Chat: Show Jumper Peter Leone

Welcome to and’s Chat with Peter Leone!

?Practical Horseman. All Rights Reserved.

This will be a hosted Chat, where questions and comments will be sent by you to the Host. The Host will then select questions that will be directed to Peter for his reply. You WILL NOT see your questions or comments unless they are selected by the Host. Because of the moderation features, your name will not be visible in the display, assuring your privacy online.

Vetprincess: My 1st question; what advice would you give for training a young horse successfully?
Peter Leone For starters, I recommend that you take a conservative approach. If it’s very young, do 2-3 months of training and education and turn him out for a few months. Don’t train a youngster for 12 months straight. That’s what’s best for the brain and the character of the horse. A dose of training, and a dose of turn out so they can grow up a bit. Also, I think it’s important with young horses to NOT train for too long in any one session. With a 3, 4 year old if you have their concentration for 20 minutes it’s a lot to drill for longer than 25 minutes is counterproductive.

Laura: To start out easy…….what is your favorite breed of horse & why?
Peter Leone Well, I’m going to answer it in relation to show jumping. I tend to like warmbloods with a lot of Thoroughbred as opposed to the American Thoroughbred. In the warmbloods, you have a range of breeds, so the typier warmblood within each breed (German, Dutch, etc.) is best. I like the Holsteiners best if I have to say one breed.

Vetprincess: Who do you credit for your success as a well respected horseman?
Peter Leone well, I’d have to say there are really two areas of thanks. One is my parents and family. In terms of character and mindset that they have contributed to me throughout my life has enabled me to be a reliable and successful competitor. As it relates to horsemanship one is my first significant trainer, Sullivan Davis, an oldtime horseperson who taught me how to bandage and load, break to a cart, longe line, groom, etc. – the basics of horsemanship. Then, George Morris, Frank Chapot, Bert DeNemethy and Michael Matz.

Vetprincess: What are Mr. Leone’s goals for the future at this point?
Peter Leone An ongoing goal is always to find and develop a top string of international horses even though I’m experienced, the thrill of competing successfully internationally is still very much the highlight of my effort. That will continue to be my goal. Olympic Games, World championships, etc… I also enjoy teaching and sharing what I’ve learned with students and I find that much more rewarding than I expected when I was turning professional.

SlimShadyD12: How young is too young to start grand prix?
Peter Leone As far as a rider goes I think physical size and experience is more important than age. Internationally, you can’t compete until 18, but I wouldn’t find it inappropriate for a talented 15, 16 year old to jump a bigger track. As it relates to horses, I don’t like to see a horse younger than seven in a grand prix. Even seven is young. On a conservative note, eight years and older is where I’m most comfortable seeing them in the grand prix.

Faith090: What advice do you have for a college student that wants to ride while in school and wants to go to school for horses?
Peter Leone Yes, Faith, I can give you some advice. Number one, it is a realistic and rewarding goal to stay with horses that is obtainable in our country. There are excellent college programs where you can get a great education and fabulous experience in the saddle and around horses. The nice thing about an equestrian college is that they just don’t introduce you to riding they give you the whole picture, care maintenance and dollars and cents as it relates to horses.

Vetprincess: I know that Anne Kursinski doesn’t do a lot of jumping on a day-to-day basis. Do you do anything like this with your horses?
Peter Leone In general, I don’t jump my horses a lot but, prior to competition, I think it is equally poor for the horses to go from no jumping to full scale competition jumping. So when I’m within 30-45 days of an event, I’ll do a half dozen days of flatwork and small jumps, where I take the flat work and incorporate jumps to develop their muscles. So when I do 3, 4, or more period schools I don’t injure my horse because I’ve prepared him physically. How many schools I do prior to competition depends on the age and experience of the horse. Horses like Legato, I do a minimum of schools, maybe two. And that’s with the knowledge of knowing I’ll do 2 or 3 smaller events prior to the grand prix. I’ll use small competition as a school to prepare for the grand prix.

Host The following are three similar questions for you:
Of all the horses you have ridden, which was most special, and why?
What horse taught you the most? And what were the lessons?
What has been your favorite horse to compete on?
Peter Leone They are all different horses. The most special horse I’d have to say, there’s a handful that are in that category, but Legato is the best, my Olympic mount. What we accomplished together in Atlanta, and the road to getting there, was memorable.

The horse that taught me the most is a Dutch mare named Ardenne, who I rode in ’82 World Championships. I was 20 when I started riding her. She was in a wonderful international program and when I first started riding her, I tapped into that program and, as a young American rider rode with technical, smooth accuracy. Together we went to the World with excellent results, I was double clear in the third leg of the championship, a career accomplishment in my book of show jumping. And after the World Championship, the performances began to deteriorate because I was incomplete as a horseman and a rider in maintaining the foundation and program of this top international horse. I spent the next two years learning how to do the homework and deliver the program for this horse. She really taught me the most. Even more than accomodating to her, the first six months that I rode her, the foundation put in by her previous rider, needed to be consistently delivered. This mare taught me how to really focus on the basics and deliver the basics of a top level training program. In a word, flatwork.

