In some ways, you could say that grand prix jumper Peter Leone’s career has come full circle. He began riding at the age of 5 and went on to earn Best Child Rider awards at every major East Coast horse show. At the age of 18, he won the FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix at the National Horse Show at New York’s Madison Square Garden and then competed in the ASPCA Maclay National Championship the next morning. He started riding for the U.S. Equestrian Team as a 19-year-old, scoring double clears in Nations Cup competitions at major shows like Dublin, Rotterdam and Washington, D.C. He earned a team silver in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Showing an ability to ride Jumping Derby courses from the beginning, Peter won the intimidating International Jumping Derby in Newport, Rhode Island, at the age of 20.
The middle of three brothers who rode as Team Leone, Peter polished his riding skills under the tutelage of such greats as Bertalan DeNŽmethy, Frank Chapot, George Morris and Michael Matz. He remembers that jumper courses during those years taught riders to be brave and determined. “You had to dig in, roll up your sleeves and get the job done,” he says. “You had to be part football player and part ballet dancer. These days, you don’t see the 360-degree complete rider. You see less of the football player.”
To help rectify this situation, Peter has narrowed his coaching and training focus to just upper-level jumpers. He recently moved his business, Lionshare Farm, to 200-acre Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford, New York. In the ’60s and ’70s, Sunnyfield was a popular show venue, attracting top riders like Bill Steinkraus.
To help riders build more grit, he has revived the invitational jumper competition he hosted in the ’90s at his former base in Greenwich, Connecticut. The inaugural Bedford Cup, held in October, was a two-round team competition culminating in a jump-off for individual placings. Peter designed the course on the grass field, incorporating a variety of questions, such as a snake jump, straw-bale jump, water jump, canoe jump and double liverpools. “Parts of the course you had to ride with conviction; other parts you had to ride like a fine artist. You had to be a complete rider.”
The first team to win the Bedford Cup included Olympic gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa and his wife, Alexa, who also topped the individual placings. Peter plans to build natural obstacles over the winter to make next year’s competition even more “derby-esque.”
Meanwhile, after having to euthanize his talented homebred Wayfarer due to colic in October and temporarily sidelining his young grand prix jumper, Capito Z, due to injury, he’s on the lookout for new prospects.
Alexa Pessoa piloted Juliette over a canoe jump and was part of the winning team at Peter Leone’s inaugural Bedford Cup, held at his farm in New York in October.