Karen Lende O’Connor was born on February 17, 1958 in Bolton, Massachusetts, USA to Phillip and Joanne Lende. She was the second child of three and the only girl; her brothers are Steven and Chip but did not come from a family of equestrians. For Karen's 11th birthday, she received a horse named Midnight. She was a member of the United States Pony Clubs, in the Groton Pony Club in the Central New England Region. She later owned a Connemara pony named Erin's Shamrock, who in 1978 was awarded the Camlin Trophy by the American Connemara Pony Society “in recognition of a career of outstanding competitive performance.” Erin’s Shamrock carried Karen from a D-1 Pony Clubber to her A rating at the age of 16. It was also the Pony Club that sparked her interest in evening and, after reading an article about Princess Anne winning the European Championships in 1971, Karen became forever hooked on the sport. Karen was inducted into the United States Pony Club Hall of Fame.
Karen began competing internationally in the late 1970’s. Her first major placing came at the Badminton CCI4* on March Brown in 1979. In 1986 she started riding with the U.S. Equestrian Team, beginning with the World Championships, which were held in Gawler, Australia, where she rode Lutin V. She won multiple CCI3* events, including the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, Punchestown, Foxhall, and twice at the Fair Hill International. Karen won the 1999 Rolex Kentucky CCI4* riding Prince Panache.
Karen met David at the Rolex Kentucky Competitor’s Party and after seven years of dating they married on June 26, 1993.
During the 1990s, Karen and Biko were mainstays of the U.S. team, riding to multiple top-ten finishes at major international events, including the Badminton Horse Trials and the Rolex Kentucky Three Day. Karen rode Biko at the 1994 World Equestrian Games and Prince Panache at the 1998 World Equestrian Games where the U.S. team won the bronze medal.. At the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany she rode Upstage as an individual.
Karen has competed in five Olympic Games. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea she rode The Optimist but did not finish. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, in Atlanta riding Biko she was a member of the silver medal team. At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, riding Prince Panache, Karen was a member of the team that won the bronze medal. At the 2003 Pan American Games, Karen won the individual silver medal riding Joker's Wild.
During the 2000’s, Karen and the 14.1 hand Sport Pony Theodore O’Connor (Teddy) finished third at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day and sixth at the same event in 2008.At the 2007 Pan American Games, Karen and Teddy won an individual gold and team gold.
In 2008, short-listed for the U.S .eventing team at the 2008 Olympic Games, Teddy suffered a catastrophic injury at home and was euthanized. In the 2008 Summer Games in Hong Kong (Beijing) riding Mandiba, she placed 44th, while the U.S. team finished 7th. Karen was not originally scheduled to ride in the 2008 Games, but was moved to a competition spot in July 2008 when teammate Heidi White was forced to withdraw. In September 2009, Karen was out of action for five weeks with a broken shoulder blade she sustained in a motorcycle accident. Also in 2009, riding Mandiba the partnership finished their season as runner-up at the Fair Hill CCI3* in Elkton, MD. At the 2012 Summer Games in London, Karen finished 9th riding Mr. Medicott which was the highest rank achieved by a U.S. rider at the 2012 Games. Karen was the oldest Olympian to represent the U.S. in any sport at the 2012 Games.
In 2010, Karen and Mandiba finished seventh in the CCI4* at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and in July, won the CIC3*-W at The Event at Rebecca Farm. They finished their season by representing the U.S. at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY, in September.
In 2011 Karen and Veronica achieved several placings including ninth at the Richland Park CIC3* and 12th at the Fair Hill International CCI3*. Karen also won two Advanced divisions at the Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials with Veronica and her then new ride, Mr. Medicott. At the Red Hills Horse Trials, Karen placed fifth and tenth in the CIC3* with Mr. Medicott and Veronica respectively.
Riding Mr. Medicott, Karen finished fourth at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Bridgestone CCI4*. Karen and Mr. Medicott showed that they are a team to be reckoned with at Bromont, winning the CIC3*. The CIC3* wasn't the only victory for Karen at Bromont as she also piloted Mandiba to a win in the CCI2* and rode RF Amber Eyes to a fifth place finish in the division as well.
