Maryland’s Native Son David O’Connor & His Olympic Journey

Competing for the United States Equestrian Team at the 2000 World Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia will be Maryland-bred David O’Connor. This will be David’s second Olympics. His mounts are Rattle N Hum (owned by David Lenaburg or Rockville), Giltedge, and Custom Made.

David’s road to Sydney began here, in Maryland, with the Redland Pony Club, for whom his mother, the indomitable Sally O’Connor, was D.C. David recently shared with us how he got started in eventing.

EQ: David - how did you get started in eventing?

David: Well, when I was little, my mother wished for one of us [David’s brother is the well-known announcer, Brian] to be involved with horses. So she went to her friends and peers at the time, Mike [Plumb], Bruce [Davidson], etc., and asked what would be the most important thing for her sons to do if they were to make their career in the eventing world. They told her to give us as much cross country experience as she could. So the next thing we knew, we were riding cross country, literally across the country. 3,000 miles and three and half months later, I think she misunderstood what they were talking about!

EQ: Do you have any special memories of Redland?

David: Gymkhana with Jim Ligon, pick-up games, fireman games, apple dunking games ... I remember jumping down a grid in the aisle of a shed row barn (can you imagine we did that -- no one would do that today) on my pony Bramble, when she decided she had had enough and decided she was going to teach me to jump a fence by myself. Well, I was better at it with her than without her, and I broke my collarbone during my “flying dismount”. Now, Mrs. Bedford used to always wear a stirrup leather as a belt, and I found out then why, as she immediately put me in a figure eight and packed me off to the hospital, where the doctor was quite impressed by the impromptu medical harness!

EQ: How long did you stay in Pony Club?

David: Until I got my “B” rating, and then at 16 I began pursuing my eventing career in the young rider divisions.

EQ: How did you do?

David: Nothing to brag about. I did have one good event at Radnor where I was second, but otherwise it was not a lot to talk about.

EQ: And then what happened?

David: Jack LeGoff, then coach of the USET, used to pick 30 people, what they called developing riders, each year after the Olympics for training sessions. I was lucky enough to be chosen for that, and then I got to stay at the USET headquarters for another four years; I guess I was a slow learner!

EQ: When did you start competing at the international level?

David: Not until I was 25. I think that it is important for kids to know that. I didn’t even do my first Intermediate until I was 21. All my friends went up through the ranks much quicker than I did, and I felt left behind. Now, I am the only one still competing!

EQ: What else would you want kids to know?

David: My wife Karen and I base our program, our philosophy, on long-term ideals, not short-term goals. Goals are important as a test of where you are, but you must have long-term ideals. Our philosophy of training, of educating our horses and our students, is to show them what they can do, not tell them they can’t do.

Horses have taken me all over the world, have enabled me to meet people and do things that I would never have been able to do otherwise. Horses have brought me great thrills, tremendous disappointments, and moments of keen introspection. Above all, horses continually teach me humility.

EQ: How would you measure the success of your program for your students?

David: The time measure of our success as educators will be the kids that have not only learned responsibility, discipline, and how to solve problems on their own, but have also learned the passion for another being that only horses can inspire.

EQ: How would you describe yourself?

David: An ordinary person leading an extraordinary life.