It is with great sadness that US Equestrian learned of the passing of Harry Chapman (Wilsonville, Ore.) in early June. Survived by his wife and beloved partner Mollie Chapman, he passed away at the age of 82 due to complications from a stroke. His legacy in horse ownership is well established, with horses such as Flexible, McGuinness, Reno, Zlano, Amos, and others. Chapman’s dedication to horsemanship was equaled only by his love for equestrian sport and the people to whom he entrusted his horses.
From a young age, Chapman learned from legendary horsemen and women in his native state of Oregon. Western riding was his earliest experience with horses, riding with the great Lee Warren. There, he gained his first show experience and the equestrian knowledge that would set the stage for his lifelong involvement with horse sports. Saddle seat was Chapman’s next venture, but he didn’t stop there. His first trainer in the jumper realm was Jerry Pearson, and Chapman would later credit Johnny Johnson, Jerry Smith, Claudia Cojarcan, and Joan Karen Curtin with advancing his skills and love for the sport of jumping.
However, Chapman’s legacy in the equestrian industry is perhaps best exemplified by his willingness to share his greatest horses with professional horsemen and women who were capable of helping those horses achieve the pinnacle of their capabilities. Chapman, an avid driver, at various times also owned American Saddlebreds and roadsters, including roadster horses Diamond Hustler, Jesse James, Posseman, and Lil Town Flirt; and roadster ponies Sheriff Andy, Rowdy Yank, and Top Choice.
The Chapmans put their horses and ponies in the hands of professional riders and drivers who led them to victory. They did the same in the show jumping world, loving the experience and feeling honored to offer their horses, with confidence, to athletes and riders who saw talent and promise in them.
The Chapmans enjoyed a long relationship with Olympian Rich Fellers and his family, a partnership that was sealed with a handshake in 1989 and kept family priorities and the care of the horses at the forefront.
“My wife and I had a business in Southern California, a show jumping business,” said Fellers. “We were working seven days a week, all day long, and having fun doing what we loved. Harry contacted us about potentially moving back up to Oregon and training at his private stable and riding his show jumpers.”
The move proved fortuitous.
In looking for another show jumper to add to the Chapmans’ string, Fellers began looking for horses overseas and found Flexible, who went on to the 2012 London Olympic Games and was later named the 2012 USEF International Horse of the Year.
“We found a very interesting horse in Holland, a Dutch horse,” Fellers recalled. “And we found Flexible in Ireland as a six-year-old. I liked both of the horses, and this was typical Harry—I had video of the horses and video of my trials on the two horses. I told him I liked both of them. They were different types, but I told him both were talented and had really bright futures. Harry said, ‘Why don’t we just get both of them?’ I laughed, because I didn’t know we were looking for two horses. So we bought them both. The Dutch horse was a big, beautiful, attractive horse with a long, round neck and beautiful head. Flexible was this little pony-sized Irish stallion. He didn’t look like much of anything when we got him back to the U.S., but he obviously ended up being the more talented of the two. That was typical Harry and Mollie. They were just so trusting and so supportive. Whatever I felt was a good thing, they were always there 100%, backing me up.”
In 2012, Flexible, at just 16 hands and ridden by a tall Fellers, came into his own at age 16. Flexible and Fellers would go on to take the title of the FEI World Cup Finals™ that year, as well as represent the U.S. at the London Games. Chapman often described the sight of the dynamic duo as “a big kid on a pony.”
Once asked to recall watching Flexible jump in his first attempt at the FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2008, Chapman remarked, “I looked in the ring and I couldn’t even see the footing, there were so many jumps in the ring and they were so big. I thought ‘Nobody can jump those!’ But Flexible did. He’s never stopped surprising us. Every time I think something is maybe over his head, he just steps up and away he goes, and he makes it look pretty easy.”
“He was super to work for because he was so positive and sympathetic to tough times and a bad show or a bad class,” said Fellers. “He was upset and disappointed when things wouldn’t go well, but I always got the feeling he was more just disappointed to see and know of my disappointment.”
In addition to accepting Flexible’s International Horse of the Year Award in January 2013, the Chapmans also received the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Mrs. A. C. Randolph Owners Legacy Award in 2015 for the lasting impression they had made on the sport. That impression has continued into a new generation through their granddaughter, Jessica Petro, and her equestrian ventures.
“[Harry] was quite a character,” reminisced Fellers. “But he had a long, fun life.”