by Fran Jurga | 15 March 2010 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
Maybe you are too young to have seen him ride, or maybe even too young to know who he was. But what he did with horses, how he did it, and where he did it had a big impact on a lot of people all over the United States.
Dale Wilkinson was a horse trainer from Ohio, a western rider and competitor. He died a few weeks ago. And yet there's an emotional tribute to him on a university web site. And on the American Quarter Horse Association web site. And, I'm willing to bet, a lot of other web sites.
As the University of Findlay in Ohio put it, "He is best known for his lifelong dedication to the Quarter horse profession and is considered 'The Father of Modern Reining'."
According to the University web site, Wilkinson's relationship with the University of Findlay probably began when he bought 76 acres of land in Findlay, Ohio in 1963. That training center would be where he would help establish the equestrian program for the University in 1976. In 1984, the University purchased the training center and Wilkinson moved his operation to Waynesboro, Georgia, where it remains today.
"If hadn't been for Dale Wilkinson, the University of Findlay would not be where it is today," said C. Richard Beckett, chairman of the university's board of trustees, in Findlay's Courier Progress newspaper.
"We would not have had the equestrian program and, in turn, we would not have had the pre-vet program, both of which have become the finest of their kind in the country. Dale was the start of it all," Beckett said.
In 2005, the University named an indoor arena for Dale Wilkinson.
According to the Courier-Progress, Dale Wilkinson is the only professional horse trainer to win both the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity and the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity and the only individual to be inducted into the NRHA, AQHA, NCHA, OQHA and OCHA Halls of Fame.
Wilkinson was awarded an honorary doctorate in Equine Entrepreneurial Management in 1997 by The University of Findlay in recognition of establishing the equestrian program and for his life's work as a trainer and his stature in the equine industry.
The Dale Wilkinson Western Equestrian Scholarship Fund has been established to honor his legacy. To contribute to the scholarship fund, click here.
A memorial service is being planned for April 17 at the Dale E. Wilkinson Arena in the western equestrian facility at The University of Findlay's Animal Sciences Center.
For more insight into Dale Wilkinson's legacy as a horse trainer and competitor, be sure to read the full tribute and obituary to Dale Wilkinson on cutting horse journalist Sally Harrison's excellent blog. That was the first place I looked; the photo of Dale is mirrored from Sally's blog.
Just remember that the sports and disciplines many take for granted today weren't always around. Not so long ago, if you wanted to compete in many sports, you would have to haul your horse to certain parts of the country where those events were held. Or move there. We now live in a time and horse culture where almost all disciplines are held in all parts of the country, and throughout the year, and the year-end events are held in the central states, instead of in the corners.
The popularity of sports happens when some people and horses excel at them and also excel at spreading their enthusiasm. By osmosis, they seem to bring more people and more horses into the sport. Soon, there's a type of horse suited for that sport. That's what happened with reining and a dozen other sports that are relatively new. They didn't just happen; peoplemadethemhappen. People like Dale Wilkinson.
No one is too young or too old to say thanks to a man like that.