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2021 Horseperson of the Year
Don Pugh

Don Pugh - COVER - SMCHA Horseman of 2021 holding the Mounted Patrol Flag_edited.jpg

Early days

Don Pugh was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut and Wilmington, Delaware.  He was deprived as a child as he never rode horses.  He received a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University in 1967, where he met Sandie, and they were married 6 months after graduation.  After a year working for IBM in Philadelphia, Don started his Army career as a Second Lieutenant, Combat Engineer.  His first year in uniform was spent moving from Fort Belvoir, to Fort Knox, to Yuma Proving Ground. The second year was in Long Binh, Vietnam.  He returned from the war to earn his MBA and MS in Computer Science at Stanford and decided to stay out West for few years (or, as it turned out, for a lifetime…). 

After Stanford and a number of increasingly responsible positions with IBM, Don got the inevitable question:  “Would you like a promotion to division headquarters in Atlanta?”  In 1983, as he sat on a horse, high on a hill in Wunderlich Park overlooking the Bay Area, he asked himself the obvious question: “Why would I ever want to leave horses and the hills out here in God’s country?”   So it was horses that ended his career with IBM. Don began his own consulting business, supporting financial and accounting systems for mid-sized companies in the Bay Area.  Being his own boss enabled him to take days off for his riding adventures!

Horse riding activities

Don did not start riding until he was 37. He has been making up for lost time ever since!  Don’s horseback riding career started in 1982, when he started riding the trails with Mark Campbell who moved in next door.  He was introduced to the Mounted Patrol in 1986 and has been on 25 Spring Rides, and 34 Fall Rides.   Don is a member of Los Viajeros and has been on 25 four-day rides, from the Humboldt Redwoods up north, to the Varian Ranch down south.  He has been a member of the San Mateo County Horsemen’s Association for 25 years.

Don Pugh-On the Hunt.jpg

In 1993, John Mosman convinced Don to try team penning at the Mounted Patrol and helped him learn how.   In the years to come, Don and his faithful quarter horse, Sierra, won over $500 in Team Penning competitions.  He has also won the Mounted Patrol Playday buckle, Fall Ride Playday buckle, and the Cowboy Horse Race buckle. 


George Cardinet started riding horses in 1922 and founded Heritage Trails to organize 10-day “adventure expeditions on horseback” on some of the most challenging trails in California.  In 1996 Don was invited to ride with him on the Tahoe Rim Trail, 165 miles. 10 days, around Lake Tahoe.  Another expedition was from the floor of Yosemite Valley, up a 3,000 feet climb on the South wall, until the group was looking DOWN on El Capitan.  Other Heritage Trails adventures were Tahoe National Forest, Kennedy Meadows, and Kings Canyon.


In the 1997, Art Mintz invited Don to try polo cross.   Art taught him the rules and skills and coached him for the next several years.    In 1999, Elizabeth Caselton asked if Don would like to play polo.  Sierra (then Rio, later Nevada) learned to gallop down the field at Menlo Circus Club, ride off other horses, and stay steady as Don hit the ball.  He traveled to Palm Springs several times to play in the Seniors Polo Tournament.  In 1998, Jack Black asked Don to ride with the Los Altos Hounds. He was introduced to Kay Hitch, who started working with the “dirty, old cowboy” and his faithful quarter horse, Sierra.   In 6 months Don and Sierra became an accomplished English rider, cantering over the coops with the First Field.   Kay was less successful in improving the “dirty and old” aspects!  Don was awarded his Hunt Colors in 2003, has led second field, and learned to be a whipper-in.   He is also a member of Santa Ynez Valley Hounds and has ridden with the Red Rock Hounds in Reno, Big Sky Hounds in Montana, and the Ridgecrest Harriers. 


In 2000, Don and Sandie went on an equestrian trip to Ireland.  While Sandie shopped, Don rode some of the fabulous Irish Sport Horses.  Big, tall (17 hands) and fearless, these horses love to jump.   4-foot rock walls, 5-foot drop banks, and the famed Irish banks and ditches were their cup of tea. 


