Between 1982 and 1999, Peter Leone, was a mainstay on the US show jumping team.
He jumped in six World Cup Finals, won the team silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and narrowly missed the podium at the 1984 World Championship in Dublin (Team USA finished fourth).
Then there was an 18-year break from championship competition.
Leone, like many riders before him, turned his focus to training students and developing horses, building Lionshare Farm in CT into a successful business. Now, after nearly two decades of juggling a hectic coaching schedule, clients, and prospect horses, he’s set his sights on making the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Paris, France.
“I really want to get back there again. I really want to jump in Paris. So, I’m a man on a mission,” said Leone.
The horse he’s banking on taking him there: Capito Z, a nine-year old Zangersheide gelding previously ridden by fellow American Catherine Passmore.
Leone took over the ride in 2015, after being drawn to the horse’s power, energy, attitude and “electric punch off the ground.”
“He’s a real tiger,” said Leone.
In fact, the bay gelding reminds him of his 1996 Olympic partner, Legato, and also Costello, a top international horse Leone rode at the beginning of his career.
“He’s a really special horse. He’s got the right instincts, character, and ability of a champion,” he said.
Leone knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed at the World Cup Finals. He finished in the top 14 at the six World Cup Finals he competed in, and was fifth twice.
But the mission this time around is not without challenges. While Leone believes Capito Z has all the talent, he admits the horse is young and very green. They’ve only jumped in one 1.60m class to date—the World Cup Qualifier in Bromont, Quebec earlier this month.
“He’s very, very low on miles…I’ve never jumped him indoors before and ultimately, if we can make it to Paris, that’s where we are going to be put to the test.”
To boost his chances of qualifying, Leone has opted to strategically campaign his young horse on the West Coast tour, instead of in the East, where his business is based.
“Qualifying for the World Cup Finals is extremely difficult. The task, the mission, is going to be very challenging,” said Leone.
“While it’s very difficult to try to qualify and earn World Cup points out here on the West Coast, it’s even more difficult on the East Coast. I do want to try to maximize my young horse’s chances of making it, so we’re going to go mountain climbing out here in the Rockies, here on the West Coast, and see what we can do.”
He’s all in on the journey, too. Leone has left his business and clients behind while he concentrates all his efforts on qualifying for Paris.
“On this west coast swing, on this mission, it’s just me and two horses. So I’m really thrilled with the opportunity to just dial in on my two horse and my riding out here on this quest,” he said.
Following this weekend’s World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, BC, Leone will contest the Qualifiers in Sacramento and Del Mar, then head back to Canada for the Royal West in Calgary. His West Coast tour will finish in Las Vegas this November, before he heads to Florida for the winter.
With an unproven horse, Leone knows he’s a longshot for Paris. But, at age 57, he says his experience is an advantage.
“People ask me why do still want to jump at the highest level of the sport? And the answer is simple. I love it. I’ve always loved show jumping. As a kid, I watched Rodney Jenkins, Bernie Traurig, all the great riders, William Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, and that was my dream. It’s still my dream. When I’m on a horse at competition, I still feel like a kid,” he said, adding, “Fortunately, in this sport, you ride better the older you get as long as you don’t break.”
Follow Leone and Capito Z’s ride to Paris over the next eight months here at Horse Network. We’ll be checking in with the promising pair regularly as they attempt to earn their spot among the ten American riders (seven from the East Coast subleague and three from the West Coast subleague), who will qualify for the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in France next April.
The last word from Leone:
“If we are able to get to Paris, don’t be surprised. He may be a long shot, but he might be worth putting a few dollars on.”
About the Author
Anne Helmstadter is a writer and lives in Las Vegas. When she’s not riding her OTTB she can be found supporting her two girls at horse shows and driving to and from the barn in her horse scented car. Her writing has appeared at literarymama.com and in Las Vegas’ Zip Code Magazines. Follow Anne’s blog at www.bitspieceslife.com