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Thu, 2017-04-13 08:44

Throwback Thursday Presented by the USEA Foundation: Remembering Wilton Fair

David O'Connor and Wilton Fair at the 1990 World Championships in Stockholm. USEA Archives Photo.

It has been 24 years since Wilton Fair was retired from competition and 16 years since the Irish Thoroughbred passed away. However, the legacy of David Lenaburg’s 17.3 hand gelding is still strong.

Born in Ireland in 1977, “Wilbur” (Wilton House x Kilclooney Grey) was brought through the ranks by Sir Mark Todd and would go on to win the Burghley CCI4* in 1987. Following his Burghley victory, Wilbur was purchased by Matt Firestone, but at nearly 18 hands, he proved too big for Firestone so was sent to Karen O’Connor to sell. When once again his size was too much, the ride was passed on to David O’Connor.

“Karen thought he was too big, so I rode him to sell him,” explained David. “Wilbur was in trouble, he had kind of been running past stuff, so I kept riding him.” Eventually Wilbur was purchased by Lenaburg for David to have the ride on.

“I met David Lenaburg on a plane coming back from Burghley that year when he stood up and introduced himself. We then started a 15-year ownership career just off that happenchance. Wilton Fair was the first one.”

Wilton Fair in retirement at Stonehall Farm. Jo Whitehouse Photo. 

With David in the tack, Wilbur would go on to compete in the 1990 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the fourth-placed U.S. team and that same year won Rolex Kentucky. Other highlights of the pair’s career together include completions at Luhmuhlen and Badminton CCI4*.

“Fair Hill ’93 was a very famous year because it just was awful,” said David. “It was the worst one ever. It was 40 degrees, pouring rain all day and Wilton Fair was the last one to go. Badminton was a rainy awful day, where he was in the top five. When he won Rolex we had a big hail storm when we were right out in the middle of the course. Everybody knows about ‘Wilbur Weather.’ He was a big, gutsy horse. Once he learned to trust you he would just try his heart out. Those type of conditions never bothered him, and it never bothered me because I was too stupid for it to bother me, so we just kept going where a lot of other horses would’ve packed up and gone away, we just got better.”

Their final competition together would be the 1993 Fair Hill CCI3* which would cement the term ‘Wilbur Weather’ firmly into the vocabulary of eventers. “He had that fairytale ending of winning his last competition at 17-years-old,” said David. Watch his final cross-country run below, Wilbur's segment begins at 3:40. 

In addition to his successful event career – Wilbur amassed 609 points during his run and is still in the top 100 historical USEA horses – David remembers him fondly as the first of his horses to have admirers. “We were lucky enough to have a lot of horses that ended up being famous, and he was one of those. He was the first true famous horse that I had where he created a fan base. He was a big part of my life; my first three-star winner. He was a great horse in my career, but the big thing is he brought David [Lenaburg] and I together and we’ve been great friends ever since.”

Wilbur passed away appropriately a ‘Wilbur Weather’ night at Stonehall Farm on January 20, 2001.

Curious why we are remembering Wilton Fair all of these years later? Stay tuned for an exciting announcement based on Wilbur’s legacy. 

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