3rd April 1935 - 10th November 202121 November 2021
The equestrian world has lost another great wealth of knowledge in dressage and horse mastership with the recent passing of Leonie Marshall after a short spell in hospital, just ten months after the death of her late husband Barry Marshall.
Leonie Mary Marshall was an International Dressage Rider, former List 1 Judge, author and carriage driver. She was 86 years old and had been driving her pony, Amber, on the day she was taken to hospital.
She has been a major figure in the horse world for over 70 years and her whole life has been spent with horses. It can safely be said that many riding and driving dressage partnerships owe their successes to the foundations that Leonie has laid when teaching them. She has always continued to teach her pupils the principles of dressage, coaching the horse and rider as one unit and treating every person she taught with the same level of commitment- whether they were an international or grassroots competitor.
Dressage Her Passion
Leonie Mary Harris was born in Knockholt Kent and was the only child of Leopold and Kathleen Harris. It was hardly surprising that she developed her love of horses as her early childhood days were filled with riding in local horse-riding shows run by her mother and father at Coopers Meadow in Knockholt. Her father was the chair of Sevenoaks Riding Club and president of the Affiliated Riding Clubs Association.
Her life-long passion was for dressage, and by the time she was 16, she had already represented West Kent Sevenoaks Pony Club at the Inter-branch Championships on her horse Carnival II. At 16, she was also the first girl to ever ride at the National Pony Club Trials. In 1950 she was a member of the winning team at the first ever interclub riding event held at Knightsbridge Barracks. She then went on to represent West Kent at every championship she was eligible for until the age of 21.
In 1957 she rode at the second ever Annual Riding Clubs Novice Dressage Championships on her horse ‘Oberon’ which she won. By 1958 she had also had her name added to a list of Junior Dressage Judges at just 23 years of age.
Leonie married Peter George Felgate on 18th October 1958 and they continued to live in Knockholt, running a small riding establishment from there. Their daughter Sara Felgate was born in 1961 and in 1964 they moved to Bradbourne Riding Stables in Sevenoaks and set up The Bradbourne Riding and Training Centre. This had previously been a cattle farm and the pair quickly set to transforming it into a very successful riding school.
Leonie soon put Bradbourne on the map by hosting two-day dressage competitions which attracted over 300 competitors, from Olympic Riders to local enthusiasts. At the same time, Peter began to establish Bradbourne as a centre for teaching disabled children to ride.
In 1964 Leonie rode at Wembley in a display called ‘Jorrocks’ where she, along with others showcased the work of the local Sevenoaks riding club. Bradbourne Riding Centre continued to be placed on the map with high quality dressage competitions that Olympic riders attended, this helped Leonie continue to practice on home ground. Although she continued to pursue her own ridden career, she also coached others and was a Pony Club instructor holding the local Pony Club camp for West Kent Sevenoaks at Bradbourne.
Leonie continued her own dressage riding and was competing at numerous dressage events with much success. This included a third-place win at The Royal International Horse Show at White City in Aug 1964 where she came 4th in the Intermediate dressage competition on her horse Oberon II -beating some of the recently returned Olympic riders. On July 23rd 1965 she was invited by the dressage selection committee from the British Horse Society to ride in Concours De International dressage in Rotterdam where she came 17th.
In 1967 she rode at the Royal International Horse Show at Grand Prix level - again on her horse Oberon. She was later selected in December as a reserve rider for GB at the Olympics in Mexico. She was a judge and was selected to judge the dressage competition at The Royal International Horse Show at Wembley in 1978.
A new partnership
Leonie and Peter unfortunately separated and she moved away, living in different parts of Kent before finally settling in Wales with her new husband, Barry Marshall whom she married in 1974. She had her second daughter Liza and they both continued to train and ride dressage horses with much success. All of her horses were named from Shakespearean characters with her most notable ones being: Orion, Orthello, Octavia and Oberon.
Although she continued to ride, her efforts became concentrated on writing her books on dressage. She produced numerous books over the next twenty years, all published by J A Allen & Co (The Horseman’s Bookshop) of London. Her first book ‘A Glossary of Dressage Terms’ was published in 1978, followed in quick succession by another five. In 1996 she wrote the book ‘Equitation for the Everyday Rider’ and finally in 1998 she wrote a very worthy read called, ‘A mental attitude to dressage’.
Leonie and Barry also began to breed and show dogs. Not wishing to do anything by halves they started by entering local dog competitions before then qualifying for Crufts. They were particularly fond of miniature Dachshunds, where their dog, Tanner took first prize in Special Junior Class.
Another accolade for her, however something she probably wouldn’t thank us for mentioning, is that she won Welsh Slimmer of the Year when she was 58.
Driving – a new challenge
On a visit back to Kent to see Sara in 1999, Leonie was given a carriage driving lesson by her at Bradbourne when she was 64. From this first experience she was hooked into the new world of driving and when she and Barry returned back to Kent in 2001, she immediately took up the driving with her small pony called Badger. Once again, her dressage knowledge shone through as she expertly trained the little pony every day in the sand school.
Before long, she became a member of the local harness clubs in the South East and was entering One Day Events. She nearly always won the dressage phase so convincingly that, although not as speedy as those of younger years on the marathon, she would hold her winning position by driving a great cones with her well balanced pony.
She then set her sights higher and wanted to go to the indoor carriage driving finals at Keysoe. She competed there every year from 2003 to 2015 after qualifying at local events. In 2003, at her debut, she came 3rd in the Novice Pony Class. She then went on to win the veteran class from 2009 to 2011, when she was in her seventies, proving that age was no barrier to competing at a high level. She simply loved the thrill of the competition. She had several ponies throughout these years including Shetland pairs and an amazing Welsh pony called Sox.
Inspiring Others and her Legacy
She has continued to teach dressage to so many local carriage drivers, ranging from novice to advanced level. At Bradbourne, we have really benefited from having her expertise on hand every day to work alongside the drivers who are based here.
She has been very heavily involved with supporting her daughter Sara, and her granddaughter Phillipa who have both gone on to represent GB in the carriage driving world. Leonie still travelled abroad with them both to support them with the dressage phase of the competition.
One day she arrived on the yard and gave Phillipa her pony Sox for £1. She could see the potential in the partnership and knew that she might not have the speed to take him to the top. Phillipa has since driven Sox at two World Championships and knows that much of her success is due to the early foundations her grandmother laid when schooling him making him so well balanced. Her legacy is the determination and passion for the equine world that lives on in her daughters, grand-daughters and great grandchildren.
Leonie’s was a rich and colourful life. She was an extremely talented horsewoman, a prolific writer, an international dressage rider and judge and most importantly a mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
Her family is still coming to terms with their loss and without doubt her influence will be sadly missed and her absence in the carriage driving world will not go unnoticed.