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The Best of America by Horseback
December 31, 2016
As we enjoy this Christmas season with our friends and family, it is the most appropriate time to announce our annual Awards to people in the horse world and beyond that have made contributions in various ways to improve our lives. These are people that do not seek the limelight but who work quietly with dedication to make life a little bit better for people around them and especially to future generations.
These people are heroes. Their recognition is for peace and wellbeing of others. These are the kind of people, when announced, draw the thoughts of, "yes, of course, this is well-deserved”, or “I knew they were deserving and dedicated people."
In years past, Native American societies, which I admire very much, did not have elections like we do. They had a much better system of acknowledging who they wanted to be their leader. Their life's work or the kindness of their efforts earned the respect of all that knew them or were around them. I kinda compare how people are drawn to a warm campfire and enjoy its warmth. Somehow a campfire has an almost sacred meaning. The people chosen this year are a source of warmth to everyone around them and the good they do will endure for generations and make life better for all of us in some way.
The Mike Phillips Award: Mike was a quiet man and dedicated to his family and everyone around him. When people that knew Mike reflect on a story or incident, they often realize it was usually about how Mike was helping someone. He was by my side as a Trail Boss on the highly successful Mexico to Canada Trail Ride. He never asked for anything from me and, at an unknown to others and very low point in my life, he and Wanda were there for us. How he sensed things was incredible. He was dedicated to the Back Country Horsemen to preserve trails and make trails for each of us and future generations. Although very soft spoken and a man of few words, Mike was an engineering genius but never bragged or talked about this, but was always pleased on helping people he did not even know. His gentle ways were obvious but he was a man of steel. I would have ridden with him anywhere under any conditions without any hesitation. I had the opportunity to meet John Wayne years ago. He would have welcomed riding and knowing Mike as a friend. They both share something special.
The Mike Phillips Award for 2016 goes to a man that seems larger than life but has the traits of kindness and making things happen for all of us. He is like Mike in many ways, including a big heart and helping people without seeking any acknowledgement. Many of our Best of America Family have met this man and have been touched with his family dedication, his kindness and big heart. Like the engineering talents of Mike, this Montana cowboy carved a horse paradise out of the jungles of Belize where many of our viewers have ridden and he has become a dear friend of mine, that I admire very much. It is his all-American spirit of the John Wayne statue and the embodiment of the ideals of Mike that are best suited to name John Carr of Banana Bank Lodge as the recipient of this year's Mike Phillips Award. His quiet work to give the land and build an orphanage, his introduction of the Valley of Peace Christian School to us, his love and building an impressive herd of horses for so many of our viewers to ride and enjoy, his unsurpassed science abilities in agriculture, the riding locations he has created, his faith and devotion to America, and the work he does to better the lives of everyone he meets or around him makes this choice something that Mike Phillips would say, 'well done'. We are pleased and proud to name John Carr as the recipient of the Mike Phillips Award.
On the choice this year of the Liz Malcom Award, again is a natural that would make Liz smile in quiet approval. Liz, sister of our dearest friend Kathy Baldwin, rode with us on the Mexico to Canada ride. She had a quiet way that would almost have folks assume she might be a missionary. But make no mistake, she was an accomplished rider and raised/trained Walking Horses. I remember one day asking her if she was OK when the weather was turning and if she wanted to not ride. Let's just say John Wayne would have blushed and get out of her way! As a nurse, I can only imagine the good she did for so many and lives she may have saved in so many ways. She spoke the words in an interview with me that may have been the most impressive I have ever heard. I am making sure they will be shown on the upcoming Mexico to Canada series but the essence was her desire to see the beauty of America on her beloved horse while she still could ride.
