By the age of four, Leslie Burr Howard already knew two things for certain: she liked horses and she liked speed. Stopwatch in hand, she'd throw her western saddle on her pony and time her rides as she raced around a track in her yard, trying to best her previous times. Without anyone to teach her, she was already headed for a goal - and after years of training and hard work, she would achieve Olympic Gold.
"My parents had no experience with horses and I was not brought up around horses, but fortunately for me I was fearless - I loved speed and loved a challenge. My parents decided when I was six that it was time for some formal lessons. Just a mile from where I lived was one of the top pony farms - Highfields Farm - and I got to ride with Sharyn Hardy-Cole and her brother, Thom Hardy, who rode for USET. I had access to a lot of great ponies and great teachers. I was just lucky that I fell into the right situation."
At age 14 she began training with George Morris in nearby Pittstown, New Jersey. As a junior rider, just 15 years old, she won the 1972 ASPCA Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden, laying the groundwork for success as an adult rider. She won AGA Horse of the Year awards in 1983 with Albany and in 1984 was named AGA Rider of the Year, a golden year indeed for she and Albany competed on the USET squad at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and captured the Gold medal.
wo years later, she won the FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden riding McLain, and was named American Horse Show's Equestrian of the Year. She had another great horse loaned to her in 1992, when she took over the reins of the famed Gem Twist for injured rider Greg Best. The two won Horse of the Year. In 1994, Leslie again represented the U.S. at the World Equestrian Games in The Netherlands. She rode Gem Twist and Charisma to a 1st place tie in the USET Show Jumping Championships at the Bayer/USET Festival of Champions in Gladstone, NJ.
In 1996, Leslie again represented the United States at the Olympic Games, riding Jane Clarks Extreme. The U.S. took the team Silver Medal in Atlanta. By 1997 Leslie had been honored by USET with the Whitney Stone Cup, and won the world's richest Grand Prix event, the du Maurier Ltd. International at Spruce Meadows in Calgary riding S'Blieft. She represented the USET and won the first Samsung Nations Cup Series that year.
Leslie is based out of Redgate Farm in Newtown, Connecticut, and her company, Burr Associates Inc. is partnered with Tim Kees and Chris Cawley. It is a state-of-the-art Grand Prix training facility with two large Grand Prix fields, a sand arena, and an indoor arena. "It has every single obstacle imaginable," says Leslie, including water jumps, liverpools, a graub, different types of ditches, and several types of banks. Fifteen employees work at the barn, which has been in operation since the beginning of the year and is home to clients' equitation horses and hunters as well as the jumpers. Leslie competed exclusively out of Fairfield County Hunt Club from 1978 until about ten years ago.