byNina Fedrizzi| Nov 28, 2017
Wellington, Florida’s equestrian community has been devasted by the loss of two of its own, killed in a car accident shortly before midnight on Saturday, November 25.
The driver, 19-year-old Dana McWilliams of Bethany, Connecticut, died instantly when her Chevrolet Camaro drove into the center median at high speed while driving southbound on South Shore Blvd, just before the intersection of South Shore and Lake Worth. In the passenger seat, Christian Kennedy, 21, was also killed. A third passenger, 24-year-old Elaine Halloran, who was riding in the back seat, survived the accident and was transported to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach with critical injuries.
Christian Kennedy, originally from Iowa City, Iowa, was working for dressage rider and trainer Oded Shimoni and his partner, show jumper Nataly Liebovitz. Last winter, he was selected as one of four participants in Robert Dover’s 2017 “Future Stars” high training program, receiving a month of lessons with Dover at Shimoni’s OS Dressage in Wellington, where he returned to work as a rider and groom last June. According to Shimoni, Christian’s sense of humor and positivity made him a standout addition to the team.
Because Christian had this energy about him, the horses immediately responded to it.
“[Christian] was an amazing young man with a huge amount of respect for all people. He was extremely intelligent and intellectual…very polite, [a] hard worker, and an unusually optimistic and positive person. As true a team player as anyone could wish for. Everyone adored him,” Shimoni says.
Nataly Liebovitz agrees. “[Christian] was an eternal optimist. Imagine the most positive person you’ve ever met. He had this innocence about him that you don’t find in the youth these days,” she says. “He was one of those guys that every time you passed him in the aisle in the barn, he would be like, ‘High-five!’ Or he would do like a surfer sign and tell you to ‘Stay cool!’ He always wanted to put a smile on your face.”
That attitude, Liebovitz explains, also resonated with the horses in Christian’s care. “Because he had this energy about him, the horses immediately responded to it. We always gave [Christian] all the really hot horses to ride because he would just calm them down,” she says.
“And of course, beyond all that, he was an incredibly talented… He was born to be a dressage rider. He had the feeling, his position on the horse was beautiful—very solid, gorgeous. There’s no doubt this kid would have been on the U.S. Team one day.”
Dana McWilliams worked as a groom for trainer Maarten Huygens, whom she met while Huygens was competing in North Salem, New York near her home in Connecticut. Although she came from a reining horse background, Huygens says Dana was a quick learner who was always keen to know more about the show jumping world.
Dana was one of those people who came out with a smile on her face every day.
“[Dana] was a great girl. She didn’t know much about show jumpers when she came to work with us—she didn’t know the difference between an oxer and a vertical when she started—but it was kind of cool, because she wanted to learn a lot. Every day was a learning process and she really caught on. I have a feeling she was going to really be in it for the long run,” says Huygens. “It’s a terrible loss.”
According to Liebovitz, Kennedy was similarly devoted to his work at OS Dressage. “I never had to tell him what to do—he always knew by himself,” she says, adding that Kennedy, who always arrived to work early, could often be found picking manure in the arena without being asked or lending a hand to other riders at the barn.
“If our hours were 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., [Christian] would come at 6:45 a.m. every morning. That’s how I knew something had happened, because he didn’t show up to work. I immediately started calling hospitals, because I knew, if this kid didn’t show up to work, something had happened.”
For Huygens, Dana McWilliams’ positivity and devotion always extended to the horses in her care. “She was one of those people who came out with a smile on her face every day, you know? [Dana] was always in a good mood, always on time, hardworking and [interested in] learning. She was a very fun person to have around.”
“This guy was an angel,” added Liebovitz of Christian Kennedy. “They don’t make people like [him] anymore.”
Our thoughts go out to the McWilliams, Kennedy, and Halloran families, their friends, and all those touched by this terrible tragedy. If you’d like to make a donation to their families, you can visit Dana and Christian’s GoFundMe pages.