Mr. Pugh, 68, began riding horses at 36 and was so taken by it that when IBM made clear its intentions to transfer him from Woodside to Georgia a few years later, he declined and he and the company went their separate ways.
In the years since, Mr. Pugh, now a technical consultant and a resident of Woodside for 40 years, has cut out cattle from a herd like a cowboy, hunted on horseback with dogs like an English lord, traversed mountain trails like a native tribesman, and gamed like a sixth-century B.C. Persian horse soldier.
He's been on the town's Trails Committee since 1999 and is a longtime advocate on behalf of equestrian trails, according to a biography by the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County announcing that Mr. Pugh is the recipient of the Outstanding Horseperson-Citizen Award for 2013.
In an interview at the Patrol grounds in Woodside, Mr. Pugh talked about his 165-mile trip around Lake Tahoe on his quarter horse Nevada. "It's a tough, tough ride," he said. You're on the trail by 8 a.m. and in the saddle for six or seven hours, he said. You're bone tired at day's end, he said, but ahead is unpacking, setting up camp, making dinner and cleaning up so bears won't visit and breakfast will go smoothly. You're in your sleeping bag by 9, he said.
Being active in the mountains usually demands fitness, given the lower oxygen content of the air, but for riders it's not bad, Mr. Pugh said. "You have to have your horse in shape," he added, but it's a way to enjoy the high country without having to hike with legs and lungs that have seen fitter days.
When he hunts by horse, it's typically on a large cattle ranch and he's in an English saddle and wearing formal clothes. In the English fox-hunting style, including the camaraderie, they chase fox hounds who chase coyotes — an animal that ranchers are happy to have as the target. "Pretty much, we don't catch them," Mr. Pugh said.
In team penning, a sport played in an arena with about 30 head of cattle, the challenge for the three-rider team is simple but demanding. Under the pressure of a stop watch, the team approaches the herd, finds and cuts out three specified animals, and attempts to drive them into a pen at the other end of the arena. Mr. Pugh took it up in 1993 and has won more than $500 at it.
Polo is thought to have Persian roots. Mr. Pugh has played since the mid-1990s, in Atherton at the Menlo Circus Club and elsewhere. "When you're (playing polo), you're using every muscle in your body," he said. Asked if the sport is dangerous, given the close quarters, athletic jostling and large animals, Mr. Pugh replied: "Everything in life is dangerous."
He has competed in horse trials, including dressage, jumping and cross country, according to the bio. In 2000, Mr. Pugh and his wife Sandie traveled to Ireland and rode sport horses known for their athleticism, including jumping over walls and down banks.
Woodside resident and author Rebekah Witter helps equestrians develop good working relationships with horses. The Almanac asked for a comment on Mr. Pugh's award. "He is the ultimate horseman," Ms. Witter said. "He is a horseman (who) does it all ... a wonderful ambassador for the horse community."
His breadth of equestrian interests "are measures of the full relationship of the horse to the human," Ms. Witter said. He is a "huge fundraiser" for the trail system, she added.
Mr. Pugh joined the Mounted Patrol in 1986 and is the current mount sergeant. He's been a regular participant on major annual rides. He has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Bucknell University, and master's degrees in business and computer science from Stanford University. He was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam.
"For all Don has done for the equestrian community, and as an exemplar of what it means to be a horseman, Don was chosen for this honor," Patrol spokesman Bill Wraith said. "We all congratulate him and wish him further success in his endeavors — it benefits all of us!"