When you think of Lisa Goldman-Smolen, you likely picture her showing Centurion B. After all, the chestnut gelding has been her main man for nearly half of the 29-year-old’s life. Bred in Indiana by Allyn McCracken Fletcher of Bannockburn Farm, the Belgian Warmblood (Rebel I Z—Paloma G, Indoctro), who is now 17, first came into Goldman-Smolen’s life as a 2-year-old.
As a result, all the milestones in Goldman-Smolen’s career took place with “Leo” by her side. She was the first one to jump him over a crossrail, and she won her first grand prix on him, jumped her first 1.60-meter class, then her first $1 million class, and he was the horse she took to Europe on her first trip abroad. He’s such a part of her life that when she got married to Darren Smolen on May 5, 2018, Leo had a special place in her wedding photos.
“I’ve had him forever,” she said. “He’s my good old man. He’s my confidence builder. He’s the one I can go to if there are any questions on tight turns or anything like that—he’s the one I can always do everything on. He’s just wonderful.
“He’s always a good boy, so it’s kind of like your old shoe; it’s like riding a bike; he’s the horse you want to have there,” she said. “He’s a good man.”
Goldman-Smolen dropped Leo down to the 1.40-meter classes last winter due to his age, and then last spring and summer she let one of her students, Niki Martin, compete him in the low adult amateur jumpers.
Go behind the stall door with us to get to know Leo.
• If Leo were a person, he’d be the cool kid who doesn’t have a care in the world.
“He’s an easy-goer,” said Goldman-Smolen. “He’s like a surfer dude, ‘Hey, man!’ ”
• Though Leo is as chill as can be, he does have one requirement: He always has to have a friend. His first bestie was another of Goldman-Smolen’s grand prix horses, Morocco, but when Morocco retired, he became buddy-buddy with Hindsight.
“He worries a bit, but if he has his buddies he’s good,” Goldman-Smolen said. “He gets attached really quickly to anyone. I will say Morocco and Hindsight, he really does like them more, but anyone he’s next to it’s fine. You can definitely tell that he knows one or two of them more than others, but as long as he has a buddy near him. Otherwise he gets worried. He walks in circles in his stall.
“He whinnies in the ring if he’s alone,” she continued. “He likes company. He’d rather be in a field with horses.”
• Leo looks good in front of a camera, and he knows it. All it takes is one click of the shutter for his ears to shoot up and for him to start posing. And don’t worry about finding his good side; he doesn’t have a bad one!
• Crossties are just a formality. As long as there are people around, Leo is happy to hang out and join in on the conversation. But if you had a treat to offer up, he wouldn’t mind that either.
• He might have plenty of get-up-and-go to the jumps, but take him out of the show ring, and Leo is basically a puppy dog. He goes on trail rides and has even dressed up for Fourth of July parades. He wore a lion costume for Halloween.
“He likes his job; he likes to hang out,” Goldman-Smolen said. “We go in the fields; we go on trail rides. I can ride him bareback; he’s the only horse I can ride bareback.”
• The striped poles are his true calling, but he once donned a fake tail and hunter braids to contest the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at Lake St. Louis Hunter/Jumper (Missouri) in 2012.
“I had two customer horses and my two horses, and they only let you do three in the prix,” Goldman-Smolen remembered. “[My other horse] Morocco was too crazy, so I had already shipped down there, and I wasn’t going to say to the customer, ‘Oh I’m so sorry, I brought your horse to do the prix, but I’m not going to do it.’ ”
Since she couldn’t ride Leo in the grand prix, Goldman-Smolen opted for the hunter derby instead. “He actually looked like a really good hunter,” she said. “I did a class because I was worried about having the tail on him, and he didn’t mind at all. He doesn’t mind it that much. He’s just a good man. He got a little too excited to the last jump though. I think if the last round were a jump-off he’d be happier.”
• “He doesn’t have many quirks,” said Goldman-Smolen. “He cribs up high though, kind of like a cigarette. After a treat he always has to crib. But other than that, he’s not really quirky.”