As for my favorite to compete on, that’s tough. I’m going to say my up and coming superstar, Lataro. He’s owned by the Lataro Group and is really a fun horse. Lataro is a 9 y.o. Holsteiner that is mid-size, about 16.1, very typey, and he’s what I refer to as a modern show jumping horse. What I mean by that is refined, intelligent, scopey and agile and careful. With a heart to answer the big jump questions. Twenty years ago, the top horse was defined by power. The name of the game has shifted to careful, rideable, and agile.

Laura: I own a thoroughbred mare that gets excited when i jump her (we only jump small cross rails–18 inches. My mare is 19) do you have any tips on how i can get her to go over the jump at a steady trot or nice collected canter (not a racing canter)?
Peter Leone There are two things. She’s an older horse so habits are harder to change. That’s one challenge. Number Two, when you’re also working on changing her attitude or temperament while jumping. The issue about the age, all you can do is try your best and hope that you can modify her habits to your advantage. There are exercises you can do. Number one, to try and make jumping a non-event. Meaning, in your flat work on a regular basis, walk over a pole on the ground, trot over it, walk up to and jog an X.

Tap into the emotion of being done while enroute to a jump. Meaning, as opposed to being physically engaged in the final approach, attempt to be casual and indifferent with your emotion. As a result it may change the horse’s emotion enroute to the jump. Walk a jump… trot a jump… walk.

Then flat for a while, enter a jump, then walk. Desensitize her to the excitement of going over a jump. A relaxed horse is your best performer.

Faith090: Can retraining a thoroughbred racer for h/j be successful?
Peter Leone Yes it can. In general, the Thoroughbred is on the hot side for show jumping, but there are thoroughbreds that are quiet enough in their demeanor, and or special enough in their heart and character that they can be amongst the top horses in competition. The trick is, the transition from track to h/j involves a lot of turnout in the pasture, time and patience.

Andrew: What type of footing do you prefer most for 1) schooling and 2) showing?
Peter Leone To me, and it’s hard to come by, there’s nothing better than a nice grass field for jumping. That’s the best but the majority of our sport is on all-weather footing and I think it’s important it be firm enough that horses can get a good push-off, yet be soft enough with enough texture so it doesn’t feel like a driveway. Footing is tricky, and the most important, under-focused part of our sport. And I am hopeful that there will be a footing revolution in our country in the next few years. The footing in Europe is light years ahead of the footing in our country. We’re still in the Middle Ages when it comes to quality of footing at the average competition site.

Guest: What is the best way to deal with a young green horse that is suddenly spooking in one specific area of the ring?
Peter Leone There are two different approaches. One is more jumper oriented; one is more hunter oriented. For hunters, take a gentle approach to desensitize them to what is spooking them. Feed them, pet them, give them comfort in the area of spook or distraction. Over time you gain their trust to remove the spook. On the jumper side, we often have to go without introduction into an intimidating arena and go out and perform at our best the first time. So with the jumper who spooks, you want to physically address the spooky part of the ring by doing controlled, deliberate, but not hostile leg yielding, bending, and pushing the BODY of the horse into the spooky area or spooky jump. When the horse is properly listening to the rider’s aids, you can overcome a spooky area of the ring.

nancy reider: what is the most important flat work exercise you feel brings horse and rider together?
Peter Leone The most important are those exercises that get the horse to relax and listen to your legs. Those are the ones I value the most. A horse that is relaxed and listening to your leg is one you can do anything with. The trap in our country and in Europe is to be preoccupied with the use of hands to communicate with the horse. Focus is on riding the body of the horse and your legs have the greatest surface contact, the weight of your seat bone has a great influence on what they do or don’t do. So leg yielding, half-passes, and transition in front of the leg are most productive.

There’s another thing, we talked about the mechanics of riding, being the blending of feeling with mechanics for success. The management of the horse’s emotions is the rider’s job, too. Your instinct has to tell you what the current emotional state of the horse is (scared, brave, callous, etc.) and then you want to, as a goal, use your aids and your feeling to manage the horse’s emotions. That’s how you can accomplish what you want to do with your partner, the horse.

Zillion: What do you think of the modern and stylized hunt seat eq program as development for the American show jumper?
Peter Leone I think it’s gotten better over the last few years. Going back about five years, what was winning in eq classes in the US was not fundamentally in line with top level riding and show jumping. I think over the last few years it’s become better, our eq judges have been rewarding good riding, masterful riding, as opposed to good looks and posing. Position, good position, enables good function.

