most famous in the world, her father’s jumper, Good Twist. Frank was away in Europe, and Wendy’s mom Mary, along with the barn staff, put Wendy up in a western saddle. It was the perfect start to a lifetime in the sport.

Wendy and Good Twist

Horses in the Back Yard

Wendy and her sister Laura never had to leave home to be with horses. They were always there—an opportunity right in their backyard. “Those were my playmates, we just went out and we rode,” recalls Wendy.

Despite being the daughters of two of the most famous riders in American history, Frank and Mary Chapot, the girls were never coerced to ride. Their parents made sure they had other options, to feel free to choose what interested them. Tennis was one choice, and they were good enough to compete on the Junior Varsity team in high school. They also tried dance and baton twirling. Dancing quickly won out, as they found that twirling batons was a dangerous sport that resulted in them getting hit in the head by out-of-control batons. They thought perhaps the solution might be to wear their hard hats during practice. But dancing proved an even better idea because there was no chance at all of head injuries! 

Initially, when Wendy was learning to walk and trot, her parents took her to an assistant trainer at one of the local farms because the farm had a pony. After a year or two of that, they realized, “We can do this ourselves. We don’t have to pay for someone to do this!”

The girls’ first pony, Peanuts, didn’t come easily. They had to beg for him because their parents wanted to be sure they were truly interested in riding before getting them a pony. Wendy started showing in Short Stirrup, then did the Pony Hunters and some Pony Jumpers. She remembers the Pony Jumpers were all Table I (rub classes) back then, which no longer exists today. It wasn’t just knockdowns and time, rubs were scored as well, and the class was placed accordingly. “They didn’t want us to go fast!” laughs Wendy.

Her medium pony hunter, Periwinkle, was “not the fanciest but could go in cold. She had a huge stride and was just a beautiful jumper. She was so easy, she taught me a lot. You jump in long, you need to pull…you go in short you need to move up. She taught me a lot of the basics.” Another pony, Bon Soir, a Bon Nuit mare, was a large pony Wendy got when she was 15 or 16. “She was very fancy, I got her started then handed her off to Laura.”

She showed Newsgirl in the Junior Hunters. The mare was “out of my mom’s sister’s mare by one of Good Twist’s grandsons. I showed her in Junior and A/O hunters plus some equitation, and A/O Jumpers. Laura also showed her in the equitation and did well with her. 

The Good Twist line

As a teenager, Wendy moved up to the Schooling Jumpers, and did the Junior Hunters and later the Amateur Owner Hunters with young horses her parents had bred. She was fortunate to ride a whole line of horses descended from her parents’ horses. “While all of them were good, they weren’t all superstars. All of the Good Twist horses and Bonne Nuit horses were good at something but it might not have been the Grand Prix. They might have been at the 3′ level, or the 3’6” level, but whatever level they were at, they always taught us something. Maybe it was in the Schooling Jumpers, they taught me to jump the fence first before you think about turning! We learned to know our level, be competitive, and have fun with it!”

Wendy remembers Good Twist most clearly. “I saw him compete at Madison Square Garden, and he had the biggest influence on my life because I showed a lot of his children.”

Wendy qualified for both the Medal and Maclay Finals twice, and rode in Madison Square Garden in the Maclay finals. She finished fourth in the USET finals riding her junior jumper Good Enough. At that particular finals, instead of a flat phase, they did a dressage test, and Good Enough really liked it, helping her nail a great placing. Good Enough was by Good Twist out of Anaconda (her mom’s horse). “He was the best High Junior Jumper out there but he wasn’t a Grand Prix horse. We did one little Grand Prix at the Sussex County Horse Show, but in the Grand Prix the oxers were just a little too wide for him and the fences a little too high.”

With Snappy Twist, another talented Good Twist jumper, Wendy competed at Harrisburg amongst other top shows, taking the Junior Jumper Reserve Championship one year, as well as competing with the team. Wendy’s True Grit was purchased from Todd Minikus, the first horse they bought for her, as all of the others (except some ponies) were homebreds.

Family Values

Frank always taught the girls, “If you’re going to participate, if you’re going to go in the ring, go in to win. Be at the level where you can win the class, be competitive.”

While the girls were anxious to compete in the Grand Prix, Frank always told them, “When you’re ready, we’ll put you in the Grand Prix.”

The sisters almost never competed against one another, as Mary did her best to make sure they showed in different divisions, never placing them in the awkward situation of having to ride against one another. When Laura was younger she focused on the hunters, while Wendy did the jumpers. Once Wendy was off to college, Laura started competing in more jumpers.

The girls were always very close to their father. “We had a tight family unit, he was always there, that’s just the way life was. Everybody respected him, we never thought about how famous he was, he was just our Dad, and it’s just the way it was.”

As a coach, Frank encouraged the girls to “Stay out of the horse’s way, don’t distract them, give the horse all the tools they need to do what they can do. And have enough pace, don’t distract them by pulling on their face.”

Wendy remembers her father was never just about himself, he always did all he could to help others. He’d even walk the course with other riders to help them. Both Frank and Mary taught the girls to have fun with riding and showing. “If you’re not having fun, don’t do it.”

