Canada’s dressage community lost a tireless volunteer and EC dressage judge in October, when Don Barnes passed away in Hamilton, ON, after a lengthy battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Don was a rider, judge, volunteer, show organizer and educator. In fact, it seems there is nothing that he hadn’t done for the sport. He was involved in dressage in Canada since the beginning. In the 1970s, Don rode and gave lessons at Concordia Stables in the Hamilton area. According to former students, his favourite exercise was organizing quadrilles, which often ended in chaos and no doubt a lot of laughter. While at Concordia, Don travelled to Germany to buy a horse, whom he aptly named Next Exit, because it seemed that the sales barn was always the “next exit” off the Autobahn. Unfortunately, “Tex” never made it to the higher levels of dressage due to navicular.
He turned to judging, working his way through the levels to Equestrian Canada senior dressage judge by the 1990s. Don travelled throughout Canada and the US while holding down a full-time position at Mohawk College as an ESL teacher and department head. Don retired from Mohawk in the early 2000s, but he never retired from judging or volunteering.
Don was president of CADORA Inc. (the national body, which at one time oversaw all dressage competitions in Canada) from the mid 1990s until 2020. He was the editor of the CADORA Omnibus, the test booklet distributed annually to members, containing the most recent USDF/EC dressage tests. He founded and organized CADORA’s annual “Build a Better Dressage Horse” symposia with FEI 5* dressage judge Stephen Clarke (UK), which continue to run in two parts of the country over two weekends in September and October every year.
As president of CADORA Ontario, a position he held at the same time as the president of CADORA Inc., Don organized the Silver Dressage Championships each year, as well as the Annual General Meeting and Awards Banquet, which recognized the winners with fabulous prizes — picked out and paid for by Don personally, who never sought reimbursement. In the 1990s when the internet was just a toddler, Don held in-person show organizer meetings to compile a list of shows for the following season, ensuring there were no or very few show conflicts.
As one of the founders and long-time area representative of Glanbrook CADORA (a local group), Don organized “Educate Your Eye” judging clinics, and in the early days, trips to the Montreal and Los Angeles Olympics to watch the dressage competitions.
Don was committed to the grassroots. When Dressage/Equine Canada (now Equestrian Canada) prohibited the use of the USDF tests at schooling competitions due to copyright restrictions, Don wrote and published CADORA tests, which were — and still are — free of charge for competition organizers and riders to use, ensuring the continuation of schooling competitions. These tests have also been widely used for online schooling competitions since the COVID pandemic began.
The Ontario Equestrian Federation (now Ontario Equestrian) twice recognized Don’s dedication and contribution to dressage in Ontario. In 2005, Don received the “People Make a Difference Award” for his “selfless and passionate commitment” to dressage, and again in 2011, as the recipient of the Yvonne Collard Award which recognized his lifetime contribution to the sport.
Don was hospitalized in September, 2022 just before the eastern Stephen Clarke clinic was to begin. He felt he was letting everyone down by being unable to run the clinic. When it became apparent that he would not recover, CADORA called upon the dressage community to rally behind Don on Facebook. We wanted him to know how much he has meant to us, while he was still with us. Some of the comments exemplified Don’s wit, wisdom, and empathy:
“I remember being bucked off in front of Don, and we laughed about it years later.”
“How do you score half pass at buck?”
“He always had such nice tests comments.”
“He took me under his wing when he realized I had no family at the show.”
Don was a force. He was also extremely funny. You can’t think of Don without thinking of a funny comment or anecdote — some of which are not suitable for print!
Don is survived by many close and much-loved friends and family.
As per Don's wishes, no funeral service was held. Donations in Don’s memory can be made to the Canadian Pulmonary Fibrosis Association, (Use Don Barnes as the contact, and email@example.com as the email if you are donating online.)
Photo: Don Barnes in Wellington, Florida in early 2021. Photo courtesy of CADORA