Louise Leslie will be taking on the role of U.S. Eventing Association president at this year’s USEA Annual Meeting, being held Dec. 7-11 in Savannah, Georgia.
We caught up with Leslie for our February 2022 print issue to learn more about her background and what changes she hopes to bring to the organization during her term.
We’ll be on site in Savannah to bring you news and hot topics on coth.com and in our January 2023 print issue.
Growing up in a military family, Louise Leslie was never afraid to walk up to someone and make friends in whatever new city was her home. Over the past two decades, many of those new friends have been eventers.
She’s been involved with the U.S. Eventing Association Area 7 Council from her home in Redmond, Washington, and she’s become an integral part of U.S. Eventing Association at all levels. She’s set to take on the USEA presidency in 2023 and has spent this year shadowing current president Max Corcoran.
Leslie grew up riding bareback on a Fort Riley cavalry remount named Danny and chasing coyote through the Mojave Desert near Edwards Air Force Base (California).
An avid reader, she picked up George Morris’ “Hunter Seat Equitation” and taught herself and her project horses how to jump.
After earning a master’s degree in teaching, Leslie competed on the ‘B’ hunter/jumper circuit in California, then decided it was too expensive. After meeting her husband, Neil Leslie, “Lou” discovered eventing in California and started reading Sally O’Connor’s “Practical Eventing.”
“I thought, ‘This is affordable!’ And I met wonderful people there,” she said. “It was so much fun. Everyone was really supportive, and they didn’t know me from anybody.”
The couple moved to Flower Mound, Texas, for Neil’s job, and Lou picked up extra work as a waitress. She was recruited into the home office of a restaurant group and became a corporate trainer, traveling around the country to teach restaurant managers how to use computers to better run their businesses in the ’90s.
Along with a burgeoning career, Lou began taking formal lessons for the first time at age 28 with Mike Huber and was hooked on eventing.
The couple moved to Redmond and had children Alex Leslie and Brody Leslie, and Lou became a stay-at-home mother. She focused on her riding with trainers Todd Trewin and then Melissa Beardsley.
Lou, 59, has competed to the advanced level and is currently competing Souvenir, a 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Voltaire—Kingstead Royale), at training and modified, and 5-year-old Hanoverian Cnick Cnack JJM (Comte—Estafania) in the Young Event Horse classes.
How did you get involved with the USEA?
I think that’s where the military background comes in handy—growing up in the Air Force—is that since you’re such a mobile community, it doesn’t matter where you are. If you go to a new location, you’re able to pick up and go and make friends and make the environment that you want.
When I moved up here, it was the same thing. Like, “Well, I kind of like this lesson thing. I kind of like riding with people and learning how to be a better rider, and it’s a lot faster than reading a book.”
I hooked up with the Area 7 Council, and I met Maggie Rickard at the annual meeting, and I said, “I’d like to set up some clinics.” She’s used to people talking the big talk, and said, “Yeah, yeah, set up a clinic, we’ll see what you do.”
I set up the clinic and had a fabulous time. Then you know what follows that is, “Oh, why don’t you be on the council? Why don’t you do this?”
It’s a fabulous community up here in the Northwest—very open and receptive and having a good time.
In Texas I was treasurer and secretary of the North Texas [Eventing] Association. Then in Area 7 I was adult rider coordinator, then area chair, then that rolled into the [USEA] board of governors. I did a six-year term there. I was on the Executive Committee, then VP of Area Affairs, which is basically cat herding all the areas. Then during that time, I was also on the [USEA] Endowment Trust and did six years there. That ended up with a year as the chair of that. Now it’s the USEA Foundation.
I’m also involved [as chair] with the Rebecca Broussard Developing Rider Grant. I developed it with a committee. Becky and I were really good friends, and when she passed away, [her husband] Jerome [Broussard] asked me if I would get a team together to develop a grant that would reflect the essence of Becky and what we’re trying to develop in eventing.
