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By Alessandra Shultz
I can still remember the excitement and the anticipation
as we waited for the second place to be called. It felt like
a lifetime standing there in the line knowing it was down to
the two of us. You could hear a pin drop.
Laura O’Connor has done a lot of refecting on her many
successes in the saddle. It started with her frst rides at Harrisburg
and the Garden as a star struck 12-year-old, when she vowed to
herself that she would return and win the revered AHSA Medal
Finals. Which she did during her last junior year.
Aboard Laura Tidball’s equitation horse, Glen Owen, Laura
endured test after test, including swapping horses, dropping
stirrups and walk jumps, to earn her impressive win in 1983. After
seemingly endless testing, Laura risked a fying change before the
turn towards a triple combination, instead of riding it safe with a
simple change, to break the stalemate and tip the judges’ decision
in her favor. The fated blue, and the eternity of testing, was a hard
fought tug-o-war between Laura and one other rider. Ribbons are
pinned in reverse order and as the crowd heard the second place
fnisher announced, the stadium went wild. She remembers, “The
cheers were deafening. People were banging on the sides of the
arena. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced in my 18
years of life and, still, that is my fnest moment in show jumping.”
The same audacious riding that impressed the AHSA Medal
Finals judges, Victor Hugo Vidal and Steve Hawkins, served Laura
well when she began her partnership with the incredible jumper
stallion, Oskar, in 1990. The memorable large chestnut with a
faxen mane and tail was a “once in a lifetime horse; the kind of
horse we all wish for.” Under the California based instructor Will
Simpson’s tutelage, the duo developed a strong mutual trust and
confdent foundation in the amateur division before progressing to
the grand prix ranks. The success they saw in the amateurs and
classics carried over, especially during a particular record-breaking
weekend at the 1996 North American at Spruce Meadows.
Getting Off The Fence
Laura O’Connor, with Glen Owen and trainer
Tim Kees, winning the 1983 Medal Finals.
The grueling, yet thrilling, victorious weekend began with the
Saturday win of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and a Sunday victory
in the, then titled, Chrysler Derby. The pair made the record
books for being the frst horse and rider combination to win both
prestigious events in what is considered one of the most diffcult
weekends in the sport of international show jumping.
The horse and rider’s many triumphs were merit to win the
Leading Lady Rider trophy for three consecutive years. Oskar’s
favorite part was the victory gallops: “wow did that pump him up!”
On course, the strong and steady stallion adored the soft and
forgiving footing that “encouraged him to jump better and better.”
He was a super jumper, lots of scope and very careful. It
didn’t matter how big the vertical was, I could run down to
the base and drop him. He’d rock back, curl up and over it
like a champ: The best feeling! I won many classes because
l could run all out to the last jump, which was usually the
For Laura, the initial transition from east to west coast (and
the beginning step that lead to her family’s purchase of the great
Oskar) was a shaky one, literally. The day the young rider moved
from her long-time home base of Connecticut to ride her parents
horses in northern California, the big quake of ‘89 struck. Laura
recalls, “That was my frst earthquake! To say it was terrifying
is an understatement.” However, the devoted equestrian didn’t
shy from the initial shock (or aftershocks). Her parents bought a
ranch in Pleasanton and, with the accumulation of a nice string of
horses, Team O’Connor took shape.
Laura continued her upward trajectory in the ring by showing
the Team O’Connor horses in the hunters and jumpers. She
Laura is off the fence and back in the ring
competing Valdano.
Photo by ESI Photography
Continued on page 102