US jumping legend Frank Chapot dies at 84

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Frank Chapot, the former Olympian and US Team Jumping coach who has passed away at the age of 84, competing with Trail Guide at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome where he was a member of the silver medal team.
Frank Chapot, the former Olympian and US Team Jumping coach who has passed away at the age of 84, competing with Trail Guide at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome where he was a member of the silver medal team. © Collection Poudret

US showjumping legend and six-time Olympian Frank Chapot has died at the age of 84 in New Jersey.

Chapot died on June 20 at the CareOne at Somerset Valley Assisted Living Center in Bound Brook, NJ, where he was under care for Alzheimers.

Frank Chapot (24.2.32 – 20.6.16)
Frank Chapot (24.2.32 – 20.6.16)

A 1955 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he first joined the United States Equestrian Team (USET) in 1956 as its youngest member and while still on active duty as a Captain in the US Air Force. For the next 20 years, Chapot compiled an enviable record with the USET: two Olympic Silver Medals, an individual Bronze Medal in the 1974 World Championships, participating on a record 46 winning Nations’ Cup teams, and gaining victories in such prestigious events as the President’s Cup, the Grand Prix of New York, and London’s George V Gold Cup.

Following his riding career, Chapot succeeded Bertalan de Némethy as the U.S. team’s chef d’equipe, a position he held until his retirement in 2005. In that role, he helped the US attain two historic and previously elusive goals: first-ever team Gold Medals in the Olympic Games (1984) and in the World Championships (1986).

In the 1988 Olympics, Chapot’s contribution to the Team’s Silver Medal went far beyond his role as chef d’equipe. Greg Best, the individual Silver Medalist, was Chapot’s pupil, and Best’s mount, Gem Twist, was a horse of Chapot’s own breeding and a son of Good Twist, one of his former mounts. Two years later, Gem Twist was named “Best Horse” at the World Championships in Stockholm, and he earned AGA Horse of the Year honors three times.

Chapot had a riding style that was a combination of electrifying speed, utter determination and intense competitiveness and it contributed to the election of three of his mounts to the Show Jumping Hall of Fame – San Lucas, Trail Guide and Good Twist. Above all, he was known for his love and appreciation for the US Team. He was rarely seen without a USA hat and polo shirt.

Chapot served as the US Equestrian Team’s Vice-President for Show Jumping for many years. He also had an active career as a course designer and judge, and for years he rode timber races with considerable success, twice being placed in the Maryland Hunt Cup. Chapot was a founding member of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Board of Directors and served on the Board of Directors of the American Grandprix Association (AGA) and several horse shows. He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1994.

Born February 24, 1932, Francis Davis Chapot married his two-time Olympic teammate, the former Mary Mairs, in 1965, and they raised two daughters, Wendy and Laura, both of whom became equestrians, with Laura achieving a highly-successful Grand Prix career that included a team Bronze Medal at the 2007 Pan American Games. He is also survived by his son-in-law, Edward Nunn, and three grandchildren, Frank, Mary and Cathleen Nunn.

“Frank loved his days as a rider and the success he achieved with Bill Steinkraus and George Morris. He especially treasured the opportunity he had to train with Bert de Némethy,” said Mary Chapot.

“Although a formidable competitor, especially against the clock, his main focus was always the Nations Cup. He had little patience with riders who wanted to save their best horse for the Grand Prix. I like to think that his early input has contributed to more money being added in to those competitions, and the scheduling of most Nations Cups to the Friday before the Sunday Grand Prix, rather than the day before, as was usual way back when.”

Chapot remained active in the sport until recent years, when his health declined. He was a renowned course designer and judge and was very much involved in the governance of the sport. In 2001 he received the United States Equestrian Federation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the sport.

The Hamilton Farm Stable Courtyard will honor George H. Morris, William C. Steinkraus and Frank D. Chapot. Photo Courtesy of the USET Foundation.
Frank Chapot, pictured at right with George Morris and Bill Steinkraus in their heyday. © USET Foundation.

“Frank was a legend in his own life time,” John Roche, FEI Director of Jumping said. “He was a horseman through and through, with an amazing eye for a horse. Apart from having an outstanding career as a rider, he was a very accomplished trainer. He was a passionate supporter of the Nations Cup competition and was on 46 winning Nations Cup teams.

“For many years he played a very important role in establishing and managing the FEI World Cup Jumping series in North America. He was an accomplished course designer and a hugely respected FEI international Jumping judge. His passing marks the end of an era. He helped to shape equestrian sport in the United States and will be greatly missed by all those who were fortunate enough to have come in contact with him. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary and daughters Laura and Wendy.”

FEI 1st Vice-President John Madden said Frank Chapot was one of his best friends, “one of international Jumping’s best friends, one of the United States’ best friends and certainly one of the best friends of the horse”.

“Frank knew more about friendship than most. He was fiercely loyal, honest and clear. He was a man of few words, a family man, tough as nails but full of compassion. These human qualities shaped show jumping in America and influenced it worldwide. Every US rider today has been influenced in a positive way by Frank. He made us all better. I will miss him. We will all miss him.”

Chapot’s funeral service will be private, but a memorial celebration will take place in the fall at the US Equestrian Team Facility in Gladstone, New Jersey.

The below video celebrates Frank Chapot’s induction into the Showjumping Hall of Fame.

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