Jan 26, 2024

A Tribute to the 2023 USEA Ironmaster Award Winner Karen Nyrop

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Karen Nyrop. Photo courtesy of Paige Dinnie.

The USEA is saddened to share the passing of the 2023 USEA Ironmaster Award winner Karen Nyrop. Karen was known around the country for not only her services as a veterinarian, but also as a passionate horsewoman and a very dear friend. She was always quick to accept the call of duty and offer up her time as a delegate for FEI veterinary commissions at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, the Maryland 5 Star, and countless other competitions in both the United States and Canada. KAren was actively involved with the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the USEA Equine Safety and Welfare Committee.

A long-time eventer who competed up to the Intermediate level, Karen was known around North America for being a huge source of knowledge and help to her fellow competitors and as someone who was always willing to lend a helping hand.

Paige Dinnie, Karen’s stepdaughter, reflected on the profound impact that Karen had on the lives of many.

“She was just incredibly generous with her time and however she could move the needle a little bit for you, she would,” she said. “I cannot tell you how many people and how many stories have the same punchline: she went out of her way, she didn’t have to help me, she could have spent her time doing this, that, and the other instead. That is just who she was.”

While her career was heavily involved in the eventing world, Paige described Karen as a true Western horsewoman whose heart lay in the mountains of Montana.

“Karen grew up in Edina, Minnesota, but did her undergraduate studies in Montana and spent many formative years there,” she reflected. “That and her time in Alberta really defined her. Some of the best memories I have of Karen are from a family pack trip we went on in the Clearwater in Alberta, and all of us sleeping in a tiny tents together in the snow. She loved the outdoors and the mountains and the west. She loved being on a horse and seeing the world from the back of a horse.”

Paige is now a professional horsewoman, and she attributes her life’s path to Karen's influence.

“Karen was such a beautiful rider and a dedicated horsewoman. I always admired that her career followed her passion, and she aligned those two things really beautifully. I think the aspect of Karen that influenced me the most in the past 30 years was her appreciation for the horses and the life and perspectives that they give us.”

Paige’s sentiments were echoed by so many more who had the pleasure of being in Karen's company.

When Karen decided to pursue her ultimate goal of eventing, Phoenix, Arizona-based professional Amy Barrington helped her get that start.

“I first met Karen over 40 years ago,” shared Amy. “She was a young, dedicated, equine veterinarian who was passionate about her work. At that time she had considerable experience in trail riding throughout the western mountains, but eventing had always been her ultimate goal. Karen was always open, learning and helping horses to be the best that they could be.”

Amy noted that Karen was much more than just an excellent student, however.

“Karen was a wonderful friend,” she said. “When I was severely injured and had to spend several months hospitalized in Georgia, Karen flew down from Calgary to be at my side.”

To know Karen was to love her, noted professional rider Stephanie Goodman who also referred to Karen as an extension of her family. Stephanie first met Karen through her mother, and when Stephanie returned home from the East Coast and Europe in 2003, she transitioned into the role of Karen’s coach.

“She was one of those students who always challenged you because she tried so hard,” Stephanie reflected. “She had this desire to be more informed and intelligent, so she was always challenging me to do that as well–like pushing me to go through the [USEA Eventing Coaches Program]. She was very, very driven, but she did not want the spotlight to be on her. She wanted to be the producer of things, but did not need it to be talked about.

“I imagine that most people, when they think of Karen, they think of class,” she continued. “She was so classy in everything that she did; she did everything with grace. She was organized, and her horse was always presented its best. She was never in a competition with anyone else, but she wanted to be better in herself.”

That vivacious and contagious energy transitioned into Karen's professional career as well. Emily Sandler-Burtness, DVM, was one of the many veterinarians who had the privilege of working alongside Karen and gleaning some of her expertise and energy over the years.

Karen and Emily Sandler-Burtness at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Photo courtesy of Emily Sandler-Burtness.

“I can’t even count the number of times I’ve thought to myself, ‘What would Karen do in this situation?’ ” said Emily. “She was such a moral and ethical compass, wrapped up in the most professional, kind, and gracious person. I’ve not met anyone who knew her and didn’t love her.”

In August of 2022, Karen had to undergo a liver transplant and, less than a year later, was facing a secondary transplant. While many can find themselves down when faced with an illness, Paige noted that Karen challenged it head-on in her typical fashion.

“She was one tough lady,” she recalled. “I hope I could navigate something like that with as much grace as she did.”

Paige laughed as she continued, “I don’t know if positivity is the right word, because it suggests a bubblyness, and it wasn’t so much that, as a stubborn optimism. Karen was incredibly kind, but let’s not get it confused, she was also stubborn, and she navigated [her illness] in a way that was so determined. Her biggest frustration with being sick was that it limited her ability to be present where she wanted to be. That is who she was, she was always moving."

As the nominations opened up for the 2023 USEA Appreciation Awards that would be distributed at the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, many of those who were impacted by Karen personally and professionally worked together to secretly nominate their lifelong and loyal friend.

“Karen was not a boastful person,” said Paige. “She never would have told anybody outright that she received the Ironmaster Award. It meant a lot to her, and she was so deserving, but she never would have sought that attention for herself."

Emily agreed. “That award was so important to her and so timely,” she said. “The last conversation I had with Karen had to do with that award. I congratulated her, and she said, ‘I am sure there are a lot more deserving people, I am just sick.’ And I told her no, that was definitely not the case!”

Karen passed away on New Year’s Day surrounded by a room full of people who loved her. She will be forever remembered by every individual who she went out of her way to help, every young rider she taught how to properly jog a horse, the colleagues that she worked alongside at competitions of every level, the fellow amateur riders she cheered on at the ring, and so many more.

“There are people who come into our lives and leave an indelible mark,” noted Emily. “I’m honored to have known Karen and to have called her a mentor first and a friend second. I will miss her every day.”

“If you were to ask me what is the one thing that Karen has left me with,” concluded Paige, “I would say that I hope to live my life with one ounce of her grace, and I hope to be half of the horsewoman that she was.”

Karen with her husband, Larry Israelson, and her step-children, Paige Dinny and Clay Israelson, on a hike at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Paige Dinnie.

Karen is remembered and deeply missed by her husband of 23 years, Larry Israelson, her two stepchildren, Paige Dinnie and Clay Israelson, her twin sister, Katherine Nyrop, her eldest sister, Nancy Scherer, her nieces & nephews, and innumerable friends & colleagues.

Paige concluded with the following sentiment from all of Karen's family: "To the eventing community, thank you for the years of joy & support that this sport gave to Karen. Thank you for sharing her with us."

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Grab Your USEA Gear at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event!

There are so many things to love about the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event and the opportunity to peruse the booths of so many amazing vendors is definitely one of them! Don’t forget to stop by the USEA booth, located just behind the Rolex Stadium next to the large Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event booth, to stock up on all of your favorite USEA apparel.

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Real Estate Partner of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Competition & Training Apparel of the USEA

Official Horse Boot of the USEA