Each week on #HallOfFameThursday, Horse Network recognizes members of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame with an inductee’s plaque, historical photos and, on the first Thursday of every month, an article written by a Show Jumping Hall of Famer. This week, we recognize Mary Mairs Chapot, Show Jumping Hall of Fame class of 1992.

When I first rode with the USET in the early 1960s, Bert de Némethy had had a marvelous team of men who had for some time been his traveling team.

As some started to go their separate ways, and Bert was able to convince some shows in Europe to take an extra rider here and there, Kathy Kusner and I were lucky enough to be asked to fill those spots.

Some shows would offer a “Ladies” class, but, in general, as now, we all competed against one another. This was really no big deal, although sometimes it was made out to be in the non-equestrian press who were more used to reporting on sports where men and women competed separately.

Mary Mairs Chapot

The real difference back then was that the FEI required a minimum weight of 154 lbs for women, and 165 lbs for men, including the saddle. Nations’ Cups and the Olympic Games required 165 lbs for all. This was a real nightmare for most of the women and some of the lightweight men, as the available racing lead pads, when filled, were like boards. Kathy used to say that she felt as if she was sitting on a pile of rocks!

I somewhat solved the problem by having pockets sewn into a threefold girth, and inserting the lead bars in there. While more comfortable for me, I don’t imagine it was so comfortable for my horse, and I couldn’t load enough lead in the girth to be able to do away with the lead pad completely.

Kathy, with the help of her father, experimented with replacing the padding in her saddle with specially made inserts containing mercury. Later, and much better, was a lead pad that saddlemaker Jimmy Weibe designed with pockets in front of the saddle and behind the rider’s legs, and that made all the difference. This was by far the best solution for Kathy and several of the riders on our team who joined us later. That was one rule that we were very happy to see disappear, too late for us, but an unrealized relief for the many women to follow.

Mary Mairs Chapot was honored in Lake Placid on the 50th anniversary of her winning the first Grand Prix ever held in the US in Cleveland in 1965.

In the end, it wasn’t about boys versus girls, men versus women, or males versus females, it was about yourself and your horse, how well you developed a partnership, and how well you rode. I shall forever be grateful to all my horses, especially Tomboy and White Lightning, for giving me the opportunity to represent my country and to experience all that went with it.

The Show Jumping Hall of Fame is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charity that relies solely on contributions to operate. If you liked this story, please consider supporting its efforts to preserve our sport’s history. Donations can be made online at www.ShowJumpingHallofFame.net.

About the Author

American equestrian Mary Mairs Chapot competed at the 1964 Summer Olympics and the 1968 Summer Olympics. She’s a three-time Pan American Games medalist, winning individual and team gold medals at the 1963 Sao Paulo Games in Brazil, as well as team silver in the 1967 Winnipeg Games in Canada.

Feature image: Bill Steinkraus, Kathy Kusner, Frank Chapot and Mary Mairs. Photo courtesy of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame