Mark Leone is one of the most successful show jumpers in WIHS history. He competed on winning USET teams at Washington and won the President’s Cup Grand Prix and won the Puissance class three times. Leone also is a top trainer, who brings students to the show.
When was the first time that you showed at Washington?
My first time was when it was at the Armory (D.C. National Guard Armory). It was right downtown. I showed pony hunters there in the early 1970s, maybe ’73 or ’74. I remember the old facility there, and then the show got moved to the Capital Center on the outskirts of the city (Landover, Md.).
What did the WIHS mean to the American equestrian scene then?
It was a major event for the United States, in the sense that it offered a Nations Cup. It always had a very strong participation by international teams. It was a big deal to have the opportunity for these people to come over and for us to go against them in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Do you remember some of the big European riders that showed at Washington?
Harvey Smith and David Broome (Great Britain) and Paul Schockmohle (Germany) came over when I was a little kid. A lot of these names from the record books would attend. One of the first years I competed in the national jumper division at Washington, the French team that won the World Championships that year came. Being a young up-and-coming grand prix rider, it always meant a lot more to go against these people.
What was it like competing at Washington as an open jumper rider?
Washington was a week-long event. It started on Sunday and finished the following Sunday. There were a slew of competitions, probably anywhere between 11 and 12 classes. It was a very long, international show with lots of prestigious classes. I remember the Eisenhower Trophy and the Puissance, the Nations Cup, the President’s Cup. There was always a very strong selection of classes that were quite prestigious.
You rode in Nations Cup classes there too right?
Yes, I did. I rode in the Nations Cup on a couple of occasions. We won one when I rode on the team with my brother Peter when the show was at the Capital Center, I think in 1998 or 1999. (WIHS was held at the Capital Center from 1975-1999.)
What do you think of the WIHS today?
Washington is such a part of our history and it’s important to maintain that continuity. The competition is back on the map as a very strong event. With what they’ve created now downtown, the logistics are excellent. They’ve done a great job fitting the horse show into the facility and making it work. The spectator attendance is quite strong, it’s got a good atmosphere, they offer very good money, and it’s a very strong show for our calendar. It’s survived the test of time, and I think what’s important is that it’s maintained on everybody’s radar screens; it’s been there for 50 years and it’s still there today. As you know, a lot of shows don’t make it or don’t last.
What’s important to keep it a special competition?
I think Washington has done a good job in moving into the 21st century. The facility, the arena, the footing; they bring a lot of good things to the table for the riders, owners, and horses. I must say that the money that they offer is quite strong. It is substantial numbers for the open jumpers. They’re really trying to produce a good event, and I think they have a really good idea of their marketing within the D.C. area. They do have people from the city venturing in to see the competition, in particular on Friday and Saturday. They’ve done a good job keeping that alive.
Washington is still holding a place in the show jumping world as a strong international show, really one of three that can say that in the United States of that stature, but Washington’s money supersedes all of the shows. In this day and age, owners and riders look for purses. That’s why Washington continues to stay on the scene.