East Dorset, Vermont — For many competitors at the Vermont Summer Festival, riding is a family affair. The Leone and Torano families have forged a tight-knit bond through their annual pilgrimage to the event at Harold Beebe Farm that is part horse show, part family vacation.
Jane Leone and her family have been attending the Vermont Summer Festival for more years than she can remember. The family of four, including husband and grand prix veteran, Mark, and sons, James (age 7) and Mark, Jr. (age 10), are based out of Oakland, NJ, at Ri-Arm Farm.
“The farm belonged to Mark’s parents,” explained Jane Leone. “They’re the reason why the boys (Mark and brothers Peter and Armand) all started riding. Everybody is there on the weekends riding together. It’s so fun. We love it.”
Mark Leone’s brother, 1996 Olympic team silver medalist Peter, owns and runs Lionshare Farm in Greenwich, CT, while Armand continues to ride at the upper levels as an amateur.
Jane Leone, also an avid equestrian, met Mark Leone after arriving in New Jersey from her native England. The couple married six years later and welcomed sons Mark, Jr. and James in 2003 and 2006, respectively. While Mark and Jane Leone enjoyed sharing their passion for horses, continuing the tradition with their children has brought them even more joy.
“We traveled more before we had the kids,” said Jane Leone. “Now, I’ll come on the weekends with them while Mark is at the show all week. We try to make it a real family event. That’s part of the fun for us! I can’t even explain how proud we feel and how happy we are that they ride as well.”
She continued, “We love it so much when they ride. I don’t even really need to ride myself; in fact I don’t a lot of times because we’re so busy with the kids. I don’t mind though because I love sharing riding with them so much.”
Jane Leone also enjoys the company and support system of her sister-in-law, Alison Leone, who is married to oldest Leone brother, Armand. The two may not be blood-related, but they are another tight-knit unit in the Leone clan.
“We’re very close,” said Jane Leone. “She’s English, too. We have a very good relationship. Everyone in our family gets along really well, including Mark and his brothers. We’re all really close and have a wonderful relationship.
She continued, “Alison and I work together because she has an eight-year-old son, David. The kids all ride together and we tag-team the responsibilities at the show. We cover for each other and always help each other out.”
The juggling act of being parents and competitors means the Leones try to stay highly organized while remaining flexible.
“It can be stressful because you feel like it’s hard to give 100% to both. You don’t want to slight [the kids] and you don’t want to slight yourself either, but it works. We have a good family that is very involved. Everyone knows the drill and works together,” Alison Leone explained.
“It’s a lot to organize. There’s a lot of stuff!” Jane Leone laughed. “Most of the time, Mark will take care of himself while I take care of the kids. We have a lot of people helping us, too!”
Another well-known family at the Vermont Summer Festival, the Torano family, also plays an integral part in helping the Leones make it all work. The Torano’s oldest child, Natalia, was born only a week apart from James Leone, and all five kids (including the youngest Torano, James, Jr.) spend their days playing and riding side by side.
The Toranos are also familiar with the balancing act of parenting and riding competitively. Jimmy Torano owns and manages JET Show Stables based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, while maintaining a successful professional career. In addition to being the mother of two young children, Danielle Torano competes as an amateur alongside Jimmy in the grand prix ring.
“It gets a little bit difficult to juggle but we do it, and we all get to do this together. So far, both kids like to ride a little bit, which is really nice,” said Danielle Torano.
The Leone and Torano families have always been close, but the arrival of children made the bond even stronger.
“We got lucky that everybody is around the same age. Our kids look forward to seeing the Leones and it’s nice that they have other kids to play with at the show,” Danielle Torano explained.
All three moms agreed that having each other to lean on in a sometimes isolated world is invaluable.
“We’re so lucky to have each other. We do a lot of stuff with the kids together, which makes a big difference. It can be lonely if you have kids in this business because everyone else is so busy. You can kind of get left behind. It’s so nice to have friends with children that are all the same ages,” remarked Jane Leone.
