Gem Twist: A Legendary Horse
Gem Twist is one of the most well known showjumpers in history. He is the only horse that has been awarded with the AGA Horse of the Year title three times running.
Gem Twist was one of the best show jumpers of all time. The striking gray coat and bright black eyes naturally captivated show jumping enthusiasts worldwide. Affectionately known as Gem, this American-bred Thoroughbred was known for his amazing agility over the toughest of courses and could clear fences with room to spare. His style was flawless and classic with a twist of wild excitement. The horse became known to reporters, announcers, and fans alike as The Legendary Gem Twist.
Gem was born at Frank Chapot’s Chado Farm in 1978 where he was raised. His dam, Coldly Noble, was a racehorse given to the Chapot family. His sire, Good Twist was Frank Chapot’s Olympic mount. In 1981, Frank Chapot sold Gem as a three-year-old to Michael Golden for only $12,000. Later in the horse's life, offers of 3 million would be turned down. Golden had bought Gem with the intentions of doing a little pleasure riding and some jumping on the side. Apparently, Gem Twist had other plans in store for himself and soon proved to be too difficult for Golden to handle.
Golden took Gem back to Chado Farm where Frank Chapot put him in training. The young gray gelding was not an easy horse to handle and spent a good deal of time fighting his rider. However, the horse could jump-he flew over small jumps as if they were five-foot walls. Frank Chapot, who had recently suffered a back injury, let a new young rider, Greg Best, take on Gem Twist. By this time, Gem was five and Chapot knew the horse had potential, but he did not expect the horse to go as far as he did.
Greg Best and Gem learned and matured together. They won some preliminary classes and earned a gold medal in the 1985 North American Young Riders’ Championships. In 1986, Best and Gem moved into the intermediate divisions where they stayed for a year in order for Best to learn just how to handle Gem Twist’s fiery attitude against the tougher competition.
In 1987, Best and Gem Twist entered the grand prix ranks. The team had their first victory at the Grand Prix of Tampa. Their second came a week later in the Grand Prix of Florida. These were the first of many victories horse and rider would share together. Only six months later, the United States Equestrian Team selected the pair for the Pan-American Games where the two helped the U.S. win a silver medal. Gem Twist finished the year by being awarded with the American Grand Prix Association (AGA) Horse of the Year title. The next year, Gem Twist and Best had the honor of representing the U.S. at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. There, they won the individual and team silver medals.
The pair went on to win even more events in 1989, including the prestigious $100,000 Michelob American Invitational. At the end of the 1989 season, Gem Twist was awarded with his second AGA Horse of the Year title.
In 1992, the legendary team of Greg Best and Gem Twist had to part when an unfortunate stumble in the Gold Cup caused Gem to crash through a fence. The horse remained unharmed by the accident, but Best was left with a shattered shoulder. However, their career together ended well when Gem Twist was awarded with the 1992 AGA Horse of the Year title-the first horse to ever win the title three times (and the record still stands).
An experienced grand prix rider, Leslie Burr-Howard became the famous horse’s next rider. The two got along well together and shared their first victory in 1993 when they won the Budweiser/AGA Championship. The new pair continued to win time and again and even qualified for the World Equestrian Games. Unfortunately, during The Hague in the Netherlands, Gem acquired an infection in his suspensory. This put the gray horse out of competition for nearly a year.
Gem Twist was sent back to Chado Farm for his recuperation. There, Frank Chapot’s daughter, Laura Chapot took care of him. Laura spent many hours nursing Gem back to health with long walks and massages. In 1995, Gem was ready to return to competition and had formed a very special bond with the young Laura Chapot. Leslie Burr-Howard, having prior riding commitments, was unable to continue riding Gem. Therefore, Laura Chapot got the chance of a lifetime. The young rider had never competed in the grand prix ranks before, but horse and rider got along incredibly well. They jumped to victory in their second grand prix- the $100,000 Autumn Classic. Over the rest of the season, the team achieved top placings in numerous grand prix’s, which won Laura Chapot the 1995 AGA Rookie of the Year title.
In 1996, Laura Chapot and Gem Twist continued to do well. Their most important victory was the $50,000 Volvo Grand Prix of Florida. The class had the largest number of entries in recorded show jumping history (81 entries, to be exact). During the beginning 1997 Palm Beach circuit, Laura Chapot and Gem were entered in some small classes as a warm-up and to test the enthusiasm of the aging horse (now 18). They did well in the classes, but Gem was lacking his normal unquenchable enthusiasm. At this point, the Chapots and owner Michael Golden knew that it was time to retire the legendary horse.
Gem Twist began his farewell tour that year to royally say goodbye to all his loyal fans. The tour started at the Grand Prix of Florida and ended at Madison Square Garden. At every location, crowds of fans turned out, waving posters and wiping away tears for their beloved gray horse. Gem Twist eventually returned to Chado Farm, his birthplace, to live out the rest of his years in the pasture. However, he is still remembered by his fans as one of the greatest horses to ever grace the sport of show jumping.