The eldest riding member of the Arapahoe Hunt (CO), Sylvia McDonald, died October 4 in Denver at age 91. Born January 7, 1926 in Boston, Massachusetts, she was pictured at age 3 in the Boston Evening Transcript holding up the blue ribbon in the Youngest Rider class at a horse show in nearby Milton. Bracketing a lifetime of equestrian success, another win came in the Hilltopper’s Hunter Pace at Arapahoe Hunt, 80 years later at age 83.
Sylvia McDonald on Amy. Photo by Linda Hanselman.
Sylvia was much more than just a member of Arapahoe Hunt. As a mentor and teacher, her language was often raunchy, her humor risqué, and her knowledge of limericks legendary - but she was also an unswerving stickler for correctly following the traditions of the sport. Sylvia rode and hilltopped, despite arthritic hands and a knee replacement, until age 90, when she hung up her spurs after riding with the Arapahoe Hunt for 63 years.
The youngest child of George Newell Hurd and Ruth Herrick, Sylvia was 12 when her riding instructor introduced her to foxhunting with the Dedham Hunt (now the Norfolk Hunt Club). She earned her junior buttons and a hunt whip at age 14.
During World War II, she trained horses in order to be able to ride while her husband was with the Marines near Pinehurst, NC. Known as Sylvia Robinson in those years, she recalled one memorable job: galloping the grandchildren of Man O’ War through the woods. She and her husband, Keith (later divorced) moved from the east coast to Colorado in 1952. For their five children, learning to ride in the rough country of Colorado in the 1950s had little formality or structure, and few, if any, riding arenas. Since no one had a horse trailer, they rode their horses everywhere, whether to the hunt, or to “Little Britches,” or to school for show-and-tell.
A group of mostly female members of Little Britches banded together and evolved into Platte Valley Pony Club in 1956, when Sylvia and Rowena Rogers founded it as the first Pony Club in Colorado. The Robinson children each earned Pony Club ratings. In 1963, her daughter, Lyn became the second graduate “A” Pony Clubber in Colorado (and just the sixth in the nation at the time). Laura earned her “B” rating, and Keith his “C.” Lyn and Laura are still active members of Arapahoe Hunt. Another graduate “A” Pony Clubber who got his start with Platte Valley Pony Club is Ben Duke (also a member of Arapahoe Hunt, since 1964), whose authorship of Pony Club materials has guided generations of young riders. Sylvia and Rowena were both honored by the title of “Pony Club Legend” at its 50th anniversary in 2004.
Sylvia started breeding horses with the help of the legendary Dr. Marvin Beeman, who was a lifelong friend and MFH and huntsman of Arapahoe. She focused on producing Colorado Thoroughbreds, finding them to be sure-footed and able to go cross country with a sensible brain. Nine of Sylvia’s horses won Arapahoe Hunt’s prestigious W.W. Grant Trophy for the best hunter in the field. Another hunt trophy is named in honor of one of her best-ever horses, Basher, who attended 18 opening hunts, hunted for 17 full seasons, and never took a lame step.
Among the most memorable of Sylvia’s many horses was the Shetland pony, Peanuts. At 11 hh, he was the first ride for many children. Peanuts once climbed three flights of stairs as a school prank, and he was pictured in a 1956 issue of the Chronicle of the Horse jumping over a 36" log. Sylvia was also profiled in that magazine on January 24, 2011 (see "Sylvia McDonald Has Always Believed in Being Correct").
Sylvia was a top-notch tennis player, as well, winning two singles championships, and with her partner, Mary Wolf, the Denver City Open ladies doubles tournament in 1975. Also an avid skier, she met her second husband, Dr. Roderick McDonald through skiing friends.
She is survived by her children: Lyn Robinson of Littleton, CO, Keith Robinson (Maureen) of Brewer, ME, Laura Roberts (Steve) of Larkspur, CO, Ricky Robinson of Las Vegas, NM; Charlie Robinson of Littleton, CO, and one grandson, Ian Robinson, of Brewer, ME. She is also survived by her husband Rod McDonald of Littleton, CO, four step-children, Cathy, Rory, Randy, and Rob, plus three step-grandchildren and three step-great-grandchildren.
She was an amazing person and will be missed by many. Contributions may be made in her honor to the Arapahoe Hunt, 3601 S. Pennsylvania St., Englewood, CO, 80113.