College and Career 

In college, Wendy earned a Bachelor of Science in Accounting with a minor in law from Lehigh University. Although she considered going to law school, she “couldn’t stand the thought of going to school anymore!” She chose accounting because of the results she got in an 8th grade aptitude test. The test showed she was “good at math” and she liked it as well, pointing towards accounting as a possible profession for her.

Wendy liked that the tests gave her “some idea of what you want to be. It was a nice way to get a little direction.” She went for accounting and has never regretted it. Working now for KPMG, one of the big accounting firms, Wendy is a managing director in the Department of Professional Practice. The department is their national office, and if people have questions or want an interpretation of something, “They call us and say ‘What do I do with this?’ I have to do the research and find out what they should do. I love it because I’m helping people. We create practice aids, and develop training to help guide people.”

In addition, Wendy is also a judge. “I’ve had my license since I was18.” She did her apprenticeships during spring break in school when she would go to Tampa or some other big show being held at the time, work on her requirements, and stay with her Dad. “I had my big “R” by 21,” she relates, which is probably some kind of a record!  Wendy is licensed in Hunter, Jumpers, and Hunt Seat Equitation. She has an FEI Level II Jumper Judge license as well. “I really do enjoy the judging, and balancing my riding. My judging helps keep me engaged in the horse show world.”

Wendy chose to go with accounting instead of horses because after she graduated from Lehigh University, Greg Best was still riding at the barn. She knew Laura wanted to do the horses and didn’t feel that the barn could support three trainers. Wendy elected to pursue accounting, but keep riding. If one of the others decided not to do the barn she could get back in it if she chose. 

Instead, she found she loved her job and also discovered that a steady paycheck instead of the insecurities of the horse world was a pretty nice perk. “There’s some comfort in a steady job, knowing what you need to do. The horse business is tough: doing it is one thing, excelling at it, and buying a home and supporting a family is exceedingly difficult. Knowing you have a steady paycheck every two weeks is heartening.”

Wendy with family, son Frank, husband Ed, daughter Mary and daughter Cathleen. Photo courtesy of Wendy Chapot Nunn

Family Life

Wendy’s husband Ed is a fireman, and they have three kids. Each does their own thing: Mary likes to ride, Cathleen does gymnastics, and Frank enjoys helping out at horse shows.

Daughter Mary riding. Photo © ESI

Wendy now competes in the high adult jumpers. Since a full-time job and three kids keep her very busy, she’s lucky she has a lifetime of riding behind her. Even though she generally only gets to ride once a week, “I’ve been doing it for a long time so I can do it.” Laura keeps her horses fit, and muscle memory serves her well. 

Since she is not riding as a professional Wendy can just go in and enjoy herself without any pressure. She shows two horses. Caché is out of Samantha (a European warmblood), a mare Laura used to show, by the stallion Quite Easy. General Thompson, who was bred by Carol Thompson, is by Gemini out of a Thoroughbred cross mare that she had. Caché was champion at Devon this year, won half the classes at Lake Placid along with the Reserve Championship, took the blue in the Classic at Saugerties recently, and was Reserve Champion individually in the Zone 1/2 Championships. Last year they took the Gold there. It’s been a heady year for Wendy and Caché!

Some of Wendy’s most treasured victories include being Gold Medalist at the Zone Championships last year on Caché, as well as champion at Devon this year. “She’s just been an amazing horse for me! “I also won the Zone Championships a few years ago on a horse named Face Value.”

Wendy and Face Value earning the gold at the Zone 1/2 Championships. Photo © ESI

With all that on her plate, Wendy somehow manages to help out with the Zone 2 Committee. “It only takes about an hour a month,” she says. Their task is to help create the class specs for zone divisions such as children’s and adult hunters and look at ways to help their members with things such as clinics and sending a team to Young Riders, where they help out with stalls and entry expenses. They also help plan the Zone 2 Jumper championships, figuring out who can host it and what kind of classes to run.

Good Enough (Spunky)

Her closest bond with a horse was with Good Enough, with whom she scored many important wins. “He went in a big fat rubber snaffle, and he was so sweet on the ground. I knew him as a kid. My dad showed him in the hunters as a baby, so we kind of grew up together. At Lake Placid, we won five out of six classes, and were second in the other one. We called him Spunky,” and Spunky was legendary. Wendy could turn two strides out to a 4’6″ fence, and Spunky would yank his knees up and clear the fence. After that Wendy had to be constantly warned if she tried to make a turn that was too tight for another horse to do. She would be told, “You can’t make a Spunky turn, you’ve got to give them more room.”

At a Jack LeGeoff clinic Wendy attended, he taught riders to make what he considered a tight turn. He said “We’re going to teach you to make a three-stride turn,” thinking that was going to be difficult for the students. 

Wendy’s reaction was, “Oh, you want me to make a wide turn?! I can do a three-stride turn; I can do a two-stride turn!”

She’ll never forget the victories she and Spunky shared…or the turns they made.

Wendy has managed to juggle a demanding career, and family life while continuing to compete at the top level of the horse show world. Her accomplishments are a testament to her character. And her character is a reflection of her parents, two beloved icons of the horse show world. Some would find it intimidating to follow in those footsteps. But Wendy chose her own path and has proven just as successful in her unique way.

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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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