The Susan Dudley-Smith Award Winner 2024

RDA Carriage Driving is indebted to Susan Dudley-Smith for wishing to recognise our ‘unsung heroes’. Each year the Susan Dudley-Smith award recognises an outstanding volunteer who has made an important contribution to RDA Carriage Driving through hard work and often unsung efforts, and this years’ recipient is Karen Lehner from Barrow Farm RDA.


Upon receiving her award Karen said: “What a lovely surprise to be nominated and to win the Susan Dudley-Smith Award.  I really am not sure picking me out as an individual is justified as everything at Barrow Farm is done as part of a wonderful team of people – staff members, trustees and other volunteers.  I have volunteered with RDA for over 20 years and it still gives me immense satisfaction to see how much pleasure riding and carriage driving gives to our riders and drivers.”

Karen Lehner, Barrow Farm RDA
Karen Lehner, Barrow Farm RDA

Karen has been an instrumental figure in the success and growth of the carriage driving activities at Barrow Farm RDA. Her dedication spans over two decades as a riding volunteer and several years as a driving volunteer, alongside a significant 15-year tenure as a trustee. 

In 2022, having learnt to drive herself at Ashfields Carriage Driving Centre, she approached them about organising a driving day holiday, which quickly evolved into an eagerly anticipated annual event. Ashfields generously hosts the Group for three days each summer, providing free access to stables, turnout, and their excellent facilities. 

Karen arranges everything, including negotiating with the cafe for delicious lunch, all day tea and coffee, and afternoon cake for only a small fee. She negotiated with the Centre to have the use of their pony Flay so more drivers could benefit, and arranged for Coach Minta Winn to join in, giving an amazing experience to drivers. Flay has become a firm favourite with all the drivers and is now assessed as an RDA pony. 

The highlight of the event is the unique driving experience Ashfields provides. Drivers and volunteers relish the opportunity to navigate purpose-built tracks, an amazing water obstacle, and a beautifully arranged dressage arenas and cone courses. These activities not only offer excitement but also foster a sense of achievement and joy among the participants. 

In August 2022, Karen even arranged for participants to film their dressage tests at the Centre for a virtual competition. This event, featuring Flay once again, added a special touch for the competitors. Her relentless fundraising efforts allow the Group to keep the driver participation fee minimal. 

Feedback from our drivers reflects the profound impact of Karen’s efforts: 

“I felt really relaxed because everyone was there to help me. I was excited but nervous of doing new things but with the team’s encouragement I grew in confidence. My favourite part was the water obstacle it was great fun and amazing to see how well Penny and Summer did. We were very lucky with the weather and the fields and paths are wonderful to drive round, I felt a sense of freedom.” 

“Ashfields was absolutely amazing I cannot believe I had the opportunity to go, I am so grateful. Everyone just got stuck in and was happy to do what was needed. I really enjoyed my lesson with Minta and I loved having Sally. I loved the opportunity to drive in a dressage arena, I also loved driving through the water. 

Volunteers also echo this sentiment, emphasising how much the drivers enjoy the experience, spending time with each other but having an opportunity to improve their driving skills. 

Karen’s influence extends beyond event organization. Her persistent fundraising initiatives have garnered support from local clubs and organisations, securing essential resources such as new collapsible safety cones. She also provides personalised support to individual drivers, mentoring Emma, a longstanding participant to progress all the way to her Gold Horse care Award and continues to guide her through carriage driving tests. 

Karen’s unwavering drive and determination have significantly enriched the carriage driving experience at Barrow Farm, benefiting coaches, volunteers, and most importantly, the drivers.