Aloha Spirit

THE GODMOTHER: Dressage and equestrian sport in Hawaii wouldn’t have become what they are without the late Martha McDaniel ( COURTESY OF THE ALOHA STATE DRESSAGE SOCIETY)

USDF Member of Distinction Martha McDaniel helped to put Hawaii on the dressage map

By Kim MacMillan

Reprinted from the September/October 2021 issue of USDF Connection magazine

On May 20, 2021, the Hawaii equestrian community and the USDF lost a faithful volunteer and enthusiastic supporter with the passing of Martha Derby McDaniel, 83, of Kāneohe on the island of Oahu. Named a USDF Member of Distinction in 2018, and honored with the Aloha State Dressage Society’s (ASDS) inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, McDaniel earned both accolades for her efforts in promoting participation in equestrian sport and in fostering dressage education in Hawaii.

A lifelong equestrian, McDaniel rode actively into her late seventies, competing with two Arabian horses followed by a successive trio of Trakehners. She earned her USDF bronze (1998) and silver (2014) medals, her bronze (2011) and silver (2014) freestyle bars, several USDF Master’s Challenge Awards spanning Training through FEI levels, and numerous ASDS year-end awards. She trained two of her horses through Prix St. Georges. McDaniel also competed in hunters, jumpers, eventing, and Western riding. She participated in a number of parades with her horses and enjoyed trail riding with friends.

The Consummate Volunteer

McDaniel was passionate about introducing others to equestrian sport and to bringing quality educational opportunities to Hawaiian equestrians. She organized many ASDS clinics and other learning opportunities for both adult and youth riders. Her volunteerism brought her a number of additional ASDS honors, including the Val Forwood Memorial Trophy, presented to an ASDS volunteer who has contributed significantly throughout the year; and the Junior/Young Rider Council Contributor of the Year, for a person who has contributed a great deal of time and effort to that group.

Very active in the governance of her USDF group-member organization (GMO), McDaniel served on the ASDS board of directors for many years, culminating in her being designated an ASDS director emerita.

“I witnessed firsthand her dedication to our club and efforts to bring the Pony Club community to dressage,” says current ASDS president Lisa Webster. “She was in charge of membership cards and would go out of her way to help people become members so that they could participate in our shows. One of our perpetual awards is named after Martha’s horse [the Arabian gelding] Ryffaraseyn, whom she competed in every imaginable discipline. Winners of the award must also compete in several disciplines.”
For at least 18 years in a row, McDaniel attended the USDF convention as an ASDS delegate, also serving as a presenter for the popular GMO roundtable idea-exchange sessions. Sporting a Hawaiian lei and toting her knitting, she was always easy to spot in meetings and in the rows of delegates at the USDF Board of Governors assembly.

Island Life

Born in Honolulu in 1937, McDaniel was the third of four children and a descendant of three Hawaiian missionary families, according to her daughter, Diana LeFebvre. Following in the tradition of island families, McDaniel was also given a Hawaiian name—Kahalelaukoa—as a small child. After attending primary schools in Honolulu, she continued her education on the East Coast, attending the elite all-girls’ prep school Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and then Vassar College in New York. She went on to earn a master’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 

NOT JUST DRESSAGE: McDaniel relished practically every equestrian pursuit, including hunter/jumper, Western riding, and even riding in parades. Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

McDaniel spent much of her career back in her home state, where she would remain for the rest of her life. In the 1970s she taught science at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, a private school in Honolulu. For 35 years she worked at the City and County of Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, where she championed conservation at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kāneohe and then at Hana’uma Bay Nature Preserve, where she was a key member of the team that developed the preserve’s award-winning visitor center. 

LeFebvre fondly recalls her mother’s passion for all animals, with a succession of dogs, cats, and various other small creatures trooping through their lives in addition to the horses. McDaniel was also a devotee of Hawaiian music and an avid vocalist who sang with several choral groups. She was a lifelong supporter of the arts in Hawaii and a dedicated patron of the Hawaii Theatre as well as a member of the Hawaii Museum Association.