On October 6, 2012, Karen fell while competing Veronica at the Morven Park Fall Horse Trials in Leesburg, Virginia. She suffered a burst fracture of her T4 vertebra and a compression fracture of her T5 vertebra. After one of the vertebra shifted, she underwent surgery on October 18, 2012.
Karen has been named U.S. Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year ten times and, in 1993, was the number one ranked lady rider in the world.
In 1995, Biko was named The Chronicle of the Horse Eventing Horse of the Year, and in 1996, Karen was named The Chronicle of the Horse Eventing Horseman of the Year. In 1999, Biko was honored as the USEA's Horse of the Century, and in 2006, was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame. In 2007, Theodore O’Connor was named The Chronicle of the Horse Overall Horse of the Year and Eventing Horse of the Year, referring to him as the "horse world's most adored underdog.” As of 2013, six horses ridden by Karen (Upstage, Biko, Prince Panache, Mandiba, Regal Scot and Grand Slam) held positions in the list of the top 50 USEA high scoring horses.
Karen serves as a member of the United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) Board of Directors and as an active member of the United States Eventing Association's (USEA) Instructor Certification Program.
2003 Individual Silver Pan American Games CCI3*, Fair Hill, USA (Joker’s Wild)
2003 1st Fair Hill CCI3*, USA (Grand Slam)
2003 5th Blenheim CCI3* GBR (Bally Mar)
2003 6th Lexington, Kentucky CCI4* USA (Upstage)
2003 7th Lexington, Kentucky CCI4* USA (Joker’s Wild)
2003 15th Foxhall CCI3*, USA (Bally Mar)
2002 8th Blenheim CCI3* GBR (Joker’s Wild)
2002 13th Bramham CCI3* GBR (Regal Scot)
2002 10th Foxhall CCI3* USA (Travis)
2002 12th Lexington, Kentucky CCI4* (Grand Slam)
2001 5th Fair Hill CCI3* USA (Upstage)
2001 6th Radnor CCI2* USA (Beringer)
2001 1st Foxhall CCI3* USA (Prince Panache)
2000 6th Radnor CCI2* USA (Upstage)
2000 Team Bronze Olympic Games, Sydney, AUS (Prince Panache)
2000 3rd Bromont CCI2* CAN (Travis)
2000 3rd Lexington, Kentucky USA (Prince Panache)
1999 2nd Fair Hill CCI3* USA (Regal Scot)
1999 1st Lexington, Kentucky CCI4* USA (Prince Panache)
1998 Team Bronze FEI World Equestrian Games, Rome ITA (Prince Panache)
1998 5th Badminton CCI4* USA (Prince Panache)
1998 5th Lexington, Kentucky CCI4* USA (Biko)
1997 Team Open European Championships; Burghley CCI4* GBR (Prince Panache)
1997 1st Lexington, Kentucky CCI4* USA (Worth The Trust)
1996 3rd Fair Hill CCI3* USA (Worth The Trust)
1996 Team Silver Olympic Games, Atlanta, USA (Biko)
1995 8th Open European Championships CCI3* ITA (Biko)
1995 3rd Checkmate CCI2* CAN (Worth The Trust)
1995 3rd Badminton CCI4* GBR (Biko)
1994 5th Burghley CCI4* GBR (Prince Panache)
1994 11th FEI World Equestrian Games, The Hague, NED (Biko)
1993 5th Fair Hill CCI3* USA (Prince Panache)
1993 6th Blenheim CCI3* GBR (Biko)
1993 1st Punchestown CCI3* IRE (Shannon)
1993 3rd Punchestown CCI3* IRE (Enniskerry)
1992 3rd Loughanmore CCI2* IRE (Biko)
1991 3rd Burghley CCI4* GBR (Mr. Maxwell)
1989 1st Lexington, Kentucky USA (Mr. Maxwell)
1989 1st Fair Hill CCI3* USA (Nos Ecus)
1988 Team Olympic Games Seoul, KOR (The Optimist)
1986 4th Alternate World Championships CCI3* Bialy Bor POL (The Optimist)
1986 18th World Championships CCI4* Gawler AUS (Lutin V)
1985 1st Fall Championship, Chesterlands USA (Castlewellan)
1984 1st Boekelo CCI3* NED (The Optimist)