Why did you think now was the time to take on the presidency?
It wasn’t a question of whether I was not sure of it; it was a question of time for it. I know there’s a lot of work that’s involved with this, and I had Brody still at home in high school. My priority is family first, and I thought that would be very unfair to Brody not to have a mom at home during his last few years of high school. I was running around cheering him on at lacrosse games and then also showing.
Now that he’s in college he’s on his own!
How are you feeling about taking the position?
I’m really humbled that I got a second chance. I thought when I said no [in 2015] that that was the only time I would be asked. I’m very appreciative that I have this chance to do a good job, and I’m looking forward to it.
I think I have a really unique perspective in the sense that I’m definitely from the base of the sport and pretty possessive of my amateur status. I don’t take money from anything that has to do with horses. I think that’s why I’m also an anomaly [as an amateur USEA president who isn’t in a professional training barn].
I hold myself to a professional standard of riding. I am that amateur that’s out there doing the time in the tack, and I have to do it all by myself. I don’t have staff; my horses are in the backyard. The only help I get is to clean the stalls, so it gives me more time to ride. I’m the one riding my horses, getting out there, taking the lessons, and I really do hold myself to that standard of trying to ride as professionally as I can and as best I can.
What are you hoping to bring to the USEA as president?
I think the focus has been on the professionals within the sport. Max has done a fabulous job about highlighting the grooms, but they’re professionals within the sport. What everybody has kind of neglected for a bit is the base of the sport. We need to check in on them, and I guess I’m that check-in: How are you guys doing? What can we do to make you better? How can USEA make your eventing experience better? And that’s going to be the approach I bring for my presidency.
[Amateurs] are hugely important. [They’re] the financial base to the whole sport. I think there’s a misnomer that it’s turning into an elitist sport, because what I see, at least here in Area 7 and when I go back and watch what’s going on in Florida, I see a huge population of the base of the sport getting out there, kicking on, having a good time.
I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to do a good job, and I’m excited to be the best representative I can for the sport.
Do you have any ideas about how to help amateurs as part of your presidency?
I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet; I need to get all my facts straight on it, but I’m looking at how I can make eventing more affordable for the base of the sport and make it more attractive for more people to try the sport out and see if they like it, especially at the lower levels. We know that the novice and beginner novice levels are a great place to start to event and learn the sport. I have some ideas about how I can make that more attractive and entice people to come over to the dark side and try eventing. Break out the unicorns and rainbows at the lower levels!
What do you love about eventing?
I love to learn, but I think that’s also my driver with what attracts me to eventing. You’re always trying to be the best you can and to always try to be better. What works best for one horse doesn’t work best for another horse. There’s a lot of room for theorizing and getting cerebral about it.
One of my favorite quotes, when I took a clinic from Karen O’Connor one time, she looked at me and said, “You are on the edge of being paralyzed by perfection. You gotta knock that one off.”
I went, “Oh geez, OK! You’re right.” I think eventing’s a great sport, and you can sit there and overthink it, but at the end of the day you just have to shut up and ride. That’s probably one of the reasons I really enjoy it; it does stimulate me mentally to think about different ways to do it and get the job done and different questions. It’s like a really good puzzle, and it’s always changing.
One thing I did learn from my dad [Bruce Hinds, test pilot of the first B-2 Stealth bomber]—it’s obvious we’re a family of risk-takers—but the thing I learned in the culture of test pilots is there’s a difference between risk-taking and calculated risk-taking. Whatever I do, it lends itself to overthinking, but every single test pilot you meet in that culture is [taking a] calculated risk. Every time before they do something, they put in as many calculations as they need to in order to be successful. They apply it to every aspect of their life.
Part of being brought up in that culture is that it’s applied to everything that I’ve done. You make the best calculations you can, and you go with the flow.
This article ran in The Chronicle of the Horse in our February 2022, issue.
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