Van Put's 'Horse Talk'
By Judy Van Put
April 4, 2000 -- David OConnor, 38-year-old Olympian, was the
keynote speaker at the United States Pony Club annual
meeting in Baltimore this year. Cherie Keating, assistant
DC of the Thornapple Pony Club in Jeffersonville, has
generously supplied us with information from this
interview, adding that David is well-spoken,
polite, and totally approachable!
A graduate B pony clubber from Redland Hunt Pony Club in
Virginia, David is the son of Sally OConnor, the
well-respected author, judge, course designer, and
trainer. In 1973, Sally took her sons David (then 11
years old) and Brian (then 13 years old) on a 2,800 mile
trek from Maryland to Oregon on horseback. David
commented on his mothers idea of a cross-country
ride, You havent lived until you have
actually fallen asleep in the saddle and then fallen off
your horse, and had your 13-year-old brother remind you
of it for two days, until he falls asleep on his horse
and falls off!
David has come up through the ranks
Pony Club and trainers. His philosophy is the
Pursuit of Excellence. Its not
just about the competition. It is also your Quality of
Presentation. In his eyes, you need to compare
yourself with the best in your sport to see where you
really stand. David is firm in reminding people that you
dont get there alone. With the price of upper-level
event horses beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest,
you have to have backers or owners people who
believe in you. As a result, he believes this is a people
business, not a horse business. He addressed the young
equestrians in the audience by reminding them that
when you are kids, your parents are your first
Its difficult when you make a mistake in a
competition and you have to go back to an owner and say
Yes, I made a mistake. It is also difficult
when you ride for a team you have a lot more
pressure on you. Thats why it is important to
remember that it took a lot of people to put you there.
Everyone expects you to do well.
David commented on what he looks for in an Olympic-level
horse. I like overall balance and high withers. I
look at length of leg and hock. A horse that loves to
play, but is willing to solve a puzzle. Most importantly
you need to look in the horses eyes and like what
you see. There are a lot of great jumpers out there, but
they have to be sane!
Jumping a course is like a puzzle, he
continued, If you can figure out the pieces of the
puzzle you can put it all together. You need to teach the
horse to want to do it. You could never make a horse do
It takes roughly four years to bring along a 4-star
horse. They start at the preliminary level for 18 months,
and spend about nine months at intermediate level. David
considers the 3-star still an educational level. He
believes that dressage is the best possible exercise for
the horse. It does more for all the muscles than anything
else and is similar to an athlete doing
David and his wife, Karen Lende OConnor, also a
graduate pony clubber, refer to themselves as the
OConnor Event Team. Sixteen people comprise the
rest of the OConnor Event Team, including a
veterinarian and a farrier. Their grooms are experienced
in equine massage.
In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, David and his wife Karen
OConnor, along with Bruce Davidson and Jill
Hennenberg won the Team Silver. This was the first time
husband and wife teammates won together for the same
Davids career includes such highlights as the USET
Whitney Stone Cup for achieving a distinguished record in
international competition and serving as a fine
ambassador for USET and equestrian sports; the Team Gold
and Individual Silver at the Pan Am games, and winning
the Male Athlete of the Month for North America by the
U.S. Olympic Committee, which was the first time an
equestrian athlete received this honor.
One thing about the Olympics, David says,
Its the one thing that the world believes in.
We all want to believe in the Olympics.
Stay tuned for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia