It’s not every year that a North Texas non-profit celebrates its 40th anniversary. And 2021 Equest Gala Co-Chairs Lisa and Kendall Laughlin and Katherine and Austin Wyker saddled up and galloped ahead to make Equest‘s 40th anniversary a really big deal on Saturday, June 5, in the Al Hill Jr. Family Arena at Texas Horse Park. Their goal was to haul in $500K for the equine-assisted therapy program. To do this they not only managed to get one of the British Royals to congratulate the program, but they got North Texas’ own Chef Dean Fearing to cook up the evening’s menu, including his Granny Fearing’s “Paper Bag Shook” Fried Chicken.
To find out which member of the House of Windsor was on board for the occasion, the recipients of the evening’s awards and whether the fundraising goal was achieved, check out this report from the field:
With over 575 attendees including a cameo appearance from royalty, the sold-out Equest Anniversary Gala: 40 Years of Horse Power was a hit. More importantly, it raised over $600K to support the nonprofit’s mission to provide hope and healing through equine assisted activities and therapies for children and adults with special needs.
The southern soiree took place at Equest’s shiny new Al Hill Jr. Arena at Texas Horse Park. Powerhouse Gala Co-Chairs Lisa and Kendall Laughlin and Katherine and Austin Wyker reigned in all the bells and whistles including Chef Dean Fearing and his famed southwestern cuisine (yes — Granny Fearing’s “Paper Bag Shook” Fried Chicken made it on the menu!), 73 host committee members, and seven honorary chairs representing Equest’s past, present and future.
The evening was packed with award presentations, celebratory speeches, and emotional videos produced by Ideaman Studios, silent and live auction, and dancing and live music performed by The Walton Stout Band from the Jordan Kahn Orchestra. Emcee Stan Gardner flawlessly conducted the evening’s activities from the stage.
A moving memorial video paid tribute to five Equest family members lost this last year, including Jocelyn White who was a former chairman of the board and longtime supporter of Equest. A performance by Arthur Murray dancers featured the Equest Co-Founder Susan Schwartz, who attended the gala with her 93-year-old mom, Dottie Neustadt, recipient of the 2020 Founders Award.
Additional awards went to Andy Steingasser (2020 Citation Award); Equest Women’s Auxiliary (2021 Founders Award); Junior League of Dallas (2021 Citation Award); and Gail Pace, Cindy Thomas and Jeff Hensley (2021 Program Awards).
Perhaps the biggest surprise was a cameo appearance from Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne who made a special video sending her congratulations from Buckingham Palace. The Princess Royal, herself an Olympic equestrian and longtime advocate for equine therapies, had visited Equest two decades earlier.
In addition to the Co-Chairs, a standing ovation goes to Auction Chair Lauren McHenry for accumulating over 150 stellar auction items; the Equest development and marketing team Christine Volkmer, Jacqueline Maddox and Matilyn Skinner for producing a magical night; and to Mother Nature who decided to release the sun’s golden rays for the special occasion.
Noteworthy attendees included: Carolyn Anderson, Lucy and Henry Billingsley, Diane and Hal Brierly, Jennifer and Coley Clark, Katherine and Key Coker, Annie and Teal Griffeth with mom and Equest Women’s Auxiliary Founder Louise Griffeth, Fallon and Michael Hennessey, Equest CEO Lili Kellogg, Lynn and Allan McBee, Pamela and Michael Petty, and Dallas City Councilman Ron Natinsky and wife Nancy.
* Photo credit: Thomas Garza