Bill Steinkraus, one of America’s most celebrated horse-show riders and the country’s first to win an Olympic individual gold medal in any equestrian discipline, died on Nov. 29 at his home in the Noroton section of Darien, Conn. He was 92.
His death was announced on Thursday by the United States Equestrian Team Foundation.
Widely considered one of the greatest riders in the history of equestrian sports, Steinkraus made all six United States Olympic teams from 1952 through 1972, missing only the 1964 Games in Tokyo when his horse pulled up lame at the last moment.
He won his record-making Olympic individual gold medal, in show jumping, in Mexico City in 1968. He also won team silver medals in Rome in 1960 and in Munich in 1972, and a team bronze in 1952 at Helsinki. His American team finished fifth in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia.
His gold medal came aboard Snowbound, a strong-willed 9-year-old gelding. “I like to think of him as sort of a George Bernard Shaw horse,” Steinkraus told The New York Times. “He has his own opinion about everything.”
Through his feats in the Olympics and in other international events, Steinkraus, a Yale graduate and an accomplished violinist, drew admirers from around the world.
William Clark Steinkraus was born on Oct. 12, 1925, in Cleveland and grew up in Westport, Conn. He started riding at 9 in a summer camp in Canada and rode in his first National Horse Show at 12, in a junior class.
A student of the renowned trainers Gordon Wright and Morton W. Smith, he went on to win junior titles as a teenager before enrolling at Yale.
Steinkraus interrupted his studies for Army service during World War II. He rode in Burma (now Myanmar) with the Army’s last mounted regiment and helped reopen the Burma Road, an important supply route for Allied forces. After the war, he returned to Yale and graduated.
The Army’s cavalry supplied all of the American equestrian riders who competed internationally until the regiment was disbanded in the early postwar years. The United States Equestrian Team was formed in 1950, and Steinkraus was named to the team in 1951.
He rode for the team for 22 years, 17 as captain, before retiring from international competition in 1972. He was elected team president in 1973, chairman in 1983 and chairman emeritus in 1992.
In 1960 Steinkraus married Helen Ziegler, a granddaughter of the 19th-century industrialist William Ziegler, who established a sprawling estate called Great Island in Noroton, connected to the community by a land bridge. She and Steinkraus and their family lived there for many years. (The estate was in the news in 2016 when it was put on the market for $175 million.)
Ms. Steinkraus, a former cancer research assistant at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, was a sportswoman, known as Sis, who raced sailboats, skied, hunted game and took up dressage, becoming an accomplished rider in competition and later an international judge. She died in 2012.
When not riding, Steinkraus was an editor in book publishing in New York and wrote several books on the sport, notably “Reflections on Riding and Jumping: Winning Techniques for Serious Riders,” published by Doubleday in 1991. He also wrote for the authoritative magazine Chronicle of the Horse.
Besides playing the violin, Steinkraus was an expert on old books and antique furniture. After he retired from competition, he was a television commentator for four Olympics and then an Olympic judge.
He also served as chairman of the International Equestrian Federation’s World Cup jumping committee for 10 years and as a director of the American Horse Shows Association for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, in Lexington, Ky., in 1987.
When he retired from international competition, commercial sponsorship and prize money was just starting to come in. “We don’t know whether, 50 years hence, we’ll say that was the beginning of the end, or that was the beginning of the beginning,” he said.
One contemporary rider (and later a trainer and judge), George H. Morris, called him “the man who epitomized style on horseback.” Another, Hugh Wiley, said: “He would think through a riding problem and always come up with an intelligent answer. After riding, he usually played his fiddle, read The Wall Street Journal or went to the opera.”
For all his Olympic medals, Steinkraus was quick to credit his horses, including Hollandia in Helsinki, Main Spring in Munich and Riviera Wonder in Rome, in addition to Snowbound in Mexico City. Success in competition, he insisted, depended on the relationship between rider and mount.
“A good horseman must be a good psychologist,” he told Life magazine in 1968. “Horses are young, childish individuals. When you train them, they respond to the environment you create. You are the parent, manager and educator. You can be tender or brutal. But the goal is to develop the horse’s confidence in you to the point he’d think he could clear a building if you headed him for it.”
Indeed, in the equation of rider and horse, Steinkraus placed greater importance on the latter.
“In this sport,” he said, “the horse is more the athlete. He’s the body and you’re the brain. When you need a new body, you get one.”