Mimi Leggett exemplifies the saying, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” Frequently seen at STRIDE meetings sporting colorful attire offset by a twinkle in her eye, who would have ever guessed that Mimi began her riding career as an eight-year -old in her family’s rose garden in India? This two- time Century award rider hasn’t stopped since.
Mimi grew up in India where her father was a Chartered Accountant for the Maharaja of Darbhanga.. At that time, the Maharaja was the sixth richest man in India, and Mimi recalls parades of caparisoned elephants and horses and her father telling stories of rooms with gold bars and nuggets littering the floors of the Maharaja’s palace. It was up to Mimi’s father to make order of it all by creating an accounting system.
Both of Mimi’s parents loved riding and were her first teachers. While at school in the Himalayas, she waited anxiously for the final bell to ring, so she could gallop home up the hills with her friend.
Mimi left India for the United Kingdom at age 21 to train as a Confidential Secretary. She stayed there for ten years and worked for, among others, the director of the Rexall Drug Company. She laughs about her time working in the Midlands, about 100 miles from London, noting that she would sneak off at lunchtime to go for a gallop in the woods, and then return to work, seemingly unruffled.
After a decade in the United Kingdom, Mimi returned to India to work. She was not deterred from riding, even heading to the racecourse at Calcutta (now Kolkata) where she rented mounts to gallop around the track. (Mimi clearly had a need for speed.) Then it was back to the UK for a stint with Amoco and finally on to Switzerland to work with a travel agency. This eventually led to employment in the Indian Embassy, then the American Embassy, where she met her husband, Richard.
While in Switzerland, Mimi took up residence in an apartment near a stables. Mimi and her friends from the Embassy enjoyed many a moonlit trail ride, often stopping at a little Inn along their trek where they would enjoy dinner and a traditional libation.
When her husband was posted to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, they bought their first horse, Marfil a Peruvian/Andalusian ranch horse stallion, and she spent many enjoyable hours riding him with her Boxer Duchess running alongside in the hills and villages, or herding cows on a friend’s ranch.
In 1982 while in Portugal, Mimi became entranced with dressage. Lusitanos and riders donning traditional costumes would perform their airs-above-the=ground at the Queluz National Palace. These shows still take place today. Portugal also proved to be a great place to ride horses on the beach, excluding the time when one of her mounts decided to sit down on the beach to enjoy the sand!
In Portugal Mimi became acquainted with the legendary Luis Valenca and his daughters and took lessons with them. She fell in love with a small Lusitano named Importante and was able to ride him while Mr. Valenca maintained in-hand contact as the horse performed Piaffe, Levade, and a “mini” Capriole. Mimi recalls it as a thrilling experience!
Mimi also secured lessons with the son of Nuno Oliveira, Joao, at the famed Quinta do Brejo stables. Additionally, she rode with Dom Tomaz De Alarcao, Nuno’s last student. Mimi describes riding phenomenal school horses who seemed to operate on autopilot, performing Shoulder-In, Haunches In, Half-Passes and Flying Changes with ease. She also rode at the famed Morgado Lusitano, where Ashok, an Alter Real, gave her the thrill of another in-hand Levade with Ze Miguel.
Although Mimi loves the Baroque breeds, she has a special place in her heart for Quarter Horses with their good temperament and adaptability and their connection to the American West.
In 1986, Mimi and Richard moved to Virginia. There they had their own horses, including Reynolds Aluminum, a Quarter Horse, Gorby, an off-track Thoroughbred ridden by her husband, Moonshine, a great-granddaughter of Count Fleet, Victor, an OTTB and Sullivan, an Arabian. Mimi, her husband, and their horses shared countless adventures while in the beautiful Warrenton area including the Crystal Crowne Manassas Battlefield Trail Rides and Clinics with Dominique Barbier. Many trails could be accessed right off their farm. Mimi and Richard rode Sullivan and Reynolds in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Washington, D.C. enjoying the view while cantering up and down the Mall.
Eventually, winters brought humans and horses to the Ocala area. (Virginia snow was so deep one time that Reynolds had to carry his own grain and sled in his own hay.) Some horses inevitably passed on, but Mimi acquired Mr. William C an OTTB , who won the STRIDE Year End Award in 2012 in Western Dressage Primary, and Rapped N’ Painted, a nephew of Reynolds Aluminum, the horse on which she completed her first Century Ride in 2014 (she and Reynolds sampled a variety of equestrian pursuits and even took a shot at Mounted Cowboy Shooting at the Florida Horse Park.) In 2018, she completed her second Century Ride on Rapped N’ Painted, aka Ram.
Ram and Mimi have been a dynamic duo and have been the recipients of many honors over the years, including several STRIDE championships in Western Dressage and Versatility. In 2013, when Mimi had the opportunity to go to the Western Dressage World Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she consulted with her husband about the prospective trip. He encouraged her to go. “He thought I was going as a spectator!” laughed Mimi. By now you have probably realized that Mimi has never spent a day of her life as a spectator. Mimi went as a competitor and finished seventh in the nation in Western Basic Dressage.
Mimi acknowledges many members of the STRIDE community with playing a part in her success and for getting her involved in the dressage scene in Florida- Irene Gentile (deceased,) Lynne Sheppard, Judy Downer, Vickie Rollack, Judy Oliver, Sharon Hohenberg and Carolyn Hall, her “eyes on the ground.” She’d also like to thank riding master, Dennis Stickley and Sheri Nall for their instruction and training in classical dressage. She’s appreciative of the many fine clinic opportunities she’s had with notables like Lilo Fore and Lendon Grey. Says Mimi, “Go have fun! People forget you take up this sport to enjoy yourself!” Mimi also acknowledges the great support and encouragement from her husband Richard, which has enabled her to pursue her passion.
What is Mimi looking forward to? She’s aiming to advance to the next level in Western Dressage, and someday ride a Kur or Musical Freestyle, improve her trail obstacle skills, and do more trail riding, all while maintaining her indomitable positive outlook.
When asked what her secret to success is with her horses, Mimi replies, “Always make the horse’s welfare your top priority. Give them, especially the seniors, a job to do. Don’t overdo, but make your practice perfect. Keep moving forward and follow your dreams.
Words to live by.
Recommended reading: Reflections of Equestrian Art by Nuno Oliveira
Novice to Advanced Dressage by Leonie M.Marshall.