By Chelsey Burris
The dressage world recently lost a kind soul in the passing of Lila Kommerstad, at age 94. She and her husband Bob were prominent supporters of USA Dressage.
Dressage instructor and FEI rider Tracey Lert took a moment to reflect on the impact Lila had, not only on the dressage community but on her life personally.
Tracey’s father is American dressage legend Peter Lert, who was awarded the USDF Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. Tracey shares how Lila was instrumental in her parents getting married. “My mother Bonnie became friends with Lila a long time ago, through horses. My mom met my dad selling tickets to a hunt ball. He said he’d only go if he could take her. In a twist of fate, he had just been judging her at a show that weekend.”
It was love at first sight for the two. Bonnie was still living at home and Peter came to visit her from Bakersfield a few weeks into their relationship. Bonnie’s mother didn’t approve of the two young people being home alone so she insisted on a chaperone. Lila seemed the perfect person for the job. As they sat around visiting that weekend, Lila had an epiphany. She said, “You know you’re going to get married, just go get it done.”
Per Lila’s idea, the two drove to Yuma, Arizona. If either of them had said, “Let’s turn around,” they would have, but neither of them did so they got married right then and there.
“They probably would have gotten married anyways, but I really like to think Lila was responsible for my parents getting married,” Tracey shares, fondly remembering the story she has heard so many times before.
Years later, it was Peter’s turn to be consulted for advice. In 1991, Lila was thinking about sponsoring a horse who had caught her eye named Udon. A young Steffen Peters was aboard him. He was a very talented rider, but he wasn’t particularly well-known at the time.
Lila asked Peter to join her in watching Udon do a working session with Steffen. After watching them work together, Peter advised her, “If you do one, you gotta do the other. You can’t just buy the horse and try to find a rider. Steffen has a great thing going with this horse.” So Lila bought Udon, became Steffen’s first sponsor, and the rest is history.
Udon wasn’t a flashy mover but was very correct. Tracey recalls that her father said he wasn’t the type of horse who was ever going to go to the Olympics. “My dad ate crow on that one,” Tracey recalls, as 5 years later, Steffen and Udon brought home a bronze medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Growing up, Tracey always remembers Lila as a presence in their lives. They would often see her at shows, and she would frequently call Tracey’s mother to chat about horses, life, and everything in between.
When asked how Lila will be remembered, her kind heart seems to be perhaps her most lasting legacy. “I knew her as a family friend, and a very kind lady,” Tracey says. “She will be greatly missed.”
Lila Kommerstad was a lifelong horsewoman. She was a prominent supporter of the sport of dressage in California and was a longtime member of California Dressage Society and USDF. She was the first sponsor of Steffen Peters. Among the horses she sponsored were Udon and Akeena, who both brought home Olympic medals with Steffen Peters, as well as 1998 US Reserve Grand Prix champion Grandeur, and Marlando.