Frank Chapot is one of the most famous riders in American history. He first joined the United States Equestrian Team in 1956 while still on active duty with the U.S. Air Force and was its youngest member. Over the next 20 years Chapot compiled an enviable record with the USET—two Olympic silver medals, an individual bronze in the 1974 World Championships, and was a member of a record 46 winning Nations’ Cup teams. Chapot won two WIHS President’s Cup Grand Prix events—one riding the famous San Lucas in 1965. He is married to the former Mary Mairs, twice his Olympic teammate and the first American rider to win a show jumping Pan American Games individual gold medal.
Following his career as a rider, Chapot became the USET’s show jumping chef d’equipe, helping it attain two historic and previously elusive goals: the first team gold medals in an Olympic Games (1984) and in a world championship (1986). At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Chapot’s contribution went beyond his role as chef d’equipe. His pupil, Greg Best, won the individual silver medal riding Gem Twist, a horse bred by Chapot and the son of another top Chapot mount, Good Twist.
What was special about the WIHS when you rode there?
Back then, there were a lot of dignitaries and very important people that would come to the show, like John F. Kennedy and his wife. The Armory always had special character. (The show was held at the D.C. National Guard Armory from 1958-1974.)
What was your first experience at the show?
I competed at the first-ever WIHS (1958) before it was a CSIO. There was no Nations Cup class there yet, but it had a very special grand prix. I rode a horse named Trail Guide and beat the 1952 Olympic gold medalist Hans Guenter Winkler (Germany). I have very fond memories of winning that first grand prix ever held. I’ll never forget that.
Tell us about the horse you rode to that first victory.
Trail Guide was 19 years old. I rode him in the 1956 Olympic Games in Rome. He belonged to the USET and was an old cavalry horse. Back then, we swapped horses around (for the team), so I wasn’t the only person to ride him.
What were your experiences like with the Nations Cup classes?
I rode in the Nations Cup every year. We won the Nations Cup many, many years…when I was a rider and chef. I remember one year when we won the Nations Cup, (then Vice-President) Hubert Humphrey handed us the trophy. We had Billy Steinkraus as our captain until he retired, and then I was the captain. My wife Mary rode on the team, Bill Roberts was on it—there were lots of good team members. In the old days, we only had three riders on a team; now there are four.
In those days, all the shows picked up the tab for international teams to come over; there was Harrisburg, Washington, the National Horse Show, and The Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Washington was very highly regarded as a competition. It was very important for official teams to come over and make an international competition in the U.S. In later years, it was probably not at the same level. It was very difficult to get the star riders to make the trip over until we got the World Cup classes here.