Olympic Three-Day Event team members David and Karen O'Connor have the best of both worlds – horses and each other.
Married since 1993, they have forged U.S. Eventing's most powerful alliance, fittingly dubbed the O'Connor Event Team. Together, they led the U.S. Three-Day team to the silver medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and hope to repeat their success in Sydney, Australia.
At the beginning of their relationship 11 years ago, David and Karen worried that competition might pose a problem, but, in fact, the reverse has been true, says David. "We don't think about the rivalry. You're just as competitive as you would be against anyone. Who beats who is not part of the equation."
The couple, however, has one hard and fast ground rule, he adds. "You don't give your opinion unless it's asked for. But then, the person asking has to listen."
"It's important to remember that there are times you need to work through a problem alone," says David. "You must respect the other person's individuality and competitiveness. You have to be careful not to take away the other person's ability to compete by demanding that they do it your way."
Couple Helps Each Other With Horses
The pair school each other's horses when time allows. "When you don't ride the horse regularly, you can be more objective," says Karen. "If I'm having a problem, I always ask David to sit on the horse and see what it is that I'm not feeling." David agrees: "Karen is the first person I go to if I need help with a horse."
When they aren't competing, teaching or giving clinics, the couple manages 50 to 60 horses at their Virginia farm. David organizes the horses' training schedules on a day-to-day basis, while Karen runs the business end – entries, paperwork and bills. They system works well because they trust each other's decisions, they say.
Too much togetherness is not a problem. "We really don't see each other much during the day," says David. "And, although horses are our life, we do enjoy other things as well."
Music, scuba diving and skiing number among their favorite activities, while movies and dining out offer both diversion and a respite from the phone. "That's a plus in itself," adds David.