Skip to content

Sallie B. Wheeler Distinguished Service Award: Mary Gaylord McClean

Editor's note: The following speech was read by Sarah Byers on Friday, Jan. 11, 2002 at the UPHA/AHHS Convention in Lexington, Ky.
The Sallie B. Wheeler Distinguished Service Award shall be presented to a person or people who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of the show horse industry and the profession of showing horses. They may or may not be a professional horseman, however, they must be of an unselfish nature and possess a total dedication to the show horse industry and its improvement and advancement.

For Halloween this year at one of Louisville’s elementary schools, teachers asked their students to come to school dressed up as someone they admired and looked up to.

After the events of Sept. 11, obviously there were lots of firemen and policemen, and more than a few George Bush’s. But there was one little girl simply dressed in her riding pants and boots, and a neat blonde ponytail.

When the teacher asked Jenny to stand up and tell the class who this was she so admired, her answer was tonight’s honoree; Mary Gaylord McClean.

I’m not going to try to list all of Mary’s accomplishments in the show horse industry. For one thing to list them all makes us both seem way too old. Secondly, this award is not about accomplishments in the ring, but contributions to the betterment of our industry.

Mary is an active member of the AHHS having served on it’s board and as it’s president. She also is involved with our UPHA associate membership.

Mary obviously gives tremendous support to many horse shows, not only financially, but by supporting shows from the smallest county fair to Louisville with her horses and ponies. What I would like to tell you tonight are a few things you might not know Mary does.

Do you know where you can find Mary on many a cold winter Saturday afternoon? Ringmastering at our winter tournaments. She helps things run smoothly and safely and seems to really enjoy being a part of this very important faction of our industry. To the kids it’s fun just having a “Celebrity” in the ring. Our announcer, Dick Williams just loves getting hand signals from Mary.

Mary has been the major financial contributor to the UPHA Exceptional Equitation class the last two years. But Mary doesn’t stop with just writing a check. She gets involved. Last year, like so many others, I just took a little longer nap on Thursday evening and missed watching the class. But after hearing Mary talk about it, I promised I’d be there this year and I was. Mary filled me in on who some of the riders were, where they were from, how they got involved riding. I stood with Mary on the ramp as the rider’s left the ring with their ribbons. What a thrill to see their faces with Mary standing there clapping for them. I went back to the barn with tears in my eyes. Mary was off to go personally congratulate the winner and her mom.

In December a few of us had the opportunity to become involved in the Make A Wish Foundation Of Kentucky. A 12-year-old little girl named Morgan whose wish was for riding lessons, but got so much more. Some of you may have read about it. What you probably didn’t read about was the person who helped make everything come together. Mary was described and introduced as Morgan’s fairy godmother. What a lucky little girl.

Mary loves the show horse industry and has since she was a little girl. She has worked hard and been fortunate enough to be very successful and live out many of her dreams. Mary doesn’t support our industry so it’s better for her, she helps in her own quiet, unselfish, often anonymous way, to help so many others be able to fulfill their dreams.

I think Jenny made a pretty good choice when she dressed up as Mary at school that day. Mary is a great friend. In the years I have known her she has both challenged and inspired me. I know Mrs. Wheeler would be very proud to see Mary’s name added to this award.

More Stories