This year's Liz Malcom Award goes to a gal that, like Liz, is a perfect lady in every way. Like Liz, she was quiet and charming but determined to make a difference in such a wonderful way to everyone around her. Although she never had ventured far from home, she became dedicated to the folks that ride with the Best of America Family, including taking her horse on a trip from her home in Vermont all the way to California and back. She is dedicated to her family but also took time to become a firefighter. How this little lady can do those difficult skills, overwhelms me. If that was not tough enough she took in over 70 homeless or needy children, including with a relentless determination, took on the legal system to help those that had no one else to speak or care for them. That is the American spirit in its finest. In her later years, she battled a brain tumor that was inoperable by all doctors except one that admired her determination. Down to 80 pounds and near death, she made it and spends her retirement now with her beloved horse, CoCo, and rides in every kind of weather but also just enjoys being in the barn with this horse. Liz would smile at how this woman overcame all odds so many times for others.
The 2016 Liz Malcom Award goes to Bea Gill of Vermont. She inspires us, like Liz, to be the very best you can be, be dedicated to family and to enjoy horses and the fulfillment they bring to us in so many ways.
The Aileen Livingston Award: Aileen is doing well in her New England home. We met her at the Equine Affaire some years ago. She reached across some kind of barrier when we were being escorted to the stage and said kind words about the show and the people from across the country that we showcase. Although they were trying to hurry us to the stage to speak, I faked a back pain and needed to take a quick break for a cup of coffee. After a brief and mild protest, she agreed to join me (I was not going to the stage until she did). In those few moments, I realized Aileen was all of us. She represents each of our inner and often secret desire, to take our horses and explore new and beautiful trails. Her gentle and kind way of speaking are notable but she is a deep thinker and seems to know something special or how to encourage people. This is a rare and precious talent that inspires so many. Like the other named Awards, Aileen never sought the limelight or asked for anything. I remember her visiting once at our home during the Gathering. As she sat in the den, I asked her if she wanted to go to any of the activities and she remarked that she preferred to just be around the other horse folks and take it all in. Kinda like enjoying the warmth of a campfire. Although the she had not traveled far from her home, she whispered to me over that cup of coffee that her secret desire was to ride each state of America. With all odds against her, somehow, I knew she was going to go after it and, I knew she would inspire countless others. She has ridden 32 states so far but what is amazing, is without knowing it, she has inspired people in every state to go after their dreams and, through horses, make it come true. Did I mention she also left her home and rode in various places across America to California without looking back.
This year's Aileen Livingston Award goes to a friend of the horse community and a dedicated member of the Best of America Family. Honestly, if I knew how to nominate someone to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize, it would be this person. No, they did not discover a new star or create a new medicine. It is better than that. This person, was a survivor of a war in Guatemala. His remaining family and 6 other families escaped to move to the jungle of Belize. He learned English by sitting in the back of a classroom at age 4. Without pencil, paper or money, he learned and later taught at the same school where he is now the principal. The story does not end there. He has inspired children to do their best and to work hard for an education. Many of you have seen or know the results of his inspiration. Last year, one of his students had a perfect science score on the nation's test. This year, one of his students won the country's and then won the international completion for field and track. Did I mention that with hand tools and a handful of seeds, the school has a garden that has produced food for the school and to raise money to pay for tuitions of other students? Many of our viewers traveled to Belize recently to watch his students showcase the beautiful culture of Belize but also to watch these fine young students serenade us with an incredible dance of the waltz in the most accomplished way. One of his students that is now in high school told us last week she wants to become a Doctor and return to help others in her country. (We are working on a way to bring her to a college here in America for that purpose.) This man we will Award the Aileen Livingston Award is an inspiration to so many children and to the Best of America Family.
A quiet man that has impressed me as much as anyone I have ever met from any country or any society or any celebrity, this year's nomination by our viewers
is Jose Duenas from the jungle of Belize and the Valley of Peace Christian School.
I am so proud and thankful for those that have ridden with us or we have met. I am blessed to ride amount the very Best of America.
Plaques are being prepared to send to these recipients. If you wish to send them a message or contact them, simply email the office or me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward it to them so they can contact you directly.
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Jan 20-22: Maryland Horse World Expo in Timonium, MD
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