CSU confers honorary degree to Princess Abigail Kawananakoa

Colorado State University on May 13 will confer an honorary doctorate to Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa – a celebrated breeder of racing American Quarter Horses and direct descendant of the Hawaiian royal family – in recognition of her dedication to global equine health and to cultural preservation in Hawaii.

Princess Abigail, 90, who resides in Honolulu, will be unable to attend the Graduate School commencement ceremony due to her advanced age and the stress of travel. Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, a University Distinguished Professor and founding director of the CSU Orthopaedic Research Center, is a longtime friend of the honoree and will accept on her behalf.

“Princess Abigail embodies a passion for the advancement of knowledge through objective scholarship in pursuit of truth.  She has focused that passion to contribute significantly to society and culture,” said CSU President Tony Frank, who will confer the degree. “We are honored to have someone with such unwavering spirit, and a reverence for knowledge and cultural values, in our university family.”

Throughout her life, Princess Abigail has directed her energy and philanthropic resources toward the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian language, culture and history, noted Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She also has been a lifelong devotee of horses, and as a young woman was a talented equestrian; this passion connected Princess Abigail to CSU and inspired her to promote research and teaching in equine musculoskeletal health.

For about 15 years, Princess Abigail has generously supported the Orthopaedic Research Center, which investigates musculoskeletal problems and medical therapies for equine athletes. Because of similarities in the joints of horses and humans, the center’s discoveries often translate into advancements in human orthopaedic care.

In 2007, Princess Abigail funded a CSU endowment for the study of improved non-invasive integrative and physical manipulative therapies for horses. This work aims to enhance and objectively assess the use of acupuncture, chiropractic and physical therapies for disorders of the spine and pelvis.

Significant Heart American Quarter Horse

Princess Abigail’s mare Significant Heart was the American Quarter Horse Association 2014 National Champion Aged Mare. Photo: Los Alamitos Race Course.

“Abigail has been a tremendous friend to the Orthopaedic Research Center, and I have personally appreciated our shared interest in the health of the horse. With her support over many years, we have been able to accomplish a great deal,” said McIlwraith, an international pioneer of arthroscopic surgery and joint disease research in horses. “As our friendship has grown, I have been continually astounded by Abigail’s influence on the many cultural and civic projects she embarks upon. She is an incredible individual.”

For more than 30 years, McIlwraith has conducted orthopaedic surgery on Princess Abigail’s racehorses.

She owns Lakeview Quarter Horse Farm in Nuevo, Calif., as well as ranches in Hawaii and Washington. The acclaimed horsewoman is best known as owner of A Classic Dash, winner of the 1993 All American Futurity, the world’s richest Quarter Horse race. In 1995, her horse Evening Snow won the inaugural Los Alamitos Million Futurity, another headline-grabbing triumph.

McIlwraith operated on both racehorses, using arthroscopic surgery to remove bone fragments from their injured joints. A Classic Dash then retired to stud. But Evening Snow returned to the track after knee surgery, and in 1996 the racing world was agog when the gelding became the first horse of any breed to run the quarter-mile from a standing start in less than 21 seconds.

More recently, McIlwraith operated on Princess Abigail’s mare Significant Heart, who then returned to racing and as a 4-year-old was crowned 2014 National Champion Aged Mare by the American Quarter Horse Association.

Frank Vessels Memorial Awards- Abigail Kawananakoa

In 2012, the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association honored Princess Abigail for major contributions as a leading owner and breeder of American Quarter Horse racehorses. Photo: Los Alamitos Race Course.

Princess Abigail was named AQHA Champion Owner in 1994 and 1995, based in part on race victories, and since then has continued to reign as one of the sport’s top owners and breeders. In 2012, she was honored by the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association for major contributions to the sport. Her friends and colleagues say Princess Abigail has always been dedicated to the improvement of horse health.

Yet her interests span well beyond horses: Princess Abigail for decades has provided philanthropic support to revive and honor Hawaiian history and culture, including native language, literature, music and hula. Her philanthropy has extended to Hawaiian language immersion schools and to preservation of native artifacts.

Princess Abigail led restoration of Iolani Palace, the grand structure in downtown Honolulu built by her great granduncle, King David Kalakaua. He was the last king of Hawaii before the island nation was annexed to the United States in 1898.

“Princess Abigail has achieved distinction through her civic, intellectual, philanthropic and cultural contributions to Hawaii and to our work here at Colorado State University,” said Brett Anderson, CSU vice president for advancement. “We deeply appreciate all she has done to enhance knowledge in her native Hawaii and elsewhere around the world.”

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