After many great years with Sierra, Don retired his faithful quarter horse in 2003. Continuing his love for quarter horses Don bought Rio.  Ellen Hill taught Don and Rio the finer points of dressage, stadium jumping and cross country.  They competed in 3-Day Eventing at the Horse Park, coming in 4th place in 2006.  They also competed in show jumping at Pebble Beach and the Horse Park, and were Reserve Champion for the .7 meters in 2006. 


Hunter Pace events are cross country competitions for Hunt members.  Don with Rio was the Men’s high point winner for 4 years in a row.   2007 was the 100th anniversary of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, and Don and Rio competed in the Pacific District Fox Hunting Championship for the Western states.  They won 6th place, narrowly missing the opportunity to compete in the Nationals in Virginia.

Don Pugh Watertrough on a horse_edited.jpg

Community Support

Enjoying himself is one thing, but Don decided he should be giving back to the equestrian community.


He has been on the Town of Woodside Trails Committee since 1999 and was Chairman for three years.  He has energetically worked for the improvement and expansion of the local equestrian trail system.  In 2006, he worked with the Fleishaker family to dedicate a half-mile trail along Manuela Road in Woodside, and raised $17,000 to build the new trail.  Later, he raised $7,000 to improve the trails in Teague Hill for the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District. 

Don organized trail rides for the Woodside Town Council and Town staff to demonstrate the benefits of the Woodside Trail system.  He worked with the Town of Woodside Recreation Committee to plan and implement the Woodside Barn Party, held at the Mounted Patrol in 2017.


In 2012, Don worked with the Town of Woodside and local equestrian organizations for contributions to build and install six new steel hitching rails in the Town.  He also organized the funding and installation of hitching rails at Alice’s, Pescadero Creek County Park and Jack Brook


His biggest trails project was from 2008 to 2012, building 8.3 miles of all-weather trails in Huddart Park and Wunderlich Park.  This involved finding a contractor to install 3,500,000 pounds of base rock on the trails.  Don worked with the San Mateo County Department of Parks to develop the construction plans, negotiate the contracts, and led the fundraising effort to raise over $125,000 for these projects.  Other trail projects have been the Center Trail Bridge, Town Creek Bridge, and the Wunderlich Bypass trail.


Don is on the board of CHAPS (Community Horse Advocacy Program for San Mateo County) and has worked with the County on public riding programs in Wunderlich Park and raise funds to renovate the blacksmith barn at Wunderlich.  He founded and continues to manage the Disabled Equestrian Organization, which fights for the rights of disabled equestrians to use horses as their service animals to access the back country.  He has participated with the Mounted Patrol color guard for many Fourth of July Parades, Rodeos, May Day parades and Circus Club shows.


Don joined the Board of the Mounted Patrol Foundation in 2012 and has been Chair for the past 5 years.  During that time the Foundation has provided over $500,000 to many equestrian projects, including the ones listed above. The vast majority of these funds have come from the many generous donors that responded to his pleas for contributions to make these projects happen.  Other projects were funding for horse rescue during the fires in San Mateo County, Butte County and Napa and the SMC Large Animal Evacuation Group.  Funds were also raised to provide trail rides for veterans through the Palo Alto VA, CASA (foster) children, horse events for Sheriffs Activity League youths, and scholarships for equestrians. He also helped organize the Wounded Warriors Polo Tournament to raise funds for veterans’ programs.

Thanks and An Ask

Without the guidance, help and encouragement of all the folks mentioned above, Don would have never discovered the wonders and fun in all these equestrian activities. He has been so blessed to have enjoyed all of this, but it is all those people who have helped, encouraged and trained him over the years are the ones he is eternally grateful to.


To each of you reading this, he would like ask something of you.  “Reach out and help other riders that might need help, as so many have done for me.  You will give them a lifelong gift.  Next, be willing to move beyond your own comfort level. There is a whole world of new adventures waiting to be discovered, if you just give it a try.”


He gives thanks to his quarter horse partners Sonora, Sierra, Rio, Nevada and Cash.  Incredible horses who were with him all the way.


But the person he is truly in debt to is Sandie, his wonderful wife of 54 years.  She has waited patiently as he went off to many horse adventures.  But most of all, the wonderful job she has done writing all the checks needed to pay for all his fun. 

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