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Equest Gala Co-Chairs Lisa Laughlin and Katherine Wyker. Photo credit: Thomas Garza

575 people gathered under the shiny new Al Hill, Jr. Arena at Texas Horse Park on Saturday to support Equest and celebrate its legendary 40-year history. The Equest 40th Anniversary Gala: Celebrating 40 Years of Horse Power was a sold-out affair that raised over $600,000 for Equest to continue to bring hope and healing to children and adults with diverse needs through equine-assisted activities and therapies.

It was a starry, glamorous night with beautiful weather, divine food and drink, jaw-dropping auction items, emotional presentations, award ceremony, and non-stop entertainment. The triumphant evening was masterfully designed by Gala Co-Chairs Lisa and Kendall Laughlin and Katherine and Austin Wyker. Their leadership, vision, and dedication ensured a stellar fundraising event, and they did not disappoint!

The evening began in the barn with guests boot scootin’ down the red carpet to admire the Equest Therapy Horses groomed in stylish summer cuts and braids for the special occasion. A wall of champagne flutes welcomed guests as they waited to take a prized photo with the Equest Mini Ambassadors, two miniature horses under 36 inches tall.

Auction Chair Lauren McHenry excelled in accumulating over 150 silent auction items to make for an exciting shopping and bidding experience.  Auction highlights included signed guitars by George Strait and Taylor Swift, a $1,400 Methuselah of 2010 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Antique John Deere Farm Wagon, and 18k gold and diamond bangle bracelet, among many others.     

Adorned with magnolias, the new Al Hill, Jr. Arena was transformed to a gracious southern soiree. Guests sat down for dinner, oohing and ahhing over Chef Dean Fearing’s famous Texas Wagyu Brisket, Granny Fearing’s “Paper Bag Shook” Fried Chicken, and his other southwestern gourmet delights. The refreshing signature cocktail, Tito’s Vodka Ranch Water, complemented the southwestern theme.   

Emcee Stan Gardner took the stage and beautifully conducted the evening’s numerous activities and speeches. Scout Troops 72 and 82 led the posting of the colors, Jana Bell sang America the Beautiful, and Reverend Ramsey Jay of Highland Park United Methodist Church gave the invocation. A moving memorial video produced by Ideaman Studios 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. Re-energizing the room, Arthur Murray dancers – including a surprise performance by Equest Co-Founder Susan Schwartz in a mesmerizing turquoise sequin ballroom gown – performed the tango.

Equest clients then lined the stage reminding the audience that the fanfare and celebration was for a good cause. The fundraising began, quickly resulting in generous donations and high bidding for spectacular live auction items including trip packages to New Orleans, Jackson Hole, Cabo San Lucas, Montana, and Cocoa Beach, Florida.   

It takes a village for a nonprofit such as Equest to flourish and sustain its standard of excellence for four decades, and Equest had many people to thank. Seven visionaries representing Equest’s past, present and future served as Honorary Chairs and were recognized for demonstrating boundless commitment, advocacy, and heart for Equest’s mission.

1980 - 1990 – Susan Schwartz and Louise and Guy Griffeth

1990 - 2000 – Steve Barnett and Dr. Candice Chandler

2000 - 2010 – Pamela and Michael Petty

2010 - 2020 – Carol and William Huckin and The Huckin/Lupton Family   

2020 to the future – Julia and Blake Schwarz and Caitlin and Thomas Laughlin

Equest CEO Lili Kellogg presented awards, recognizing the 2020 and 2021 recipients, since last year’s Gala was cancelled due to the pandemic.

2020 Founder’s Award: Dottie Neustadt

2021 Founder’s Award: Equest’s Women’s Auxiliary

2020 Citation Award: Andy Steingasser

2021 Citation Award: Junior League of Dallas

2021 Awards: Gail Pace, Cindy Thomas, and Jeff Hensley

From near and far, people came to celebrate Equest’s landmark anniversary. 73 members served on the Equest Gala Host Committee. PATH International CEO Kathy Alm flew in from Denver to congratulate Equest for being a model for the 800 plus PATH International centers across the world.

Perhaps the biggest surprise guest was a cameo appearance by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal who made a special video for the Gala. Princess Anne, an Olympian equestrian and longtime advocate of equine therapies who had visited Equest in 2000, sent her warmest wishes from Buckingham Palace.   

Notable attendees included: Carolyn and Romy Anderson, Jessica and Michael Barnett, Lucy and Henry Billingsley, Diane and Hal Brierly, Jennifer and Coley Clark, Katherine and Key Coker, Chef Dean Fearing, Annie and Teal Griffeth, Fallon and Michael Hennessey, Kim and Greg Hext, Lynn and Allan McBee, Nancy and Dallas City Councilman Ron Natinsky, Bill Nobel, Elsa Norwood, and Pamela and Michael Petty. Equest’s Chairman of the Board Lindsay Kirton, former Chairman of the Board Lane Cates, and Women’s Auxiliary’s President Katie Layton and chairman and mother Beth Layton were also seen celebrating the occasion amongst the hundreds of attendees. 

The magical evening ended on a sweet note: Chef Dean Fearing’s Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie and dancing and live music by The Walton Stout Band from the Jordan Kahn Orchestra. 

The evening was made possible by generous sponsors: Benchmark Bank, CrossFirstBank, Lennox International, Pendery’s World of Chiles & Spices, SettlePou, John and Connie Pearcy, Kim and Greg Hext, and The Fishman Family.