Story by Jodi Anderson | Photos by Lisa Anderson
“I probably won’t jump out of a plane or bungee jump. But other than that…” – Mimi Leggett
Mimi Leggett has been fearlessly charging ahead for over eight decades. She can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t jumping on a horse—any horse. Born and raised in British India, Mimi was eight years old when her Bengali father and English mother started teaching her to ride. “[My friend and I] went to school at the bottom of a steep hill. In the afternoon, a Tibetan man would bring two horses. We would leap onto the horses and gallop up the hill.” Since both of her parents worked—her father was the accountant for the sixth richest man in India—she and her friend would gallop around to their hearts’ content. She also remembers afternoons in a cinema watching American westerns, which piqued her interest in Western-style riding.
Both parents had passed away by the time she was 12, and she was raised by her sister. At 21, she set off for England to live with her mother’s relatives and train as a Confidential Secretary (the equivalent of Executive Assistant). She worked for a couple of global companies outside of London and made a friend at work, who owned horses. They would sneak off at lunch and go for a ride. “Sometimes, we were a little late getting back,” she says, her eyes twinkling at the transgression. She returned to India after 10 years, where she would rent horses to gallop around the track, and then it was back to England.
“[England] was too cold,” Mimi reflects, giving her reason for uprooting once more and moving to Switzerland. Despite not speaking German or French, she got a job in the American embassy, where she met her husband Richard. It was his first diplomatic tour. Shortly after their engagement, he was transferred to Honduras, and he had to fly back to England for their wedding in 1976.
Mimi recalls, “The wives of diplomats were not allowed to work.” Not one for sitting around, she roamed the hills of Honduras on her stallion Marfil, accompanied by her boxer Duchess. When Mimi passed the locals, “They would say ‘adios,’ goodbye, instead of ‘hello.’” Just like those vaqueros, she carried a machete and a pistol as protection but never needed it.
“We were lucky in that we ended up in places just before things [started to change],” Richard remarks. This applied to his next posting in Portugal, as well. “They still had their traditions.” There, Mimi became enamored by the Lusitano horses and traditional dressage. She began taking lessons with famous trainers, including Luis Valenca. While she and Richard never bought a horse, she would watch the horses for sale at the market and, one day, the owner of a horse she liked offered to let her ride. “I had to meet a friend for lunch, so I just rode it to the restaurant. [The owner] probably thought I was never coming back,” she laughs.
Welcome to Florida
After Richard left the diplomatic corps in the mid-Eighties, the couple moved first to Sarasota, Florida, then to Virginia and the DC area. Mimi worked as a temporary staffing assistant and then began teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students. They bought horses and had to board them. When thinking about retirement, they considered places with warm weather, where they could keep their horses and continue to be involved in the horse community. They moved to Ocala in 2007.
Ever ready to try new things, Mimi got into Western-style dressage and took part in Mounted Cowboy Shooting. “You had to ride and shoot balloons and do obstacles,” Mimi explains. She joined the local dressage club STRIDE in 2008. From there, she racked up a number of awards, including the 2012 STRIDE Year End Award in Western Dressage Primary, and she placed seventh in Western Basic Dressage at the 2013 Western Dressage World Championships in Tulsa. “[My husband] thought I was going as a spectator!” Mimi credits Richard with being her biggest supporter and her best groom.
Mimi completed her first Century ride on Reynolds Aluminum and her second on his nephew Rapped N’ Painted (aka Ram) in 2018. A Century Ride is a test in dressage, where the combined ages of the rider and horse must equal or exceed 100 years. Ram, a Palomino/Quarter Horse, was 22, and Mimi was 78. She says it is her favorite award. “It’s a combination of your careers. It’s great for older riders, because they tend to give up. It encourages them to keeping going. And it gives the horse a job to do,” instead of being put out to pasture.
The octogenarian has no plans to retire, “as long as I can keep going.” Mimi recently joined the Southeast Baroque Society and started Working Equitation—a combination of dressage and obstacles—in 2019. And she is still participating in clinics: “You always learn, all the time.” She says riding gives her a reason to stay optimistic and get up in the morning. Mimi envisions herself riding off into the sunset: “My Quarter Horse on the trail.”