William (“Bill”) Steinkraus, the chairman emeritus of the U.S. Equestrian Team and the first American to win an Olympic individual gold medal in any equestrian sport, died November 29 at the age of 92.
Although he was a pillar of the U.S. show jumping squad for decades, Bill’s accomplishments weren’t limited to riding. He was a serious violinist, his insight made him a perceptive television commentator, he wrote several books and was an exemplary editor, as well as heading the USET for years.
“He was a renaissance man. He knew something about everything,” his 1960 Olympic teammate George Morris said today after learning about the death of the friend that he called his mentor.
“I learned so many things from Billy. He was a great riding teacher on a high level,” George commented.
Beyond that, Bill was “impeccably mannered, impeccably dressed,” George continued, noting he was meticulous not only in his horsemanship, but in everything he did.
Bonnie Jenkins, executive director of the USET Foundation, noted, “He was one of the original founders and leaders of the USET and also the foundation; somebody who I think every generation still looks up to. He was a true icon and someone we were so proud to have representing this country.”
During the years when the U.S. rose to prominence internationally in show jumping, his honors included the King George V Cup in 1955, followed by the German Championship in 1959. A series of Nations Cup triumphs preceded and followed his glorious 1968 individual Olympic gold medal in Mexico City.
His success was presaged by equitation wins, including the ASPCA Maclay and saddle seat Good Hands as a junior rider. Imperially slim and elegant, he was cool under pressure. His genius with horses was as much mental as physical. The ability to analyze and concentrate served him well, not only as a rider, but also during the years that he went on to lead the USET and steer its course through changing times.
A graduate of Yale University and a veteran of World War II, Bill raised three sons with his late wife, Sis, who was active in the dressage world.
Bill is donating a group of mementoes from his career to the USET Foundation. Donations to his memory should be made to the Foundation. Go to www.uset.org for the address and other information on how to reach the foundation.
A memorial service will be held in the spring at the foundation headquarters in Gladstone, NJ.