Each year since 2000, the Horse Industry Association of Alberta has presented an award in recognition of an outstanding individual who has provided a significant contribution toward the continued development of the horse industry in the province. The first Alberta Horse Industry Distinguished Service Award was presented at the 2000 Horse Breeders & Owners Conference to Bill Collins. Since then the outstanding recipients have included: 2001 – Marg and Ron Southern; 2002 – Hans Hansma; 2003 – Joe Selinger; 2004 – Bruce Roy; 2005 – Dave Robson; 2006 – Dr. David Reid; and in 2007 – John Scott.

On January 12, 2008, at the 26th annual Horse Breeders and Owners Conference, the Horse Industry Association of Alberta proudly presented the Distinguished Service Award to Doug Milligan in recognition of his lasting influence and contributions to the equine industry in the province. “There are very few individuals in this province who have contributed in so many different ways to the development of the horse industry – Doug Milligan is recognized as one of those individuals,” says Marg Southern, Spruce Meadows, and a previous Distinguished Service Award recipient.

Those sentiments are wholeheartedly shared by all Alberta horse industry members who know him. Doug Milligan became the first head of Alberta’s Horse Industry Branch in 1974. During his 33-year career, his passion, vision and skills helped build Alberta’s solid standing and dominant place in the equine world.

Between 1974 and his retirement in 2007, Milligan was involved in and, in many cases, directly responsible for the development of many key industry building programs and projects, world-wide partnerships, marketing initiatives and door-opening opportunities for Alberta horses and their breeders and owners.

“Whether it was the Alberta Horse Improvement Program, the Alberta Horse Evaluation System, the annual evaluation days, extension programs geared to adults and producers or evening courses, Doug brought enthusiasm for the industry and a respect for the welfare of horses to the table,” says Les Burwash, head of equine programs with Alberta Agriculture and Food, Airdrie. “He was the first person to write equine extension bulletins for the province and in Canada, and under his leadership the horse industry division produced numerous extension materials for Albertans, including fact sheets, videos and movies.”

The research programs that Milligan led and encouraged were practical and useful for the horse industry and contributed to the knowledge used in publishing the new National Research Council nutrient requirements for horses. He was also very involved in establishing and promoting the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Health Research Fund.

“From its inception, Doug has been an integral part of the Horse Breeders and Owners Conference,” says Teresa van Bryce, manager, Horse Industry Association of Alberta and one of the conference organizers. “Over the years, the conference has developed into what is now the premier equine conference in North America, an event that has helped put Alberta on the map in the horse world.”

A mentor, a leader, a horseman, Milligan has been involved in some of the most significant events in Alberta’s horse industry: Spruce Meadows, Equifair, Alberta Breeds for the World, Battle of Breeds, Equitana, incoming trade missions, exporting horses to Europe and the Horse Racing Alberta Development Plan, to mention a few.

As incredibly influential and crucial his involvement has been to a number of landmark developments, it has been rare to find him front and centre when the well deserved accolades were being doled out.  He would much rather defer and deflect all the credit to others. Indeed, if the history books don’t acknowledge Doug Milligan as one of the truly great icons within the province’s equine industry, it will only be because he personally convinced the writers that the credit belonged to others.