December 18, 2015–The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is pleased to announce Helena “Lana” DuPont Wright as the winner of the 2015 USEF Lifetime Achievement Award. Wright, of Chesapeake, Md., has done it all, from being the first woman ever to compete on an Olympic Eventing team, to winning a medal at the World Championships more than 20 years later. For her years of service, Wright has been awarded the 2015 USEF Lifetime Achievement Award and will receive the Jimmy A. Williams Lifetime Achievement Trophy at the Pegasus Awards gala.
Wright started riding, foxhunting, as a young girl. Her equine interests stemmed from her mother, Allaire DuPont, who is perhaps best known as the breeder and owner of the renowned Thoroughbred racehorse Kelso, who was an unprecedented five-time Horse of the Year.
Perhaps one of Wright’s most notable accomplishments was that of breaking the glass ceiling for women eventers everywhere as the first woman ever to compete on an Olympic Eventing team in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics, where she also won a Team Silver medal. Until Wright broke the gender barriers, eventing, originally called “the military” was dominated by just that, the military, which was, essentially, an all-boys club. Until Wright, eventing was considered too strenuous for the fairer sex – but she proved them all wrong. Battling treacherously slick footing and heavy rains, she and her Maryland-bred Mr. Wister triumphed over the cross-country course, despite enduring several falls. In the U.S. Equestrian Team Book of Riding, she describes her first fall and her eventual completion with brutal objectivity: “We fell hard, Wister breaking several bones in his jaw. We were badly disheveled and shaken, but Wister was nonetheless eager to continue. We fell a second time near the end of the course, tripping over another spread. When we finished, we were a collection of bruises, broken bones, and mud. Anyway, we proved that a woman could get around an Olympic cross-country course, and nobody could have said that we looked feminine at the finish.” She and Mr. Wister defied the prevailing belief that the sport was too demanding for the gentler sex by completing a grueling competition in the rain and mud to stand beside her male teammates on the podium.
Wright later had the pleasure and pride of taking another horse from the same lines as Mr. Wister to the World Championships, this time in combined driving. Greystone Sir Rockwell (“Rocky”) was a homebred Connemara-cross whose Thoroughbred dam shared bloodlines with Mr. Wister. Rocky, sired by Greystone McErrill, eventually became her sentimental favorite after he helped her medal at the Pairs World Driving Championships in 1991. “He was my spare, but he was an awesome spare,” remembers Wright. “You know, you are always trying to qualify for something, and although I drove him and had competed him some locally, I had never really done anything with him. You get scared because at that level you want to use your proven competitors. But I drove him that morning, and he and his pair felt so good, I knew I just had to use him that day in the marathon. And I honestly think he is one of the reasons why we did so well.”
Like everything else Wright has done, she didn’t set out to become a World Champion driver; it just happened. She started driving when her children outgrew their ponies. “One day, I heard that Radnor was having a combined driving event, which I never heard of. I knew what eventing was, and this sounded kind of fun, so I did it and just had a good time!” And, thus, she was hooked. Her husband gave her a lovely three-year-old Connemara, which she broke to ride, then drive. Wright then decided she might like to have a pair, so she bought his two-year-old brother. “He [the brother] was ugly, but together they made a nice pair and they moved exactly the same.”
As her involvement with driving grew, she soon found herself organizing driving events with Diane Trefry. During this time, the old Chesterland International Three-Day Event was dismantled and somewhat reincarnated as the Fair Hill International. The first few years, the eventing entries were so low that Wright was approached about organizing a combined driving event in conjunction with the riding event. The two competitions meshed well, with Wright and Trefry organizing driving and designing the marathon course, and eventually the entries grew so heavy in both competitions that the organizers needed to split off the driving marathon from the eventing endurance (cross-country) phase.
Meanwhile, Wright’s involvement with endurance riding (now an FEI-recognized discipline) grew just as naturally and organically as her involvement with the other disciplines. Her first endurance ride was in 1957, a three-day 100-mile competitive trail ride in Vermont on one of her mother’s horses. She says she did her first “real” endurance event in the early ’90s aboard the Connemara stallion Thor Greystone. “We completed 100 miles in 22 hours – and that obviously was not a good enough time to be serious. Besides, Connemaras aren’t meant to do that job; they have another job.” So, Wright got an Arabian and got competitive. “There is a lot of training for endurance, but it is much more relaxed; I really enjoy it. Endurance doesn’t have the same technical strain as does training for dressage. You don’t have to be so technically perfect to do well.”
Outside of the competitive side of things she was also a visionary. She was one of the founding members of the United States Combined Training Association, now known as United States Eventing Association (USEA), and gave so much to the grassroots of the sport by holding Middletown Pony Club horse trials at her Unicorn Farm and continues to support the local Pony Club to this day. They still host regular cross-country schoolings and unrecognized events.
Wright will receive her award at the Pegasus Awards Dinner held Friday, January 15, at The Hyatt Regency Lexington in Lexington, Ky., during the 2015 USEF Annual Meeting.
For more information on the 2016 USEF Annual Meeting, visit usef.org.