Dressage legend Carol Lavell, who earned Olympic, World Equestrian Games and Pan American Games medals for the United States, died yesterday, March 27. She was 79.
Lavell was best known for her partnership with Gifted (Garibaldi II—Lola, Lombard), with whom she won team bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, finishing sixth individually. The pair also competed at the 1990 and 1994 FEI World Equestrian Games, earning team bronze in 1994 in the Netherlands, which was the horse’s last major international competition. They also finished fourth and fifth in the 1992 and 1993 FEI World Cup Finals.
At the 1992 Olympics, Lavell and Gifted, competing as the anchor pair, needed a score nearly 100 points higher than they’d ever achieved before to help the U.S. team earn the bronze.
“I have only one wish: to go back in time and ride the test again and see how it felt,” she said to the Chronicle in 2019. “I can see it on the videotape, but it’s hard to remember because of the pressure.”
At the 1987 Pan American Games (Indiana) Lavell earned team silver with In The Black, finishing fourth individually, and with Much Ado she earned team gold at the 2003 Pan American Games (Dominican Republic).
The Chronicle of the Horse honored Lavell as Dressage and Overall Horseman of the Year in 1992. The U.S. Olympic Committee twice named Lavell their Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year, and in 1992 the American Horse Shows Association (now U.S. Equestrian Federation) honored her as their Equestrian of the Year. The U.S. Equestrian Team foundation awarded her the Whitney Stone Cup in 1993.
When she could, Lavell gave back. In 2009 Lavell, with the help of friends and family members, established the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize through The Dressage Foundation in honor of her mother, May Cadwgan, and her father, Gordon Cadwgan. In addition, TDF’s Gifted Memorial Fund for Adult Amateurs awards up to 11 $1,500 grants per year.
“I really wanted to help people like myself: adults, young adults, [who are] coming along and trying to put things together,” Lavell said in a 2019 article in the Chronicle. “It’s a big financial drain. [It’s usually necessary] for people to get some help along the way.”
In addition, Lavell continued teaching a group of loyal students throughout her career.
“There are some areas in which the sport needs help, and one is instruction,” she told the Chronicle in 1992 after being named Overall and Dressage Horseman of the Year. “We need a common philosophy in the education of instructors in the classic way of equitation. There’s no system, no theory, no knowledge of the master. Without that system of education, we’ll never catch up to the Germans. No hope whatsoever.”
Longtime friend and mentor Michael Poulin commented about Lavell in 2019: “She’s a ‘10’ for a person. She has high, high standards. Her moral standards are extremely high. She’s a true believer in honest, dedicated people.
“What are we going to do when we lose her?” he added. “Where are the other people who have committed themselves to this discipline in a way that they haven’t sacrificed their morals or their principles?”