Giving Youth a Leg Up

CONVENTION FIXTURE: For years McDaniel’s warmth and ready smile graced the USDF convention. She’s pictured at the 2008 event in Denver—wearing her souvenir shirt from Denver 1999! (Jennifer Bryant photo)

In the Hawaii equestrian community, McDaniel was known for lending her horses to junior riders and giving up her own spots in clinics to allow kids to ride with top trainers.

“She was extremely generous with her time and with her horses and always wanted to lift up the junior riders,” says Webster. “She spent time at hunter/jumper and Pony Club events and always tried to convince the kids to try dressage.”

A number of the young people McDaniel helped went on to become equestrian professionals. One, Tricia Silva, became not only McDaniel’s trainer, but also a good friend.

Silva was “a seven-year-old horse-crazy kid” when she met McDaniel, Silva recalled in a Facebook tribute to her late friend. “She saw me hanging on the arena fence, watching the horses in awe. So she rode over, hopped off her horse, and said ‘OK, your turn.’ I thought I was literally going to explode from excitement…. Martha supported every clinic, symposium, awards banquet, horse show, fund-raiser…didn’t matter if it was dressage, hunter/jumper, Western, Pony Club—you name it, Martha was there.”

Perhaps the best-known recipient of McDaniel’s generosity toward youth is 2016 US Olympic dressage team bronze medalist Allison Brock, who was born and raised in Hawaii.

“Martha and I weren’t at the same barn and didn’t ride with the same trainer, but I would see her at all the shows,” Brock says. “She had amazing Arabian horses when I was little and moved on to beautiful Trakehners later on. She was often share-boarding or letting a junior or young rider take lessons and show her horses while she was training and competing on them herself…. She was incredibly generous that way with sharing her horses.”

PROUD MOMENT: Receiving her USDF silver medal from then USDF president George Williams in 2014 (Jennifer Bryant photo)

One of Brock’s favorite memories of McDaniel concerns the ASDS’s Hans Moeller Musical Memorial Award, a perpetual trophy named for the late Austrian master who championed early dressage-judge education in the US. The porcelain statuette, awarded annually to the ASDS member who earns the single highest freestyle score of the year, depicts a Lipizzaner stallion and rider from the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
In 1991, Brock, then age 11, rode her first dressage freestyle, a First Level routine performed aboard her instructor’s Arabian. “I think we managed a 61% for our test,” recalls Brock, who says that she “didn’t expect to get anything at the awards banquet, but I went with the other kids from the barn.”

McDaniel, who loved freestyle and regularly won the Moeller award, “was called up to receive the trophy,” Brock says, “and when she got up to the podium, she announced that she was giving it to me that year instead. It was one of those moments that you never forget. I wasn’t the kid winning everything back then, but I was very determined to learn and keep getting better. It was a real boost to me, and I was so proud to have that beautiful trophy in our house for a year. Martha was a great lady!

“Much later on, when I would return home to Oahu to do clinics,” Brock continues, “she would come and watch. Often her current horse would be in it with another young person or young professional. I am sure she contributed to many, many people getting riding opportunities that they wouldn’t have had access to if not for her. She really helped grow horse sport in Hawaii.”

One to Remember

A LIFETIME OF CONTRIBUTIONS: McDaniel received the USDF Member of Distinction award in 2018. Aloha State Dressage Society president Lisa Webster (holding trophy) accepted on McDaniel’s behalf. (Jennifer Bryant photo)

Sadly, McDaniel was not well enough to attend the 2018 Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention in Salt Lake City, where then USDF president George Williams honored her with the USDF Member of Distinction award. But as Williams said in his speech, McDaniel always stood out at the conventions because “her smile and passion for dressage were contagious.”

“Without Martha’s dedication and volunteerism,” Williams said, “dressage in Hawaii would not be where it is today.”
We bid her a fond and grateful aloha and farewell.

Kim MacMillan is a freelance photographer and writer based in Indiana.

Watch the Aloha State Dressage Society’s tribute video to Martha McDaniel, created in 2016 for the inaugural presentation of its Lifetime Achievement Award.

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