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Show jumping gold medalist Bill Steinkraus died Nov. 29

This country's first equestrian gold medalist, William "Bill" Steinkraus, died on Nov. 29 at the age of 92.

Bill SteinkrausFive-time Olympian, four-time medal winner and first U.S. equestrian individual medalist, editor, author, expert violinist, staunch friend and above all a gentleman, Steinkraus had one of the most decorated equestrian careers in U.S. history.

He passed away surrounded by his family and loved ones.

"Billy was an incredible mentor for me," said George Morris, who, along with Frank Chapot, rode on the 1960 team in the Rome Olympics that won a silver medal. "Frank and Billy were completely different, but I learned so much from each of them."

"Billy was an historian and a theorist," said Morris. "He was a perfectionist and a purist. He knew the history and the nuances of horsemanship."

"Billy was very strong minded, but he was also very sensitive," said Morris. "He was very well educated and always a gentleman."

"Billy and Bert (deNemethy, this country's first civilian coach after the military disbanded the cavalry) changed jumpers in this country," said Morris.

Prior to Steinkraus and deNemethy, jumpers were scored on touches as well as knockdowns, and jumper riders were a rough lot.

 

"I REMEMBER Billy for his detail, I learned a lot about details from Billy," said Morris. "Billy paid attention to how his horses were groomed and turned out."

"Billy was a best friend, as was Frank," said Morris. "They both had your back if you were a friend. I can't say enough about how much Billy affected my  life."

"A good horseman must be a good psychologist," Steinkraus told Life magazine in 1968. "Horses are young, childish individuals. When you train them , they respond to the environment you create. You are the parent, manager and educator. You can be tender or brutal. But the goal is to develop the horse's confidence in you to the point he'd think he could clear a building if you headed him for it."

Steinkraus placed greater importance on the horses in the teamwork between horse and rider.

"In this sport, the horse is more the athlete," he said. "He's the body, and you're the brain. When you need a new body, you get one."

 

BORN ON Oct. 12, 1925, William Clark Steinkraus grew up in Darien, Conn., where he was a member of the Ox Ridge Hunt Club, and he began riding at the age of 10 with Amud Thompson.

He became more involved with the sport when he began training under esteemed horsemen Gordon Wright and Morton W. "Cappy" Smith.

In 1941, Steinkraus made history by winning both the  ASPCA Maclay National Championship trophy and the Good Hands Finals in saddle seat equitation at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden in New York.

Steinkraus attended Yale University in New Haven, Conn., before enlisting in the Army's cavalry branch.

From 1943 to 1945, he served as a member of the 124th Cavalry Regiment in the China-Burma-India theater of operations during World War II and helped reopen the Burma Road, an important supply route for the Allied forces.

After the war, he returned to Yale and graduated in 1949, after which he refocused his efforts on his show jumping career.

Bill Steinkraus on Fleet AppleBill Steinkraus on Fleet AppleAt his first Olympic Games in 1952 Helsinki, Steinkraus rode Hollandia on the team that won the bronze medal for team show jumping.

He was on two more U.S. silver medal teams, riding Riviera Wonder at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and riding Main Spring at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

Steinkraus made history as the first American to win an individual gold medal in equestrian on Snowbound at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Steinkraus retired from showing internationally in 1972, but he remained heavily involved in the sport acting as a judge, TV commentator, clinician, coach and author.

For 17 years, he was the captain of the U.S. show jumping team.

 

A FOUNDING member of the USET, Steinkraus served as president and chairman of the organization for two decades, serving as Chairman Emeritus for the past 25 years.

He was chairman of the FEI's World Cup Jumping Committee for 10 years and a director of the AHSA for over 40 years.

He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in Lexington, Ky., 1967

Steinkraus was the first equestrian to be inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, joining notable athletes such as baseball player Jackie Robinson and basketball player Calvin Murphy.

A gifted violinist, Steinkraus enjoyed classical music and played in the Connecticut Symphony.

He was predeceased by his wife of 52 years, Helen (Sis) Ziegler, a Grand Prix dressage rider who was a granddaughter of 19th century industrialist William Ziegler, who established a gorgeous estate on Great island, which is connected to Darien by a land bridge.

She and Steinkraus lived there until their deaths and raised their three sons there.

The estate was put up for sale for $175 million in 2016.

Steinkraus is survived by their three sons, Eric, Phillip and Edward.

Steinkraus will be remembered for his incredible achievements and contributions to the equestrian community.

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