Above: Maria and Hobbs Lane; Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography.
By TPH Editor Sissy Wickes
The equestrian community has heard of the generous philanthropy of the Hamel Family in establishing the Hamel Scholarship for Further Education. Created in 2016, the $25,000 gift is awarded to a deserving USHJA member toward college, trade, professional, or graduate education costs. The recipient of the inaugural award in 2017 is Lizzy Traband, who is beginning her sophomore year at Penn State University. She is an accomplished rider, performs bridleless exhibitions, and has begun two start- up tech companies. Never daunted by the physical limitation of having only one hand, Lizzy plans to make the most out of the generous gift. “There are no words to describe how grateful I am to receive this scholarship,” she exclaims. “This scholarship launches me 10 steps further in the right direction.”
What is the genesis of the Hamel Scholarship? In a community where riding and equestrian experiences are the biggest focus, how did Kristen and Jim Hamel conceive of an educational scholarship?
The Plaid Horse caught up with Kristen Hamel as she did Sunday barn chores at her Sunset View Farm in Richfield, Wisconsin. “Jim and I believe in the absolute value of education. We are not from great means and we know that to be successful in anything you want to do, you have to have an education.” The Hamels met and started dating in high school in Wisconsin. They married young and attended the University of Minnesota where both worked at various jobs while in school. Jim worked in maintenance while Kristen did odd jobs, including cleaning bathrooms in the dorms. Kristen graduated in two years with an Associate of Arts Degree in order to work full time to put Jim through school. “I worked as a nanny, in advertising, anything to make ends meet,” she remembers. “We had $75.00 when he graduated from college.”
Jim began his career at Kimberley-Clark in Texas, a job that necessitated the family moving around the country. Every year and a half, they relocated to Wisconsin, back to Texas, and then to Arkansas. With two babies in tow, Kristen and Jim did what it took to make it on their own. In 1997, Jim transitioned to a position at Artisan Partners and began a very successful career in finance. The Hamel family returned to their roots in Wisconsin where they live today.
“Jim and I have been very fortunate,” Kristen opines. “We want to pay it forward. No matter what you want to do, education is the only way to get there. We believe that everyone needs it and not everyone can afford it. We hope to help with that.” Their three children are all serious students, including their equestrian daughter, Sydney. Despite the travel and rigors of a busy horse show schedule, Sydney attends her local high school. She chooses the brick and mortar school option rather than an online program in order to stay connected with her friends and school activities. An “A” student, she successfully fields the demands of her curriculum and homework with her riding schedule.
As Sydney’s interest in riding burgeoned, so did the amount of time that Kristen spent along the rail watching her daughter’s equestrian pursuits. A recreational rider herself, Kristen loves horse show competition. She decided to begin a business venture at her Sunset View Farm where she and professional rider and trainer, Maria Rasmussen, buy young hunters to train and resell. “I love to have something of my own. It takes the pressure off of Sydney and it fits our situation well.”
Currently, Kristen owns Hobbs Lane, a green five year old that shows limitless potential. Rasmussen explains, “When we bought Hobbs Lane, I knew he was good. But, he has turned out to be just amazing.” The young horse debuted in the 3′ Green Hunters with Rasmussen in July, 2017 at Equifest in Chicago where he was Champion. Next, he showed in Lexington, KY and repeated his stellar performance with another Championship award. Hobbs Lane’s third horse show was at the illustrious, hard fought Capital Challenge. The lovely gelding again showed his exceptional form with a win in the 3′ Green Hunter Colts and Gelding Stake. His last show of 2017 was the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, his first indoor experience, where he placed in all of the over fences classes. Hamel remembers, “I just loved Hobbs Lane right from the start and I am so excited about him.”
Hamel enjoys the process of choosing young horses as a learning experience. Rasmussen explains, “She really loves this sport. For Kristen, it is less of a hobby and more of a passion.” Rasmussen involves Hamel by sending her tapes of horses and deciding with her which ones to pursue. Together, they travel to see them, Rasmussen rides them, and they decide about purchasing them. With every trip, Kristen learns more about young horses and their potential as competition horses and sales prospects. As an owner, Rasmussen says, “She is ideal. She is fine with taking our time with Hobbs Lane and not rushing to develop him. She lets me make the calls and is very supportive. This is really fun.” Look for Sunset View Farm, Kristen Hamel, and Maria Rasmussen as they develop talented, young horses for the hunter ring.
Kristen Hamel enjoys her many roles in the equestrian world. Promoting education, helping her daughter in her riding endeavors, and embarking on a business venture with young horses, she is a true benefactor to the industry.