Zangersheide founder Léon Melchior dies at 88

Leon Melchior with Clintissimo Z at Zangersheide in 2011. Melchior has died at his home at the age of 88.
Leon Melchior with Clintissimo Z at Zangersheide in 2011. Melchior has died at his home at the age of 88. © FEI/ Dirk Caremans

Zangersheide Studbook founder Léon Melchior has died at the age of 88 at his home in Lanaken in Belgium.

He began the studbook in 1992, bringing a scientific approach to the traditional occupation of horse breeding. Today, many top-level competition horses around the world carry the “Z” suffix.

Léon Noël Melchior, who was born in The Netherlands on December 25, 1926, died on Wednesday night.

Melchior was a successful building contractor and property developer, and honorary president of premier football club MVV. He was made an Officer in the Order of Leopold, a Belgian national honorary order of knighthood and the highest in the country. He also received the Maastricht medal of merit, and was a freeman of the town of Lanaken.

He was also the founder of 53 companies.

An enterprise that began as a Jumping stables in the 1970s was transformed by Melchior into a breeding farm that eventually became the Zangersheide Stud. Attention to detail and objective assessment of results were key to the success of the Zangersheide venture. He always surrounded himself with experts that could deliver his vision, leading to the consistent production of classically bred, top-class equine athletes with the trademark Z for the Zangersheide Studbook.

Trained by Johan Heins during his international jumping career, Melchior competed on many Nations Cup teams for The Netherlands. He also organised the Belgian CSIO at Zangersheide for a number of years, as well as hosting the first FEI Nations Cup Final in 1991.

Heins, who was based at Zangersheide for many years, always said that Leon Melchior’s greatest achievement was improving the quality of horses competing in the sport of jumping through his legendary breeding programme. One of the best known horses bred by Leon Melchior was the mare Ratina Z, whom Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum rode to individual gold at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992.

Zangersheide and the production of sport horses were his two greatest passions which he enjoyed until the last weeks before his death. His incredible legacy will continue on into the future through his daughter, Judy-Ann, a member of the Belgian Jumping team who will keep the Melchior name to the fore in the equestrian world for many years to come.

Léon Melchior
Léon Melchior

“The world of show jumping and horse breeding, has lost one of its greatest friends and most generous supporters with the passing away of Leon Melchior,” FEI President Ingmar de Vos said.

“He was the first promoter that put together the world of sport and breeding with the creation of the FEI World Breeding Championships for Young Horses Jumping at Zangersheide. These prestigious championships identify the best young jumping horses, and the titles have had a very high value from the beginning more than two decades ago. With the Sires of the World, he created a global stage for the best stallions to display their talents.

“Leon was a true visionary and innovator, and his passing leaves a tremendous void in our lives that will be difficult to fill. He was a very close personal friend. I will miss him dearly and my heart is with his family.”

A tribute from the Znagersheide Studbook said: “The business world remembers him as a dynamic and successful entrepreneur. For the world of the horse sport he was an example and a pioneer. His Studfarm Zangersheide in Lanaken and breeding sport horses were his biggest passion, which he enjoyed until the very last moment.”

Melchior’s funeral will take place at Domain Zangersheide in Lanaken on Tuesday, November 17.

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