Attendees of the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention gathered together on Saturday, December 10 for a celebration of some of the sport’s most influential key players that takes place only once every four years: the USEA Eventing Hall of Fame Gala. This year the USEA Eventing Hall of Fame welcomed five new inductees into its class of esteemed riders, horses, and influencers of the sport. While only one of the inductees could be present themselves this year, the other four were well-represented with acceptance speeches on their behalf from family and close friends.
The first inductee to be honored was Janie Atkinson. Atkinson is most well known for her contributions to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, now Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event, serving as the Executive Vice President of Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) and Event Director from 1984 to 2010. The success and scale of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event today are thanks in large part to Atkinson’s work. Throughout her career, Atkinson also served as Industry Liaison for the American Horse Council, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Horse Council, and Eventing Discipline Director for the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games. Atkinson accepted her trophy while sharing many personal stories from the history of the Horse Park and the development of the Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Second to be recognized was three-time Olympian and prolific author, the late Brigadier General Harry Chamberlin. Warren Matha accepted the award on the behalf of Chamberlin’s family while taking a look back at Chamberlin’s astounding influence on equestrian sport in the U.S. Chamberlin was a graduate of the American, French and Italian calvary schools for advanced equitation and rode in the 1920, 1928 and 1932 Olympic Games. His top accolades include a Team Gold for the Military, the predecessor to the modern form of eventing, and an individual Silver Medal for the Prix de Nations in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Col. Chamberlin also wrote two classic and still influential books: Riding and Schooling Horses (1934) and Training Hunters, Jumpers and Hacks (1937), the former a guide for developing “a good rider,” the latter for educating that rider in “breaking and training the horse.”
Turning the attention to the horses that have made an impact on the history of eventing over the years, Dougie Hannum accepted the trophy on behalf of all of the connections of the esteemed Eagle Lion. Hannum shared many personal accounts of working alongside “Eagle,” including the origin of his nickname of “the flying pig.” Piloted by Bruce Davidson, Sr. throughout his astonishing career, Eagle Lion was the first of only two American horses to ever win the Badminton Horse Trials, and one of few, if not the only, to complete the four-star cross-country course at Badminton double clear four times. Davidson and Eagle Lion collected top five placings at Fair Hill, Burghley, and other attempts at Badminton throughout their partnership and are now memorialized as a bronze statue at the Kentucky Horse Park, where the artist depicted the pair jumping the “Head of the Lake” obstacle of at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day.
Rumsey Keefe took to the stage to honor the fourth inductee of the evening, her mother Trish Gilbert. Gilbert has worn many hats in the sport of the eventing throughout her lifetime, but perhaps the most influential was her role in bringing the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, only the second five-star event in the U.S. and seventh worldwide, to fruition. Gilbert has been involved with Fair Hill International, Inc., the organizers of eventing competitions at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, since the beginning as their event director. After successfully hosting the 2003 Pan American Games Eventing Championships and over 30 years of upper-level eventing competitions at the venue, Fair Hill was awarded the five-star designation, in many ways thanks to Gilbert’s work. Gilbert also served as the director of the Blue Ridge Horse Trials, organized the spring three-day U.S. Equestrian Team Championships, was a team selector, the young rider chairman, and served on many USEA boards throughout her career. Keefe shared a letter from Gilbert expressing her gratitude for being honored through this induction and took a trip down memory lane, sharing the influence her mother had on her own life growing up and still has today.
Perhaps the most comedic acceptance of the evening was that of Brian and David O’Connor’s on behalf of their mother Sally O’Connor. The brothers shared tales of their cross-country trek on horseback organized by Sally and what life was like growing up under her influence. O’Connor has enjoyed a lifetime of involvement in both eventing and dressage, serving in several official roles, including as an FEI Judge (USEF “I” dressage judge and an eventing “R” judge), an eventing steward, the voice of the dressage tests at the then Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event for over 15 years, and press liaison during the 2004 Olympics. Also, an accomplished writer, O’Connor has influenced riders all over the country with her works Practical Eventing and Common Sense Dressage, as well as numerous articles on both disciplines. She has served on the boards of many equestrian institutions including the United States Dressage Association, the United States Pony Club, and as Vice President of Education for the United States Eventing Association.
The USEA thanks these five inductees for their tremendous impact on the sport and congratulates them on their induction into the USEA Eventing Hall of Fame.