Burt a Global Reining Pioneer

By November 26, 2012
Cowboy Don Burt

Don Burt was instrumental in getting the FEI to embrace reining as a high-performance sport. (Photo by Geoff Bugbee / USEF)

AQHA past president Don Burt passed away on Nov. 25. A native of Burbank, CA, Burt was also on the USEF Reining and High Performance Reining Committees and served the equestrian community in the U.S. and internationally for more than 50 years.

One of his major accomplishments was in getting approval to make reining the FEI’s first Western discipline.

Burt, who was 82 when he died, suffered a debilitating stroke last year. In prior decades, he established himself as a force on the horse sport scene, showing and judging in almost every major Western breed division. He judged the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Championship Show seven times, the American Quarter Horse Youth Association (AQHYA) World Championship Show three times, and was named judge of the year for the American Horse Shows Association 10 times.

Although Burt most recently lived in the Palos Verdes Estates area of Los Angeles County, he learned to ride in the river beds of Burbank during the 1930s, when the area was a national horse-showing capital. Going back to Burt’s grandfather the family made a living raising and selling horses.

During World War II, Burt and his friends would ride their horses over the Hollywood Hills to shows, Burt told The American Quarter Horse Journal. “We would leave our stable at two in the morning,” he said, “ride all the way over the Hollywood Hills, show all day and ride back that night. That’s really wanting to show horses.”

“When Burt was in high school, he worked at the Marwyck Ranch, which was owned by Barbara Stanwyck and Groucho Marx.  He galloped racehorses in the mornings, and worked the show horses in the afternoons,” AQH Journal reported.

Don Burt rides a Quarter Horse in Southern California.

Burt was a third-generation horseman, born and bred in Burbank, CA. (Photo courtesy of the AQH Journal).

When a training injury later in life forced him to retire from active competition, he focused on judging, which he consequently gave up when he was elected to the AQHA Executive Committee in 1992. He became AQHA’s 46th president in 1996, and was inducted into the group’s Hall of Fame in 2004. He wrote a monthly column called “On the Rail” for the AQH Journal.

“I had the privilege of visiting Don and his wife Ardys a few months back, and as recently as November 17 Don and I reminisced about the many trips and meetings we made together on behalf of AQHA, especially regarding reining and its approval by the FEI,” AQHA Executive Director Don Treadway Jr. said in an memorial notice posted at AQHA.com. “During my visit and even my most recent chat, Don remained his cheerful self even though his physical health had significantly declined.”

Burt was awarded the USEF Lifetime Achievement Award and the Jimmy A. Williams Trophy in 2007. He was also added to the Honor Roll of Distinguished Officials in 2011.

“The USEF sends our deepest condolences to the Burt family. Don was driving force in the sport of reining and advocate for equestrian sport,” USEF CEO John Long said. “He has left an outstanding legacy and his influence will be felt for years to come.”

The family plans a private memorial service will be held. Donations may be made to the American Quarter Horse Foundation, (806) 378-5029, foundation@aqha.org.

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