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AHHS Gwen Stableford Lifetime Achievement Award: Sandra Surber

Fortunately for the Hackney breed, tonight’s recipient of the AHHS Gwen Stableford Lifetime Achievement Award did not take to a saddle the way a duck takes to water. She had the notion to ride at the age of 50 but that didn’t go so well. Someone suggested that driving might be safer and thus she was introduced to the Friesian world, purchasing her first in 1991.

The San Francisco native took a subsequent Friesian to the Menlo Circus Club for Frank Buckley to break to drive. It was there that she met Hackney owner and exhibitor Rudy Driscoll and was introduced to the breed. 
When Bruce Dixon became the resident trainer, he was working with another of her Friesians when he asked her if she would like to drive Honest Impression, a pony he had on consignment from Doc [Alan] Raun.
“After a few drives she and her husband Ted came to the barn and said, ‘Okay, it’s time to sharpen the pencil and get this done,’” said Jennifer Dixon. 

“She had a great time with that pony and then wanted a road pony so we went back to Doc Raun’s and she bought Mastercraft’s Gambler. While there she saw a pony in the stall that caught her eye and Doc brought the cob-tail out to work. She loved him but said she couldn’t afford to buy two ponies. When she went home she told Ted about the pony and he said, ‘If you want it, buy it.’ That was Heartland Candidate. We left him with Doc through Louisville and he won the stallion/gelding class that year.”

Our honoree and Heartland Candidate had a great run, dominating the West Coast for several seasons and more than holding their own back east. Dixon shared this story. “I’ll never forget when she and Candidate won at Lexington, one of the locals said in a heavy twang, ‘I’ve never seen a foreigner (California) win the ladies cob-tail class at Lexington.’ Quick and gracious as ever, she replied, ‘Well, I am a citizen.’”

By this time she had Hackney fever and she had it bad. The top road pony, With Luck, was added to the string and then the pleasure driving pony, Heartland Entitled was purchased from her barn mate Yvette Scandling.

Tonight’s recipient and her beaming personality have long been a bright spot for the Hackney. She loves her ponies and the industry and would do anything she could for the industry. She’s a most gracious competitor and has served on the AHHS Board.

One great story about tonight’s recipient is once she purchased aweek at road pony camp through one of the association auctions. When she showed up at Rob and Julianne Wilson’s camp they said, “You do know this is a sleepover junior exhibitor camp?” She opted to forgo the sleepover and got a motel, but she did participate with the kids in camp and learned a lot. One little girl felt sorry for our recipient because she wouldn’t have her parents there for open day, so the little girl offered to share her parents.

She had such a good time with the kids that she generously sponsored many deserving young people to attend this annual event.

“She’s a strong woman and a very caring person. She really is an unsung hero,” said Julianne Wilson. Resiliant is the word most used to describe our recipient. Recently, good health has not been her friend, however, she’s the most upbeat person you’ll ever meet and she continues to enjoy her ponies, watching other people show them via the webcasts. In addition to her ponies, she and her husband enjoy their 120-acre Palisades Ranch, where they restored vineyards and started a successful business growing and selling grapes to commercial clients, in  addition to making a fine line of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio for themselves.

Back to the ponies, when trainer and friend Bruce Dixon became too ill to continue training she moved ponies east to Rich and Maureen Campbell and like her previous trainer, they became family. 

Bruce Dixon and the Campbells had already formed a friendship when he purchased Heartland Entitled so it was a smooth transition. Together they have gone to the winner’s circle with the likes of Palisades Margarita, CH Extremely Supreme, Catch Me If You Can, CH Heartland Globetrotter, Charmed Masterpiece, Heartland Infinity, CH Regal’s Norma Jean, CB Party Girl, Heartland Hayday, and the great CH Crystal Creek’s Commander who Rich Campbell said has been a perfect fit for her.

“After being used to driving Heartland Candidate and Heartland Entitled, both ponies with ‘issues,’ Commander was issue free and did best with a minimum of fussing with him,” shared our honoree. “That was tough for me initially. He marched into the ring looking for ladies; a delight to show.

“And now seeing his offspring in the ring is just wonderful. The Brunton’s Precious Cargo winning at the Royal Winter Fair was a real highlight last year.”

Our honoree and her world’s champion continue to be barn favorites at Majestic Oaks. The kids all love her and the adults admire her.

“If it weren’t for her, there wouldn’t be a Majestic Oaks,” said Maureen Campbell. “In fact, our arena is named after her. She’s been like a mother to us and helped us out so many ways. When she is too sick to show she lets the kids show and cheers them on. You can see her smile a mile away when she is driving. She’s an incredibly strong woman who is great for our breed and has taught us to never give up.

“One of our funny stories was her showing in the pouring rain at Lexington one year,” added Maureen. “It turned into a torrential downpour right before the class but they held it anyway and she wins. She wants to make a victory pass in all of this and I say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Rich chimed in, ‘Howie left before the class ever started, let’s go.’”

If you happened to be at Lexington that morning it’s a sight we’ll never forget. It was raining so hard she couldn’t see, but that signature smile was beaming bright.

As Rich Campbell said, “She’s very competitive, but she has fun doing it. She loves it. She’s very proud of her ponies, especially her homebreds.”

Her passion, her character, her leadership and her love of her fellow Hackney enthusiasts are all traits that make Sandra Surber a most deserving recipient of the American Hackney Horse Society Gwen Stableford Lifetime Achievement Award.

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