Will fatal crash spur changes in Wellington’s equestrian community?


When Ilse Schwarz heard the news, she was devastated.

Her young protege, 21-year-old Christian Kennedy, had been killed in a single-car crash just after 11:30 p.m. Saturday along South Shore Boulevard in Wellington.

In a spot near where the 2013 Chevy Camaro driven by 19-year-old Dana McWilliams of Connecticut — who also was killed in the wreck — came to rest, flowers, stuffed animals and photos have been left in a makeshift memorial. A GoFundMe online fundraiser to help McWilliams’ family cover funeral expenses topped $9,000 Monday night. And there has been an outpouring of support for the families on social media.

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But Schwarz, a Wellington-based dressage rider and trainer, says more needs to be done.

Kennedy worked for her for just over a year after she recruited him during a clinic she was holding in Tryon, N.C. Schwarz said he had a natural talent for training horses.

“It’s very unusual to find in a young man. It’s an elusive quality, that you just know that they’re trainable and they’re going to be good,” she said.

After 17 years in Wellington, Schwarz has seen many young people lost to violent crashes on roads in the village. She said she’s done sitting and waiting for the culture in Wellington’s young equestrian community to change.

“I’ve seen this happen before and I’ve not done anything,” Schwarz said. “This is touching so close to home, it is prompting me to act.”

RELATED: Young equestrians killed in Wellington crash: ‘It’s a sad way to start’

She doesn’t know what form that will take. But Schwarz previously has been part of a movement to bring change to the equestrian community. In March 2010, world-class equestrian Courtney King-Dye was riding in Loxahatchee when her horse tripped and she fell, fracturing her skull. In that moment, the woman who had been called “the Tiger Woods of dressage” was paralyzed.

“That changed her life forever,” Schwarz said. But from King-Dye’s tragedy came a push to change the rules governing the wearing of helmets in dressage. Schwarz “was very involved” in that movement, calling it another case where a terrible accident hit too close to home.

“I had something very similar happen, and I was lucky enough to get up and ride my horse again,” she said. “But for the grace of God, that could have been me.

“This is the same thing,” she added of Kennedy’s death. “But for the grace of God, that could have been any other child in that car.”

The key, Schwarz said, is to find a way to change the party culture among young people in the equestrian community.

“There’s a bunch of young kids who come here from all over the country,” she noted. “They work all day, and of course when you’re with a bunch of kids, you’re going to go out and party.”

RELATED: Two dead, one injured in Wellington after car crashes into trees

According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report, McWilliams was driving at a high rate of speed when she lost control of her Camaro, striking trees before the car came to rest several hundred feet from where the crash began. It’s still unclear where the trio had been the night before the crash, or where they were going. PBSO is investigating the incident.

“I want to make sure that it’s not just one of those things that people say, ‘Oh, it happened again,’” Schwarz said. “People need to know they can let their children come to Wellington knowing that the community is looking out for them.”

Since posting a column on the Dressage News website calling for change, Schwarz already has received messages offering help and support — including from some big names in the dressage community: former Olympic dressage rider and trainer Debbie McDonald and dressage champion Lendon Gray, who runs the Dressage4Kids program in Wellington.

“Christian’s death cannot be yet another wasted tragedy,” Schwarz said. “There needs to be change because of it.”



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