Like Father, Like Son: John and Bill Pearce

Behind every top competitor is a mentor, sponsor or supporter who was instrumental in helping that rider along the path to success. Our Hors

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By: Karen Robinson |

John Pearce placed eighth individually at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and was the Canadian team’s second-strongest finisher, helping them achieve a top-five result and a berth in the 2012 Olympics. Throughout a competitive career that has included the Olympics, World Championships, World Cup Finals and countless grand prix wins, John has been inspired to excel by his fellow Canadian show jumpers. “The other top riders all have qualities you can learn from,” he says. “We have team camaraderie, but we also push one another by being competitive among ourselves.”

But it was John’s parents, Bill and Penny, who have been his greatest source of inspiration. “My mom and dad were my biggest mentors. My father raised me to be the man I am today. My mother was a big part of the decision-making in our family. Nothing got past her.” It was Bill Pearce’s self-made, hard-working example that turned John into the athlete and businessman he is today.

Bill Pearce developed a passion for horses in his teens, when Thoroughbreds were the breed most commonly used for hunters, jumpers and hunting, all of which Bill did as a hobby. “He was an astute businessman, and he had a Harvard business degree,” says John. When he turned 58, Bill decided to take an early retirement from corporate life and launch a second career as a racehorse trainer. Bill started at the bottom. “Here was this corporate man in his late fifties mucking stalls,” remembers John. “He wanted to start from the ground up.” By the time he was 61, Bill had his trainer’s license and was training horses he bought at the Ocala breeders’ sales. “He galloped his own horses until he was 72, and he raced horses right up until the day he died,” remembers John. Bill’s daughter, Shelley, also became a trainer and worked at her father’s side as his assistant.

John had no interest in the racing world; he had already decided where his future lay. “When I was young, my dad wanted me to get an education, but I just wasn’t studious. I wasn’t lazy, I just wanted to be around the horses and the farm.” Although he worked in construction for a few years and dabbled briefly in the business world selling chocolate, John knew his passion was riding. My dad was the type of man who gave you things by opening doors of opportunity. One day, I finally told him: “Dad, I want to be a rider and be in the horse business.” Bill offered to help his son, but not by giving him a free ride. He said, “We have 50 acres. You’ll need a barn and an arena. But I’m not going to build it for you. You’re going to build it yourself.”

With Bill’s financial support, John worked seven days a week and 18 hours a day for a year to build the arena and barn that would become the home of his business. He didn’t work alone, though. “My brother Steve is a master carpenter, and he helped me finish it. It really was a family effort.”

John next turned his attention to acquiring horses. I wanted to buy a horse for $25,000 and I didn’t have the money. I asked my dad and he said, “not a chance.” “ He had never spent that kind of money on a horse.” Instead, Bill and Penny headed to the mixed sales in Ocala and bought 12 Thoroughbreds. Keeping two for himself, he gave the rest to John. “Now you’ve got ten horses,” he told him. “You can figure out which are the best to ride and sell the rest for the business.”

Bill passed away in April 2007, and subsequently John decided it was in the family’s best interest to sell the farm. Currently based near Indio in California, John says he will always ride for Canada, no matter where he hangs his hat. Bill and the farm may be gone, but his values and old-fashioned generous spirit live on. “My friends used to say, “you’re dad’s tough!” But he was always fair and honest, a man of his word. He always gave me a lot of moral support.”

John sees his father in himself, both in his inherited personality and in the strong, hard-working role model Bill provided. “My wife calls me Project Pearce. I’ve always got something on the go,” says John. Bill Pearce would be proud of the achievements of his son in Kentucky last October – achievements made possible by the values passed on from father to son.