Bosco: I have a question about turn- out time, how important do you feel that time in the paddock is?
Peter Leone Turn out is excellent for the mental and physical wellbeing of the horse. With the majority of horses it can and should be done. There are some horses that just don’t preserve themselves well in the paddock. The chance of injury for some horses is soooo great that you have to find other ways for them to mentally let down without turning them into a field. The longer a horse can stay out without becoming agitated and dangerous to itself, the better. Things that affect turn out are one, how used to it they are; two, bugs; three, temperature.

Another point is good nutrition. I am so pleased to see a company like SmartPakEquine enter our sport becuase nutrition, vitamins and supplements are CRITICAL to the success and longevity of the show horse and SmartPak has made it so easy for anyone and everyone to give their horse the right supplements at the right amount on a consistent basis.

Andrew: How do you feel about the jumping and technical questions/designs currently being asked at the grand prix level?
Peter Leone I think in general the questions being asked on courses these days is great. They mandate horses of quality, not just counterfeit horses dressed for competition and careful, technical courses mandate that riders be skilled and on the job to win.

Vetprincess: What is your favorite competition and why?
Peter Leone Well, the most endearing one to me is the Aachen Grand Prix. I think that Aachen is, to me, the number one place in the world to do well. Monterrey, Mexico, the CSI there is another one. And I’m also going to mention Madison Square Garden. Having watched and attended some of the world’s greatest sporting events in the Garden, to ride and compete there is a thrill.

Vetprincess: When I think of jumpers, I think of hot, high strung horses. Have you ever ridden a jumper that was calm enough to trail ride?
Peter Leone Yes! The best, the majority of jumpers in the sport have a reliable and rational character. The average jumper in the sport tends to be hot and less consistent in character, but the really top horses are fantastic, steady athletes.

Laura: what kind of boots do you use on your horse when jumping? I use polo boots. Do you think they work good since i am only jumping my mare over small jumps?
Peter Leone I think that polo wraps or boots in general are a good thing as long as they are put on correctly. They need to give tendon support and protect a horse from hitting itself. So boots are a good thing to have and use.

Guest: Does the overall size (height) of the horse influence whether or not they are grand prix material, or is it heart and scope? In other words: can 15.2 hands do the job?
Peter Leone Yes it can! But, the average 15.2 horse is less likely to be a big time grand prix horse than a larger one. Ability and heart is the real issue here just like in basketball, height is important. But especially with courses going careful and technical, monster scope isn’t the name of the game. Remember Stroller, or Japaloup, there are small horses, almost ponies, that can do the job.

Bosco: What is your view on the current controversy over the chef d’equipes of the USET and who would you choose as a good future candidate?
Peter Leone Ok, I think that the best chef d’equipe our country has is Frank Chapot. As far as the future goes, there are a number of very qualified candidates. In the future, I wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

Host:What about the selection process?
Peter Leone I think it needs work. I think, while I do feel an objective process is what works best for our country, the formula of that process needs serious modification.

Lil “Red”: Peter, any tips for a young rider who wants to be successful in showjumping?
Peter Leone Number one, get close to the best horsemen and grounds that you have access to. Intensively spend time doing whatever you can to be with that individual and remember that being successful is not just about what you do in the saddle. That’s only part of it. It’s all the other things that make being in the saddle possible that count. Management of the horse, running the stable, maintaining the health of a horse, training program… etc… It’s not just knowing how to jump and be fast. Get close to someone, or those who know, and always remain open minded.

Vetprincess: Do you ever take in working students?
Peter Leone Yes. I have two students right now.

Guest: How would you recommend someone just graduating from college enter the hunter/jumper horse show world? How can one find a job in a competitive show barn?
Peter Leone In looking at trade publication, there are so many barns and operations looking for help it is unbelievable! It is so difficult to find the help my operation needs that it is probably surprising to most people joining in today. Look at the Chronicle, trade publications, the Internet, equine employment services. The main thing is to know what niche you wish to apply yourself to, and two, don’t be afraid of hard work. Hard work and effort will take you the furthest in your goals. and want to thank Peter Leone for being with us today. This has been a great chat!

We apologize if your question has not been answered.

Peter Leone It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you today. So many riders will make one mistake, and they will focus on that one mistake to a fault. Riding, please remember, in any one performance, dozens of things take place. To make only one mistake out of the 50 things that go on in a given course is pretty fantastic.

I strongly recommend that developing riders focus on what they do right, don’t beat yourselves up emotionally on the one thing you did wrong. Harness the positive energy of what you do well. Believing in yourself and being confident is a big part of doing well on a horse.

Please visit for your supplement needs! And stay tuned to for our next chat.

Peter Leone Thanks again everyone, and SmartPak, and good evening!

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