Living according to US president John F Kennedy’s dictate of doing things “not because they are easy but because they are hard”, Leslie Fitzpatrick was a trailblazer, a leader and a hero within Irish show jumping and beyond.
Even at age five, his path to the saddle was one of challenge and courage. Born with a curvature of the tibias, he had to have both legs surgically broken and re-set before he could ride. But when he did. Something magical happened.
At his very first attempt, he won the RDS Spring Show Championship with the little pony Pixie. After that, he won each of the new Show Jumping Association of Ireland’s Championships, taking the Pixie Cup with Brian, the Ferguson Cup with Dancing Dandy, and the senior Caughoo Championship four years in a row between 1955 and 1958. It was then that he took up the ride on Hi Society that his father Bernard bought at Ballinasloe Fair for £170 with £20 for luck.
Hi Society was indeed lucky for Leslie because he brought him on to the first official Irish civilian team in 1960. Leslie had played a leading role lobbying for the opening up of Nations Cup jumping to civilians, and he fully supported the creation of the RDS Travel Fund in 1959. The following year, he joined Seamus Hayes and John Brooke in winning the Dutch Nations Cup at Enschede and took the Grand Prix there. The Irish civilian jumping revolution had begun, and Leslie was at its heart.
While fondly known as the ‘Captain’, and along with some great companions like Tommy Brennan and Brian McNicholl, Leslie spearheaded many more international forays over the next 14 years. At the same time, he worked at furthering the family business in central Dublin. Memorable among his many wins was that in a German puissance before a crowded Aachen Arena ahead of local favourites European Champion Fritz Tiedermann and Olympic gold medallist Hans Gunther Winkler.
A picture of him and Hi Society flying over the big wall at the top of the world always had pride of place in his study at Shankhill.
Ever since his retirement in 1974 with Carnaby Street, his leadership energies have been poured into the voluntary end of the sport in the creation of local shows and as a very effective council member of the RDS. In doing this, Leslie never shied from gently asking the hard things from others because he always asked them of himself.
With Leslie’s wonderful wife Barbara and family Harry, Johnnie, Susan and Leslie Ireland’s equestrian and business community shares sorrow at the passing of a true ‘Captain’.