by Ann Jamieson
You certainly couldn’t get a better start in the show jumping world than by being the daughter of Frank and Mary Chapot. Laura has the genes, the talent, and the work ethic to follow right in her parents’ footprints. And she is doing it in high style.
Never forced by their parents to choose horses, she and her sister Wendy were given the option and encouragement, to do anything they wanted. The girls participated successfully in an after-school program in twirling and made the Junior Varsity team for tennis in high school.
But Laura knew without a doubt that horses would always be her focus. It was both her passion and her family heritage. After her first rides on the family pony Peanuts and some time in the short stirrup division, she and Brichton Sun Up showed to the National Championship in the Welsh Pony Division four times!
Showing seriously in the pony hunter division, Laura made her mark with the top pony Snow Goose, who had had great success with Greg Best and his sister Lee Ann, as well as owner Dick Prant’s daughter Nancy. Laura got the ride on Snow Goose towards the end of the pony’s career. “I had a great time with her, and she was very successful with me as well.” At Pony Finals they took the Grand Championship title and were champion in their division at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.
In addition, Laura showed the very fancy Bon Soir, by Bonne Nuit. Bon Soir was related to none other than Lendon Gray’s famous dressage pony Seldom Seen, also from the Bonne Nuit line (the same line as Good Twist and Gem Twist). Laura won Pony Finals an incredible three times with Bon Soir!
Laura stayed in the ponies for quite a while before moving up to the junior hunters. With a nice horse, Good Things, who came from Joey Darby, she did very well in the juniors. Then she moved on to her phenomenal Top Brass from Leo Conroy and the duo claimed the Horse of the Year title in the Junior Hunters.
She never pursued equitation seriously as her family didn’t have a good equitation horse for her. At that time you had to win a certain number of classes to qualify for the finals. Laura would compete on a horse boarded in their barn and loaned to her by the horse’s generous owner, with the aim of qualifying in December. After qualifying with his horse, she would then borrow a horse for the Finals. During the rest of the year, Laura focused on the hunters.
Wendy did more of the jumpers, riding the homebreds, while Laura, the younger sister, stayed in the ponies for longer before moving up to hunters and jumpers. Initially, her jumpers were catch rides. ” I never really had a single jumper that was mine as a kid,” she recalls.
When Wendy left for college, both sisters were competing in the jumpers. Beginning with smaller classes, Laura competed on some of the Good Twist horses her family had bred, including Easter Twist. She catch rode Night Cap for Jane Clark and then Dajan, a horse that came from McLain’s father, Barney Ward. Together she and Dajan earned the championship at Washington in the Junior Jumpers.
The first horse that was truly hers came from her dad’s friends, the Hendricks. The horse was a four-year-old named Sure Thing. Originally bred as a steeplechase horse, Sure Thing immediately demonstrated his talent for the jumper ring with his passion for jumping and careful style. Wendy Hendricks remembers, “He could just jump, right from the start. He was a very good jumper.” By King Pellinore out of Sacred Journey, he came from Barry Schwartz’ Stonewall Farm in Amenia, New York, through Vince Dugan. As they were all very excited about the horse and felt he had tremendous potential, Vince sent him to Frank, where Laura got the ride on him.
“I won a lot with him, and he was the first horse I did a Grand Prix on.” It was something Laura had been wanting to do, and at that point she was ready. “It was exciting to do it. But you don’t move up until you’re really prepared for it. Whatever level you’re competing at, you have to make sure that you’re really ready to do something, and that way you don’t have something happen that will set you back. You may not be perfect at it, but hopefully, it is a positive experience and something you feel capable of doing that’s not over your head.”
When Laura won her first Grand Prix, she was “just over the moon. With our family, it’s always a team effort every time we go into the ring so it means a lot to everyone to make it happen. It’s incredibly exciting and meaningful any time you can win a big class like that.”
Since then, Laura has achieved an astounding record in the Grand Prix—winning over 100 victories. She represented the United States on several winning Nation’s Cup teams and retired the Open Jumper Championship trophy at the Devon Horse Show where she has been the Leading Rider several times. In addition, she has been the Leading Rider at the Pennsylvania National, the Winter Equestrian Festival, and the HITS Saugerties circuit many times. Laura works out of Chado Farm, founded by her parents and based in Neshanic Station, New Jersey, and winters in Wellington, Florida.
A model of consistency, Laura explains, “The key is to have good horses and to keep them fresh and happy and enjoying their jobs. We never came from the background where you could just buy another horse. You really have to take care of your horses, and make sure that they’re staying happy and sound and healthy. That’s the key because especially the good ones even if you had all the money in the world they’re not easy to find and you can’t just expect to be able to replace what you’ve got. So once you get a good one you keep them happy and healthy and don’t overjump them. You pick and choose the places that you take them. After the fall shows my horses have two months off, then they go to Florida, and when they come home they get turned out again, for another month off. We really think it’s important to let a horse be a horse for a little bit and then they’re happy to come back and work hard for you, they’re very enthusiastic. I really feel that they’re not machines; that’s the way I’ve been brought up through my parents.”
