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Don’t you get the feeling sometimes that we are a society that honors each other when honor is the element that should be honored?
Or – and I’ll translate here – don’t you feel that we have so many awards events that they never seem to end, that they go end-to-end like a run of dominoes that never seems to bump into the double blanks?
You sense that there is an award for everything, and a show for every award.
You’ve no doubt attended a grade-school honors day, which starts when your child is in third grade and ends about the time he or she hits the eighth.
Well, there’s a chance that the culture of those epics has carried forward into the never-ending glitz-fests that are the Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Grammys and any subcategory of those you want to name.
If you are an entertainer and have not attended at least one awards show, you are either dead, or your career is.
Sports has started increasingly to copy that longwinded habit, with NASCAR leading the way and the Eclipse Awards not far behind.
And they all share one thing – they are glorious in their production and deadly in their somnolent superfluity.
Now, if you’re still awake, I want to share with you touching and wonderful awards events that was glorious in all the right ways and special beyond expectations – and not at all too long.
The United States Equestrian Federation spent three days of its annual meeting last week in Lexington honoring the best in all the horse world.
You’re thinking perhaps Zenyatta and Calvin Borel and headliners such as that, but the reach of the athletes and competitors in the USEF far eclipses the Eclipse Awards, for all the hype they receive.
Think of all the various breeds of horses and the disciplines in which they compete.
Think of the World Equestrian Games and those varied events.
Think of any horse show or competition you have seen at any fairgrounds.
Think of your neighbors and their passions for their animals.
Add all those together, and you might get within a box of Kleenex of the sort of feeling you get from USEF’s celebrations.
For all the phoniness of all those other awards, these feel personal and true and wonderful.
I attended the USEF’s Horse of the Year and Pegasus Awards events to see Shelby County legend Don Harris be honored and because my wife – conflict noted here – works for the USEF.
Let me be clear that she had no bearing on how I saw this event. We didn’t even sit at the same tables (though we texted a lot when she got a chance to sit).
But what I saw was hundreds and hundreds of people who love horses, who love what they do, who were heartfully and tearfully touched to be honored and who openly stood and whooped, hollered and celebrated the shared success of others.
There were almost as many tears – real tears, not camera tears – as there were miles of black fabric in the room.
Even the emcee, international eventing star David O’Connor, had to step away from the mike at one point and let his wife eulogize a beloved equestrian who had passed away.
When Harris, a Saddlebred sensation, says it was the best night of his night of his life, you tend to believe him.
There was an impressive, 17-year-old girl, Kelsey Kimbler, who told the story of riding her first 100-mile endurance event at age 6. She was the Junior Equestrian of the Year.
There was Mary Anne Cronan who talked about being inspired by Helen Crabtree of Simpsonville. She earned one of the loudest ovations.
The son of Walter Staley Jr., who won an award of merit, mesmerized the crowd with stories of his late father, an Olympian from the early days who in 1960 commandeered a bicycle so he could navigate the clogged streets of Rome to get to his horse in the 3-day competition (eventing), going from a “Tour De France to dressage.”
There was Cecilia Butler-Stasiuk, honored for endurance riding, who presented her award to her mother, who rode in her final 100-miler when she was 8 months pregnant with Cecilia.
Many of these award winners knew of their awards and were prepared, but there were surprises.
And perhaps in this world of elegant horses and ancient breeds the biggest surprise was this: The Horse of the Year and the Equestrian of the Year came from the decidedly Western discipline of reining.
Tom McCutcheon rode Gunners Special Nite to two gold medals at the World Equestrian Games, and both rider and horse – well, his owner, Sarah Willeman – were a bit stunned at their success.
“I really didn’t expect to win,” McCutcheon said. “I was having a bad year, and then I came here [for WEG], and it was incredible, to ride for your country and to win. It’s overwhelming.”
McCutcheon didn’t cry, but he also admittedly didn’t have a speech prepared, as some so eloquently did.
But his remarks were no less poignant, no less full of emotion and were overarched by his sense of respect – for both horses and competitors in all the equestrian world.
McCutcheon wasn’t wearing a tie and he wasn’t wearing black, but he was wearing a great honor on the greatest and most glorious evening for his industry.
As Harris said later, “This is as near to Hollywood as you can get.”
No, this was better than Hollywood. This was real.