Our second inductee into the USDF Hall of Fame this year is Kyra Downton, in recognition of her leadership in the development and promotion of dressage in the Western United States. Read more
The 1950s and 1960s were a time when respect for American dressage was at a low level and participation was even less. Kyra Downton came upon the scene as a rider converted from hunters and eventing to dressage. As such, she became a beacon for dressage in the Western United States. She started with Thoroughbreds, having had experience with race horses when she lived in Shanghai as a refugee from Russia. She soon saw the value of European warm bloods and had the resources to be one of the earliest importers of warm bloods.
On her small estate in California's Atherton, she soon sponsored gatherings of people interested in improving dressage, where tests could be ridden and discussed under the guidance of the few available judges, but without competition. She took a special interest in young people and helped and instructed them free of charge. She often lent a hand to the young U.S. Pony Clubs, and tried to find promising young riders who could try to further their knowledge. She served as a judge or examiner for pony clubs numerous times. The activities eventually took on a very informal structure known as 'Atherton Dressage." This was definitely one of the forerunners of the California Dressage Society at a time when there was no USDF, USET had its total focus on jumping, and AHSA treated dressage as a stepchild that did not even have its rules included in the official AHSA Rulebook.
Kyra saw the need for more and better instruction and took the initiative to sponsor foreign clinicians including Colonel Podhajsky, Waldemar Seunig, and Gunnar Anderson. She also saw the need for a schooled horse and imported the Holsteiner "Kadett" which she moved from Prix St. Georges to Grand Prix. She was one of the earliest Americans to go to Germany for training and eventually for competition, at the prestigious Koeln Show where she placed seventh. She competed for the United States at the 1967 Pan American Games where she won the individual gold medal. At the 1968 Olympic Games, she was the highest scoring U.S. rider.
In the time Kyra was active, dressage was not as organized and structured as it is now, and there really were few opportunities to serve with organizations. Yet she was an important example and help towards the establishment of the California Dressage Society, the largest group member organization in USDF.
One of her major contributions was her generosity in giving demonstrations, which were such an important factor in increasing interest and understanding of dressage. She served as an inspiration and certainly was an icon in her time.
Kyra passed way in February 1999 at the age of 93. We are honored to induct Kyra Downton into the USDF Hall of Fame.
Samuel J. Barish