Popular eventer Wilton Fair commemorated with $1 million fund

Video: Wilton Fair’s run at Fair Hills in 1993 starts at 3:40.

A former US eventing horse owner has “given back” in a big way by creating a million-dollar fund to support promising young riders in the sport.

The Wilton Fair Fund has been created with a $1 million donation from the horse’s owners, David and Cheryl Lenaburg.

The fund will allow up to $100,000 in grants to be given each year for a variety of educational opportunities for riders 29 and under who have not yet ridden for a senior team.

Born in Ireland in 1977, 17.3hh Irish Thoroughbred Wilton Fair (Wilton House x Kilclooney Grey), who was known as Wilbur at home, was brought through the ranks by Mark Todd, winning the Burghley CCI4* in 1987. It was the year that Todd’s 1984 Olympic champion Charisma, at 15.3hh, was second.

David O'Connor and Wilton Fair.
David O’Connor and Wilton Fair. © US Combined Training Association

Wilbur was bought by Matt Firestone, but proved too big for Firestone so was sent to Karen O’Connor to sell. When once again his size was too much, the ride was passed on to David O’Connor.

“Karen thought he was too big, so I rode him to sell him,” explained David. “Wilbur was in trouble, he had kind of been running past stuff, so I kept riding him.” Eventually Wilbur was bought by Lenaburg for David to ride.

“I met David Lenaburg on a plane coming back from Burghley that year when he stood up and introduced himself. We then started a 15-year ownership career just off that happenchance. Wilton Fair was the first one.”

Wilton Fair in retirement at Stonehall Farm.
Wilton Fair in retirement at Stonehall Farm. © Jo Whitehouse

The horse gave O’Connor his first CCI3* victory. Wilton Fair He died on January 20, 2001, at the age of 24.

Lenaburg is now retired and does not own horses any more, but called O’Connor recently “out of the blue”.

“We’ve always just kept in touch. He said, ‘I’ve been kind of thinking about the future, and I think it’s time to give back. I would like to give a million dollars to the developing side of the sport. The developing side of high performance … what I did for you, I want to do it again. I want to give back’.”

The first grants from the Wilton Fair Fund will be awarded for the 2018 season, and will be decided by the US Eventing Association Foundation.

Chairman Kevin Baumgardner said the foundation was administering grant programs that make a difference in all areas of the sport. “The Wilton Fair Fund is another big step forward for us. We cannot thank the Lenaburgs enough for their vision and generosity.  We look forward to working with them for years to come.”

O’Connor said the developing side of the program was important.  “You get caught because the senior riders can’t be riders forever, and then suddenly you’re in a hole. We’ve seen that happen. That’s the exciting part about the programs we’re coming up with. They’re really going to help with the ability for the US to play for a long time.”

David O'Connor and Wilton Fair at the 1990 World Championships in Stockholm.
David O’Connor and Wilton Fair at the 1990 World Championships in Stockholm. © USEA Archives


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