Don Burt Receives Lifetime Achievement Award; Karen O’Connor Named Equestrian of the Year at 2008 USEF Pegasus Awards Gala
RELEASE: January 11, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Brian Sosby
Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Don Burt, Junior Equestrian of the Year Kirsten Kimbler, and Equestrian of the Year Karen O'Connor (Geoff Oliver Bugbee)
—It was a night for celebration and standing ovations during the much-anticipated Pegasus Awards where the equestrian world’s brightest stars gathered to be honored and celebrate achievements from 2007, as well as a lifetime.
The highlight of the evening was the awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Award to living legend Don Burt, who has dedicated his life to the equestrian world. From trainer to exhibitor, judge and educator to high-level administrator, Burt’s influence has been felt for decades.
“Rarely am I speechless…but this is one of the highlights of my life,” said Burt, after a lengthy standing ovation that welcomed the legend to the stage. “And it’s really an honor to be named with such a list of dignitaries.”
”I want to say how truly blessed I am, and I have an angel on each shoulder,” he continued. “My wife really should be getting this award. She is my lifelong friend and partner, and I want her to join me and stand and be recognized.” Burt went on to mention and thank the many friends he has met along his life’s journey, some of whom were in attendance at the gala presentation.
Burt, who began training and showing horses across disciplines in California, has had a career that saw him give riding lessons to Hollywood royalty, followed by his own achievements as a rider, having won both the national hunter and jumper titles in the same year at the Cow Palace. After an injury ended his riding career, he turned to judging and lecturing, becoming a well-respected and in-demand licensed official. And then there were the years of service he spent as an administrator and past president of the American Quarter Horse Association, where his influence is felt to this day.
“I also want to thank a person that has been truly special in my heart, and that is Jimmy Williams,” said Burt of the legendary equestrian for whom the night’s pinnacle award is named.
In ending his thanks, Burt acknowledged the long hours spent in the business and with his horses, but said, “I’ve have never ‘worked’ a day…I’ve just played cowboy all my life.”
The night’s penultimate award – the Equestrian of the Year – was presented to eventing star Karen O’Connor for her string of achievements during the past year. Lead among her list of accomplishments was a pair of Gold medals hard-earned at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Aboard Theodore O’Connor, the 12-year-old Thoroughbred/Arabian/
Shetland cross and new star of the eventing world, she led the American contingent and helped the sport gain a new wave of fans.
“I have no speech, and I am really surprised and humbled,” began O’Connor, her emotions on her sleeve. “What I will say is what it takes to be Equestrian of the Year is that you have to raise your game and give the best you’ve got.”
O’Connor (the recipient of the William C. Steinkraus Trophy) was selected as the overall winner from a pool of other equestrians in the running for the title.
“I’ve had amazing horses all my life…some big and some not so big,” she said, referring to her current partner in success, Theodore O’Connor, the first pony ever to compete at the Pan American Games in eventing and that helped her win the Individual Gold medal, in addition to helping Team USA bring back the Team Gold medal.
“Four years ago…I was convinced it was time for me to retire,” she admitted. “But, I said, ‘I have more to learn.’ And David [O’Connor, her husband, and USEF President] said, ‘Go for it!’”
She thanked many who had contributed to her successes over her career, beginning with her first horse owners – her parents. “My parents are back in Florida, and right now they must be waiting to hear what happened.” The owners of all her competition horses were also in her thoughts and best wishes.
"This sport is so humbling," she concluded. "The horses teach you so much, and they teach you how to be good at things in your life."
The remaining nominees in the running for the Equestrian of the Year Award were honored with the USEF Equestrians of Honor titles, including Driver Miranda Cadwell (recipient of the Becky Grand Hart Trophy); Hackney harness driver Georgia Blevins (recipient of the Bill Robinson Trophy); Hunter rider Scott Stewart (recipient of the Emerson Burr Trophy); Saddlebred legend Michele Macfarlane (recipient of the C.J. Cronan Trophy); Western pleasure rider Stanley White, Jr. (recipient of the Barbara Worth Oakford Trophy); and Arabian in-hand competitor Andrew Sellman (recipient of the Norman K. Dunn Trophy).
Another of the night's honorees was Dr. John Lengel, former director of the Federation's Drugs and Medications Program. He accepted the Marty Simensen Memorial Trophy for humanitarian acts in the equestrian community. For some three decades-plus, Dr. Lengel served the program, bringing it from its infancy to fruition and helped build its reputation as the world's leading drug testing program.
Always one of the highlights from the evening is the awarding of the Junior Equestrian of the Year Award and the Ruth O'Keefe Meredith Memorial Trophy. South Dakota's Kirsten Kimbler, an 18-year-old endurance and Arabian rider also took the Youth Sportsman's Award. Her impressive, energetic and heartfelt address charmed the packed ballroom.
Among the other equestrians bestowed awards were: Richard Jeffery (USEF Grand Prix Show Jumping Course Designer of the Year and recipient of the Mr. and Mrs. William C. Cox Memorial Trophy); Peter Lert (Honor Roll of Distinguished Officials); Darrel and Sandy Kolkman of Heartland Farm (Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeder's Award); Elizabeth F. Searle (Walter B. Devereux Sportsmanship Trophy); Matt Fine (Sallie Busch Wheeler Trophy for Distinguished Service); C. Marvin Harwood, Sr., and Marjorie R. Harwood, Holly Pulsifer and Marcia Lee Williams (Pegasus Medal of Honor); and Jay Stream, Betty Weldon and Frank Lloyd (posthumous Richard E. McDevitt Award of Merit).
The evening's festivities were sponsored by Equisure and the American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA).
Earlier in the day, the Athlete's Luncheon, sponsored by Adequan, was held in celebration of the many international and national riders that participated in competition in 2007. From the various USEF championships to the successes of the United States Equestrian Team at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, the luncheon served as a reminder of their hard work and personal triumphs.
Among the athletes in attendance were drivers Chester Weber, Lisa Stroud and Lisa Singer; the Saddlebred world's Michele Macfarlane; and eventer Karen O'Connor.
Many Meetings Continue
In addition to the exciting social events, the list of committees gathered to iron out issues and plan for the coming year. From the spectrum of breeds to safety to competition management, there was no shortage of administrators and members offering their time and energy to the guidance and future of the sport.
To learn more about the USEF Annual Meeting, or to check in on its happenings, visit www.usef.org.