Pictured above: Sydney and Kristen Hamel, Jeff Wirthman, Maria Rasmussen
BY SISSY WICKES
Photos © Erin Gilmore.
Kristen and Jim Hamel are similar to many equestrian families enveloped in this sport because of the passion of their child. Like so many families, they commit substantial resources of time, interest, and money to that child’s riding career. The difference in the Hamel Family is their commitment to expanding their involvement to support philanthropic causes dear to them. They founded and fund the Hamel Scholarship for Further Education that each year awards $25,000 toward college tuition to a deserving member of the equestrian community (www.ushjafoundation.org/grantsscholarship ). In 2018, they announced sponsorship of the National Horse Show 3’3″ Equitation Championship to take place at The National Horse Show in Lexington, KY. The Hamel Family’s spirit of supporting education and opportunity radiates the very essence of giving back to
Kristen and Jim are dyed in the wool Midwesterners, each coming from solid working class families. They reside at their Sunset View Farm in Richfield, Wisconsin, where their horses are stabled. Kristen and Jim are outdoor oriented and love to tend to the farm and its menagerie. “Jim is a tractor guy, as in he likes the work with them. He is always outside doing some project,” Kristen explains. Having spent most of his career in the financial world, he welcomes the opportunity to enjoy hunting and improving land. Most recently, he is exploring raising cattle on their ranch near Bend, Oregon. Kristen smiles, “He is a suit and tie guy by day and changes into his Carhartts as soon as he gets home. He likes to get his hands dirty.” Kristen and Jim are all in for their daughter, Sydney, and her riding goals. Sydney explains, “My parents are so supportive. My mother loves to watch and let’s me do my thing. And, she does ask questions when she should. My father doesn’t like to watch as much, but he did love going to Pony Finals! He is involved and always wants to know how I did.”
Sydney is disarmingly cerebral and mature for a high school freshman. She attends her local high school and is adept at juggling the demands of academia with her show schedule. “I miss as little school as possible, so that the teachers don’t mind and I can keep up with the work.” A top- level student, her favorite area of study is English as she loves to read. The young rider just recently rode in her first jumper class on Nabuco. Asked how it went, she smiles, “Well, I remembered the course and the jump-off! It was really fun. I like the mind challenge of it as compared to the hunters.” She will continue to compete in the near future in the High Children’s Jumper division and explore the energizing experience of the jumper ring.
While jumpers and hunters are a big part of Sydney’s show day, her passion is the equitation ring. “I love the equitation. It has the fluidity of the hunters, but you have to think and move the entire time. And, the technical part of it is really fun. There is always a new challenge.” Sydney currently competes in the Taylor Harris Insurance Services Medal, the 3’3″ Jumping Seat Medal, and the NHS 3’3″ Medal. She plans to move up into the 3’6″ equitation classes as she gains experience.
For the Hamels, the glue that holds their horse show endeavors together is Maria Rasmussen of Sea Change Farm. Maria and her associate trainer, Jeff Wirthman, are integral to the fulfillment and success that Kristen and Sydney have found at horse shows. Kristen explains, “I believe that Sea Change- Maria, Jeff, and the team- are great examples for their students. They teach them work ethic, sportsmanship, and really inspire them to learn.” Maria is an accomplished rider and pilots Kristen’s beloved green hunter, Hobbs Lane. The beautiful grey is a sale horse owned by the Hamel’s Sunset View Farm and is part of Kristen’s own foray into the horse business. She loves to watch her horses compete and owning a few to develop and sell is a rewarding experience. “I love to have something of my own. It takes the pressure off of Sydney and it fits our situation well,” Kristen explains. “We are taking our time with Hobbs and letting him shine. I just love to watch him.” Rasmussen and Kristen hope to expand their Sunset View string to include more sale horses.
Sydney Hamel appreciates the different assets of each of her trainers. “They are great for me because they each offer something different. Maria can get on my horses and help me feel what’s going on and how to improve my ride. She is a mother figure and great at helping me battle nerves and pressure.” Talking about Wirthman, she smiles. “He is incredible. He knows exactly where he wants you to go and how to get you there. He helps a lot with goals.” As far as personal goals are concerned, Sydney is focused now on “perfecting the little things.” She strives to improve her skills at the 3’3″ level in every ring with her eye on moving up into the higher levels. Indoor horse shows with the Junior Hunters and big Equitation Finals are all included in her objectives.
For a fourteen year old, the process of aging out at eighteen appears as a faint blip on the horizon. Sydney hails from a family that stresses the unequivocal importance of education, so she knows that college is part of the plan. Her long term riding career is less certain. “When I am in college, I do not think that riding will be the focal point of my life anymore. It is not a career choice for me. I want to have fun with it and develop as much as I can now.”
The Hamel Family’s commitment to education stems from personal experience. “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 scholarship is awarded to a candidate for use toward higher education that may include college, graduate, trade, or professional school. They broadly define higher education in order to include candidates with varied educational goals. “We want a serious student who really needs a leg up,” Kristen explains. “We would like this money to make a difference for them.”
Attending The National Horse Show in 2017 had a profound effect on the Hamels. Kristen explains, “When I walked into the [National] with Sydney last year, I thought, ‘Wow!’ This is big and beautiful. I had been to the arena before and could not believe the transformation. It makes everyone feel special- riders, parents, spectators, everyone.” The Hamels aspire to support the tradition and grandeur of the horse show through sponsorship of the National Horse Show 3’3″ Equitation Championship. Sydney appreciates the transitional aspect of the class. She explains, “I love the 3’3″ equitation because it is a pathway to move up. It is easier to get to the 3’6″ when you have the 3’3″ to grow into first.”
The Hamel name appears regularly in the context of horse showing both in competition and sponsorship. Asked if raised visibility through sponsorship is an added pressure, Sydney replied, “No, it is the right thing to do. I like that our name is associated with a good thing like the scholarship, and the 3’3″ is a cool new class. “ Humble and self-possessed, Sydney Hamel rides for love of the horse and the sport. She has integrated the values of her family: hard work, opportunity, and education.
The Hamel Family has had a short tenure, but an immense effect on the horse show community. Imbued with the spirit of philanthropy, they reach out to support educational and historical initiatives for the benefit of the equestrian world.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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