First Printed in October 2000
“I just love to ride,” says Lana duPont Wright, as she tries to explain her multi-faceted equestrian career, from Olympic level eventing to World Championship Driving, to international endurance riding. “I just love horses, I love the country, and I love to wander around in it,” which makes sense, given that all three disciplines require traveling over vast tracts of land.
Lana didn’t start out to make world history when she began riding and foxhunting as a kid. But the next thing she knew, she was making history when she was selected to ride on the 1964 United States Equestrian Team at the World Olympic Games in Tokyo: Lana was the first woman ever to compete in the Olympic sport of eventing. Until Lana broke the gender barriers, eventing, originally called “the military” was dominated by just that, the military, which was, essentially, an all-boys club. Until Lana, 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 (by Occupy) triumphed over the 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.”
Lana 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 World Driving Championships in 1991. “He was my spare, but he was an awesome spare,” remembers Lana. “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.” Now a 17 year old schoolmaster, Rocky can still be seen at Lana’s Unicorn Farm in Chesapeake City, or hacking about Fair Hill.
Like everything else Lana 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. Lana 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 Lana was approached about organizing a combined driving event in conjunction with the riding event. The two competitions meshed well, with Lana and Diane 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, Lana’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-type of 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 a 100 hours 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, Lana got an Arab 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.”
What’s next for Lana? She would like to get an FEI endurance ride incorporated into the Fair Hill International weekend. In fact, she has already been working on a route, measuring it out. “We are already have FEI there, so it wouldn’t be that difficult to get FEI recognition.” But, since there are not that many endurance rides, she doesn’t want to conflict with any already established rides, such as the one traditionally held that same weekend in Fort Valley, Virginia. “But hopefully we will work something out.”
As for her proudest equestrian moments? There are two. There is the 1991 World Driving Championships: “I couldn’t contribute to the Team Silver medal we [the USET] won in 1964, so I was so proud to be able to make up for that and contribute my score to the team the year we won the Worlds in the Pairs Division.”
And then there is her daughter, eventer Beale Wright Morris, who placed 6th at the Burghley Pedigree Horse Trials CCI**** in early September, the highest placing U.S. rider. “I am just so terrifically proud of her; she did a heck of a job last year, even though she didn’t place, and this year she was just incredible.”
An incredible legacy from a woman who “just loves to ride” and who inadvertently become a Maryland legend along the way.