While showing and traveling as a family may be chaotic at times, the Leones and Toranos both look forward to the family-friendly atmosphere that greets them each July at the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset.
“We love this show because we can bring the kids. It’s not too big and the whole show is so friendly. (Show manager) Billy Glass and (his wife) Jennifer are so kind. They accommodate the kids and it’s a nice family atmosphere. It’s cozy. A lot of shows are so big and impersonal now; you go to the ring, you do your thing, you go back to the barn, and you leave. Not here,” Alison Leone explained.
Alison Leone fondly remembered her children being invited into the ring after winning a class last summer in Vermont, while Jane eagerly retold tales of Billy Glass picking her sons up in his golf cart to make sure they made it to the ring on time.
“Jennifer will also take our kids to have them hand out ribbons. She’s busy, too, and she doesn’t have to do that, but it means so much to the kids. They feel like a part of the show. Billy and Jennifer go out of their way to make us feel welcome, and they do that for everybody,” Jane Leone remarked.
Beyond the showgrounds, the town of Manchester and its surrounding scenery make Vermont a much loved vacation spot to both families, who often spend evenings together and make group trips to nearby Bromley Mountain Adventure Park.
“The surroundings and town make it one of the best horse shows we go to all year. We love it here,” expressed Jane Leone.
Danielle Torano agreed, noting, “Vermont is nice because there’s so much to do. We come to the horse show, we go to the lake, we go to the pool. I love that we can be in one place for so many weeks. Our aunt and uncle built a house here, so we all stay there together. We’re all together as a family for six weeks, and that makes a big difference with the kids.”
The variety of classes offered at the Vermont Summer Festival is another draw for the families. Not only can Jimmy and Danielle Torano compete alongside their children, but the clients of JET Show Stables can all find classes to show in as well. The Leones also compete in a full spectrum of classes.
James Torano, Jr., also known as ‘JJ’, competes in leadline while sister Natalia shows in walk/trot alongside James and David Leone. Mark Leone, Jr., competes in the Children’s Pony Hunter divisions. Jane and Alison Leone and Danielle Torano all frequent the jumper ring. Alison Leone and Danielle Torano showed side-by-side in week three’s $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Junior/Amateur-Owner Classic, which Danielle Torano won. Mark and Jimmy coach from the in-gate when they’re not contesting the grand prix.
Danielle Torano considers having her husband at the in-gate each time she goes in the ring as one of the best parts of having a horse-inclined spouse.
“I’ve gotten used to him being there and I don’t really want to do it by myself! We know each other so well. He knows my horses and he knows me. Having him there in case I have a question and just the fact that he’s there and supporting me and we’re doing this together is great,” Danielle Torano explained.
Allison Leone agreed that having a family that understands the demands of riding and showing is a huge relief, noting, “They all understand how much work it takes for your 75 seconds in the ring. It takes a lot. My two older kids don’t ride, but it’s so nice to have all the kids here. Even if they aren’t involved (in showing), they get to spend time with the other kids and cheer on mom and dad from the sidelines.”
Both families cherish the time they spend together each summer at the Vermont Summer Festival, and likely will for years to come.
The six-week Vermont Summer Festival runs at Harold Beebe Farm through August 11. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in its current Manchester location, the Vermont Summer Festival offers more than $750,000 in prize money, making it the richest sporting event based on purse in the state of Vermont.
The first five Saturdays of the Vermont Summer Festival feature a $30,000 Grand Prix. The $50,000 Vermont Summer Celebration Grand Prix will be held during the sixth and final week on Saturday, August 10. The weekly $10,000 Open Welcome Stake, Presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, is held each Thursday. The hugely popular $5,000 3’3” Hunter Derby is also held each Thursday for the first five weeks, with week six featuring the $15,000 Hunter Derby.
The Vermont Summer Festival is a proud member event of the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame, the Marshall & Sterling League, and the North American League (NAL). Please e-mail us or visit our website for more information about the Vermont Summer Festival.