Pony Club in poignant guard of honour at funeral of popular Wexford riding instructor

Riders from Killinick Pony Club lead the funeral procession and form a guard of honour.

Family members carry Dawn's coffin into the church as Killinick Pony Club members form a guard of honour.

Dawn Ward (nee Keane) who has died.

The late Dawn Ward.

Maria PepperWexford People

Two equine riders from Killinick Pony Club led the funeral procession as mourners gathered for the funeral on Tuesday of well-known Wexford horse-riding instructor Dawn Ward (nee Keane), who died following a battle with cancer at the age of 51.

Dawn of The Sanctuary, Killinick and formerly Sligo died peacefully at home last weekend, surrounded by her heart-broken family including her beloved husband Dara and her children Naoise, Cealan, Seren and Eja.

The mother-of-four made the final journey from the family home to St Mary’s Church, Ballymore, with two riders leading the hearse and a guard of honour formed by pony club members in dressage outfits and horse-riding helmets.

In announcing the sad news of her death last Saturday night, her family said Dawn had left an indelible memory on the lives of everyone fortunate enough to know her.

“Her indomitable spirit, passion for life and kindness touched the hearts of so many, more than she could ever have imagined. Her gentle nature, humility and selflessness epitomised all that is good in people. Her gentle nature, humility and selflessness epitomised all that is good in people

"Our warrior Dawn is finally at peace. Her passing will leave a huge void in all our lives that can never be replaced but her cherished memory will live forever in our hearts."

Among the chief mourners were her youngest son Eja, a Leaving Cert student at Bridgetown Vocational College; daughter Seren, a former Wexford Youths FC player and a third level student in Sligo where she plays League of Ireland football with Sligo Rovers; son Caelan who is studying European Business in Germany and eldest daughter Naoise, a former member of the youth dressage high-performance squad who works in the UK with Irish international dressage rider Dane Rawlins.

Dawn also leaves behind her parents Ken and Mary; her sisters Tonya and Rachel and brother Ken; her parents-in-law Conor and Mary; sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law Gene, Julian, Alannah, Martha, Megan, Dicky, Adam and Kerri; her nieces and nephews and many friends.

A former air stewardess who came to Wexford after her Donegal-born husband Dara began working with Wexford Tourism, Dawn had developed a love of horses from a young age, competing in dressage at various levels while growing up in Sligo.

She was responsible for introducing the national Musical Ride competition to Killinick Pony Club where she was a much-loved instructor, committee member and parent.

She took on the task for four years and under her guidance, Killinick won the competition three years in a row, earning the right to showcase their skills at the Dublin Horse Show, wearing costumes made by her seamstress mother Mary.

Extending its deepest sympathy to the Ward and Keane families, the Pony Club said Dawn was dedicated to teaching club members and passing her knowledge on to others, and was always ready to offer a caring hand behind the scenes.

A club spokesperson described her as “a strong, caring, loving, and inspiring lady, who will be dearly missed”.

In an emotional tribute, Wexford Equestrian Centre, run by close family friends Orla and Pat Peare, where Dawn was a familiar face in reception for many years, said there were no words to describe how heartbroken they were to lose her.

“Anyone who knew Dawn knew that her passion for horses was unmatched and she derived the greatest great joy from teaching and passing on her knowledge.”

They described her as “first and foremost a lady”, “an inspiring person” and “the kindest soul” who “beamed joy, embodied grace and politeness and exuded efficiency and organisation.”

Dawn was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 and initially responded well to treatment which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But the illness returned in 2021.

Earlier this year, Wexford Equestrian organised a fundraiser to help provide her with Dentritic Cell Therapy. She sadly lost her fight for life last Saturday after receiving palliative care at home for the past seven weeks.

Her funeral service in Ballymore on Tuesday morning was followed by a private cremation. Her family asked that donations, if desired, should be made to Wexford Hospice Homecare.

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