The Professional Riders Organization (PRO) Awards honor extraordinary individuals who have positively impacted the sport of eventing through their dedicated service and support of horses, riders, and events. The 2016 PRO Awards took place during the USEA Annual Meeting and Convention at the Diplomat Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and celebrated three exceptional friends of eventing.
Seema Sonnad Above and Beyond Event Personnel Award
Seema Sonnad is a much loved and dearly missed friend of the eventing world. She was the ultimate volunteer and a mainstay at many competitions across the country. Before her death in 2015, she approached PRO about sponsoring an award that honors a volunteer or event staffer that goes above and beyond the call of duty.
The winner of this special award for 2016 is Marc Donovan. He is well known as a show jumping course designer, is the Event Director at the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford, NC, and organizes the popular War Horse schooling show series at the Carolina Horse Park.
Jane Murray, Co-Chair of the Carolina International Executive Committee said, “Marc not only makes the Carolina International what it is, but he also runs an unrecognized low level series of events that are noteworthy across the country with prize money and unprecedented participation that is amazingly creative. What he does for the sport is unparalleled.
“On behalf of the entire Carolina International Organizing Committee, we’re really proud to have both Nanki and Marc recognized tonight.”
Marc thanked PRO and gave credit to the entire organizing committee and large group of staff and volunteers that help run competitions at the Carolina Horse Park. He added that with everything he does, the number one priority is the welfare of the horse.
As You Like It Owner’s Award
The PRO As You Like It Owner’s Award was started by Sara Kozumplik-Murphy and Edith Rameika and is named for Sara’s former upper-level event horse. This award is offered annually to an outstanding owner who has had a large influence on a rider’s career and made an exceptional contribution to the sport.
This year’s winning owner is Nanki Doubleday, a longtime supporter of Will Coleman who shared a heartfelt account of her influence on his career.
Coleman first started riding for Doubleday when he was 20 years old and in the beginning of his career. She has owned several horses for Will including Wild Frontier, Nevada Bay, and the late Conair. Coleman credits Doubleday with helping him truly make the transition to being a professional rider.
“When you’re a young professional just coming out of the junior ranks, your first owner is very special, and the fact that Nanki is still such a huge part of my career to this day, some 15 years later, it speaks to the singularity of her support and her loyalty,” Coleman said.
Coleman informed the audience that in 25 years of horse ownership, Doubleday has never seen one of her horses leave the start box at a four-star competition. She has also experienced the sudden and heartbreaking loss of a talented horse gone too soon, but she has never given up the sport.
“She’s one of the toughest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” Coleman continued. “And we honor her tonight for that fighting spirit and for loving in its entirety a sport that does not always love us back.”
Doubleday’s contributions to the sport extend beyond horse ownership to being a volunteer, a key figure in the running of the Carolina International Horse Trials, and a host, chef, and dear friend to many people around the world.
“She is the epitome of what we all love about this sport. She embodies the relationships, friendships, camaraderie and fellowship that binds us all together,” Coleman said. “I know in my heart that the best is yet to come for her and her horses, but it is her own perseverance and commitment that merits recognition and praise.”
Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award
Finally, Max Corcoran introduced the Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award, which is given to an outstanding groom who has had a large influence on a rider’s career and the health and well-being of the horses under their care. The 2016 winner is Lynn Symansky’s groom, Kendyl Tracy.
“She has been the most unbelievable person I’ve ever had the honor of working with. There’s a lot of good grooms out there, but it takes something else to be a truly exceptional groom. I think that goes to Kendyl’s quality of nature,” Symansky said.
Tracy traveled with Symansky and her Thoroughbred Donner to the Rio Olympics this summer as the reserves for the U.S. Eventing Team. She applauded Tracy for her dedication and fastidious care for Donner at all times as well as her willing assistance and support for the rest of the team throughout the Games.
“She groomed for me like the horse was getting ready to win a medal every single day,” Symansky said. “Even after we didn’t jog up for the team, she was there every single day helping the other grooms from sun up to sun down. She was there after cross country and early Sunday helping everyone…It was amazing to watch and I think everyone caught that fever of the team work that came largely from Kendyl.”
The $50,000 Challenge
The Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award includes a $5,000 prize for the winner, and to help ensure that this award will be indefinitely funded, PRO has been issued a challenge to raise $50,000. Liz worked as a groom for Abigail Lufkin, and if the challenge is met, the $50,000 sum will be matched by the Lufkin family.
Several individuals and events including Sherrie Martin, Surefire Horse Trials, and Carolina International have donated already, and the professional working grooms at Rolex Kentucky took up a collection.
With the help of Chatthoochee Hills organizer Hugh Lochore and Sam Watson of EquiRatings, PRO raised an additional $6,000 for the endowment thanks to the generous donations of Robert Kellerhouse of Galway Downs, Richard Trayford of Ocala International, and Jane Murray of Carolina International. Each donated $2,000 and will receive in thanks services from the sports data analysts at EquiRatings.