Besides her parents, another great influence on Laura is Dr. Steele. “He has just a great instinct for them, and years and years and years of experience under his belt. He’s one of those rare people who has an amazing feel for them and a really good way of communicating with them and a sense of what’s wrong to back up all of his incredible knowledge. There wasn’t any time when he was around that you couldn’t learn something from him.”
Laura recently got on her current Grand Prix horse, Chandon Blue (Charlie), after several weeks off. He started leaping in the air; he was so excited to be working again. Laura thought, “Maybe he shouldn’t have quite so much time off… But that’s what you want them to feel, to be excited about going back to work. Not dreading going to the ring.”
Some of her horses are 20 or 21. “My string of horses is getting very old,” laughs Laura. “But they don’t feel it, which is great. That’s the nice thing, that they are able to compete at the level they are used to competing at even though they are older. I have a horse who was Circuit Champion at WEF last year who was 21. And I showed another horse that is 21.” Her top horse Charlie is 17 this year. “You really have to be very conscious of how you use the horses because regardless of if you have all the money in the world they’re really irreplaceable. They try their hearts out every time. That doesn’t come in every horse that walks by. When you find that kind of personality and ability you really have to take care of it.”
Laura pursued a degree in Economics at Drew University because her parents “really wanted me to have the college experience,” but she did three years and stayed there one night. “I was sort of just in and out. I don’t know how much the actual degree helped. It does teach you a way of thinking, the methodology of how you go about solving problems and learning things and that’s certainly valuable. Life experience is probably worth a whole lot more in what we do. I don’t know if I would do it again; I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there.”
Even with such a short time spent in college, Laura graduated with an Economics Degree Summa Cum Laude and received the Wall Street Journal Award for Economics and the Kramer Award for Economic History.
Laura got her judge’s cards (she’s a big ‘R” in hunters, jumpers, and equitation) as soon as she could apply. She chose to pursue judging because “My parents have always been involved with judging and it seemed like a good thing to get it done when we were eligible to have the licenses. It’s a good backup plan and if something happened and you can’t ride you always have the ability to judge and stay active with the sport. To be able to see things from the judge’s side as well as the trainer’s side makes you a much more well-rounded horseperson, not always looking at things from one perspective but from all perspectives.” While Laura is too busy right now to do much judging, it’s always there when she needs it, and “good to have it in your back pocket to fall back on.”
Her first love, says Laura, “is always the riding.” But she feels that teaching goes along with it, that it helps you keep growing. “We have clients that come with us to shows, and when you do a lot of teaching it broadens your perspective as well. You learn a lot from creating situations for people to do and what they do, both right and wrong. It expands your own knowledge and helps you figure things out because you bring in a different viewpoint.”
Laura didn’t recognize at the time just how phenomenal it was for her to have the chance to ride Gem Twist. “We got to know each other when I was rehabbing him after his injury. I never anticipated that I would ride him. It was a bit of a surprise but at the same time, I don’t know if I felt as much pressure as I would now because I was young and naive. It was exciting to have the opportunity to do it and he was such a spectacular horse.”
Laura found it easy to adjust to his style since she and Wendy “grew up with the whole Twist line of horses” so he was very much like what she was used to. “The faster you went the higher he would jump. He was so incredibly quick and light off the ground, such a phenomenal athlete. The horses from that Twist line were incredibly careful and intuitive and smart and brave so I can’t thank his owner Michael Golden enough for giving me that opportunity. It really put me on the map with the kind of success we had right off the bat.”
Laura started showing Gem in 1995 and won their first Grand Prix that year at the Autumn Classic. Next, they competed on the U.S. team at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada where they won the World Cup Qualifier Grand Prix. The team ended the season with Laura being named American Grand Prix Association Rookie of the Year! The following year she and Gem won the Budweiser AGA Championships and the Grand Prix of Florida over the largest Grand Prix ever, with a field of over 80 horses! After that, the pair won the East Coast World Cup League. While Laura only rode him for a short time, “It was amazing—kind of like living in a dream.”
As a gelding, there was no breeding another Gem Twist. But there was cloning, and the Chapots took advantage of it. Gem has one clone, Gemini. He stands in France as the breeding over there is much more abundant than in the states which gives him the opportunity to really make an impact.
Gemini didn’t compete much. Laura explains that “his whole purpose was to be a breeding stallion, to extend the Gem Twist line. He wasn’t meant to be a show horse,” Laura explains, because “It would be too hard; there would be too many comparisons,” to the original Gem Twist.” She says he looks practically identical to Gem, and genetically he is like a brother.
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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The Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (PCHA), a non-profit corporation, has as its main purpose the promotion and development of the sport of horse showing, primarily in the Hunter/Jumper, Western and Reining disciplines. These objectives are accomplished by setting the standards for showing on the West Coast and approving shows that meet these criteria.
Founded in 1946, the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association promotes the interests of owners and exhibitors, cooperates with exhibitors, officials, and management of competition, publicizes and advertises PCHA sanctioned shows, encourages and assists owners, exhibitors, and breeders of horses to maintain, develop and improve the quality of horses of the Hunter, Jumper, Western and Reining divisions.