The Show Jumping Hall of Fame said Frank Chapot died Monday morning at an assisted living center in New Jersey where he was under care for Alzheimer’s Disease. He won two silver medals at the Olympics.
Whether he was riding in championship show jumping competitions or coaching riders to compete internationally, Frank Chapot had only one goal: Winning for the USA.
The six-time Olympian from Neshanic Station, who died Monday at age 84 after being in declining health, was a fierce patriot and competitor for national pride on behalf of the U.S. Equestrian Team.
He favored, red, white and blue clothing and ball caps emblazoned with USA , proclaiming the patriotism that motivated him.
“If you had to go into battle with someone, you wouldn’t mind having Frank on your side. He’s a fighter,” recalled a former teammate, Olympic individual show jumping gold medalist William Steinkraus.
“Frank didn’t care a lot about what others thought of him, but all in all,” Steinkraus said, “I think he’d be pleased to be remembered as someone who was 100 percent trier, no matter what the odds, and 100 percent genuine.”
Though Chapot often lacked access to top-of-the line horses, he did the best he could with what he had.
“I didn’t come from a family with a lot of money,” Chapot once said.
“My big break came from making the team and having a good relationship with Bert de Nemethy,” he explained, referring to the aristocratic Hungarian who coached the U.S. show jumpers for 25 years, until Chapot took over the job in the early 1980s.
Chapot, who was part of two Olympic silver medal teams, could do something with a mediocre horse, and make the most of a nice one. One of the latter from his riding days was Good Twist, a fiery gray stallion who went like lightning over the jumps, with a determination that matched that of his rider.
“He and Good Twist one year in Europe never failed to have the fastest time in every class they went in. That was Frank in Europe against the best in the world, basically,” said Steinkraus. “That was a remarkable thing.”
When his horse of a lifetime finally showed up, Chapot was no longer competing. But he bred and trained Gem Twist, a son of Good Twist, as well as coaching the thoroughbred’s first rider, Greg Best. That combination won two silver medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Two years later, at the world championships in Stockholm, Gem earned the title of Best Horse.
After Best broke his shoulder in a fall from the horse, Gem went on to be ridden by 1984 Olympic team gold medalist Leslie Burr Howard and then Chapot’s daughter, Laura. Both had success with the gray gelding, who retired in 1997 at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, where he received a standing ovation.
As a gelding, Gem couldn’t pass on his special bloodlines, so the Chapot family had the horse cloned. Gemini, Gem’s clone, is used for breeding.
Michael Golden of Chester, the CEO of Stephen Gould Co. who owned Gem Twist, said of Chapot, “I watched him in action, listened to him give instruction and marveled at the command he had in each situation. I was so lucky to have been introduced to him and felt privileged to have shared the management of Gem.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Chapot spent two years in the Air Force, serving between the Korean and Vietnam wars. His battles came in the show ring, where he spent the weekends riding.
Steinkraus and Chapot, who succeeded him as captain, were mainstays of the team in the 1950s, ’60s and part of the ’70s. Others joined them eventually, including George Morris and a Californian, Mary Mairs, who had won both the ASPCA Maclay and American Horse Shows Association Medal equitation finals in 1960.
Mairs and Chapot married and rode together on the 1964 Olympic team in Tokyo, where the squad was sixth and Chapot was the highest-placed American, seventh on San Lucas. The couple also teamed four years later in Mexico City. Chapot just missed a medal there on San Lucas, coming in fourth, as did the team.
Asked how he evaluated his success as a rider, Chapot once modestly replied: “It was more determination, not especially talent. I wouldn’t be able to ride with these young people today; they get better training and better horses.”
Yet the individual classes he won make an impressive list, including the President’s Cup at the Washington International Horse Show; the North American Championship at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair; the Democrat Trophy at the National Horse Show; and the King George V Gold Cup in London.
“He was a great rider; aggressive with a difficult horse, aggressive against the clock, aggressive over big courses, but he was aggressive with ‘feel'” for the horse,” Morris recalled.
When Chapot took over as coach, he presided over glory years of the USET, as the show jumping team won its first gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld brought home the individual gold and silver. The team was gold again in the 1986 world championships in Aachen, Germany, where Homfeld earned individual silver.
He worked with Laura Chapot until recently, sharing in her success as a grand prix rider who inherited his penchant for speed.
He was always involved in governance of the sport and received the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions, which also earned him a place in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
Looking back on his life, Chapot once recounted, “I’ve had a lot of fun and had some successes – and some failures, too. To come close to winning some gold medals, which I did a couple of times, how can a person who’s not very wealthy dream of being able to do that?”
Survivors in addition to Mary and Laura Chapot include another daughter Wendy Nunn; her husband, Edward Nunn, and their children, Frank, Mary and Cathleen.
Arrangements are by the Branchburg Funeral Home. There will be no visitation or funeral, as per Frank’s request, but a celebration of his life will be held at some point in the autumn.