Lana Wright made history as the first woman to compete in Olympic three-day eventing 49 years ago, heralding a new era for a sport once considered too demanding and dangerous for female riders.
Dangerous it was; she had two falls on cross-country riding Mr. Wister at the 1964 Tokyo Games (long before even one fall meant elimination) but she got up and kept going. Standing on the podium as the team claimed the silver medal was a reward for her persistence. That set a pattern for her amazing life and the women who would follow her at the highest level of the sport.
Lana’s eventing career began in the early days of the Pony Club, with a small event in Monkton, Maryland.
“We did the dressage, which I knew nothing about and I don’t remember walking the cross-country course. I think I was one of the few who got around the cross-country without going off-course. So I ended up winning it,” she says with a laugh.
That success urged her to “find out more about the dressage,” so she went to Vermont to attend the clinics being given by Brig. Gen. John Tupper Cole and Stewart Treviranus and she was on her way.
Lana didn’t stop competing after her Olympic effort, but she branched out into driving – where she was a member of the landmark 1991 World Pairs Championships U.S. gold medal team – and later, endurance. Although she no longer competes, she’s still foxhunting at the age of 74.
The Maryland native was born into the horse world. Her mother, Allaire duPont, stood as a pillar of Thoroughbred racing and her Bohemia Stable owned five-time Horse of the Year Kelso.
Lana has been an ardent volunteer in all sorts of areas over the years. She was a founding member of the U.S. Combined Training Association, now the U.S. Eventing Association. Currently, she is the co-president of the Fair Hill International Festival in the Country, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area in Maryland this year (October 16-20).
The lovely acreage has a special meaning for Lana. Once owned by a relative, William duPont Jr., it was passed down to his daughter, Jean McConnell, and Lana spent a lot of time riding there both before and after the state took it over.
“It’s just the most beautiful park. Anybody living close enough to use it consistently is lucky,” said Lana, whose Unicorn Farm is about a half-hour away.
Lana became a part of the Fair Hill International after the event began. Since eventing entries were relatively light, it was decided to combine driving with the program, and that was a perfect fit for her.
The eventing ranks for the fall 2- and 3-star championship since have expanded, which means there’s no time left for another sport to share the dates. Nevertheless, Lana always attends, even though there’s no longer a driving component.
Lana’s late daughter, Beale Wright Morris, was a high-level eventer shortlisted for the 2000 Olympic team, but Lana doesn’t really know any of the current day eventers, with the exception of Sharon White, who was a close friend of Beale’s.
She’s more up-to-date on the driving because her long-time friend, Diane Trefry, is involved with the Elk Creek and Willow Glen events. Lana started combined driving with one of her children’s ponies, and gave up when her Connemaras got too old. That’s when she switched to endurance.
“I just love it. It’s a challenge, it’s not whether I win or lose, it’s a matter of how well I did the job,” she said of that sport.
She did her first 100-mile in Vermont on her Connemara stallion Thor of Greystone, but it took 22 hours; he just wasn’t the right breed for the task. Endurance, she said, is best suited to Arabians or Arab crosses. She won the Vermont 100-mile once or twice with Nathan’s Pride, who was second in the US. Equestrian Team 100-mile Championship
She still hunts her Arabs, but gave up endurance five years ago.
“I just can’t do it physically,” she explained.
“Riding is one way I can get around. I have a little bit of arthritis and walking is not my biggest thing, but riding I can do,” said Lana, who is the poster girl for riding as a lifetime sport.