BY SISSY WICKES
Our inboxes and publications are filled with promises and testimony to opportunity in the equestrian world. Assurances abound that talented young riders of modest means can sniff out the trail, the pipeline, to success. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you make your own luck, the future will unfold. It is one thing to talk about opportunity, it is quite another to create it.
In West Bend, Wisconsin, Courtney Hayden-Fromm offers a series of horse shows dedicated to ”promoting the hunter/jumper industry in Wisconsin through clinics, shows, and education.” Her Sweet Summertime series are held at Seoul Creek Farm and the local Washington County Fair Park in July and August. The culmination of the series is the 6th Annual Wisconsin Equine Derby Weekend, a combination of educational clinics and horse show competition. Courtney is the owner of Seoul Creek Farm, a beautiful facility 30 miles outside of Milwaukee. With forty acres of land, forty eight stalls, ample turnout, and one indoor and two outdoor rings, Seoul Creek is home to a variety of hunters and jumpers. Hayden-Fromm states that her first love is the hunter discipline although her business is a mix of hunters, jumpers, and equitation. ”My clients range from the leadline all the way up to 3’6″ hunters and jumpers. We have kids, juniors, and adults- I enjoy teaching all levels,” she explains. In the winter months, Hayden heads to Ocala, FL with a group while others stay in Wisconsin with Seoul Creek’s home team of trainers.
The beating heart of Seoul Creek Farm and Courtney Hayden-Fromm is dedication to the local community. Local riders, businesses, and charities are the focus of Hayden’s efforts. She is most proud of the horse shows that she runs as a way to promote equestrian sport in the area and give back to her community. ”At the end of it all, I am still just a kid who loves horses. I love to see a child winning their first ribbon or an amateur returning to the ring and I think it’s important to give back to your community.” The Sweet Summertime Show and the Wisconsin Equine Derby Weekend benefit charities such as a local horse rescue and a cancer patient support program. Outreach is a two way street for Hayden. She enlists local sponsors to financially support her events and then educates the public about reciprocating by supporting local businesses. At the root of all of her efforts is the desire to create fun, educational events for spectators and participants alike.
“I tell people that the idea for our Derby Weekend was spawned by boredom,” she laughs. “As a young professional, I was so bored with watching the same twenty horses go around a similar hunter course weekend after weekend. So, while taking a bath one night, I had an idea: we should hold our own Derby! I called ten friends asked them to donate $500 to put on a Derby, and they all donated. I think they were receptive because I am so active in the community.” Born from the desire to create a more inclusive and entertaining product, the Wisconsin Equine Derby Weekend launched in August, 2012. Now in its sixth year, the event has become a popular destination for horse show competitors throughout Wisconsin and neighboring communities. Hayden boasts, “The Derby has gotten the blood pumping in the horse community of Wisconsin. It is really exciting.” Hayden-Fromm is quick to acknowledge the team that has been instrumental in the success of her endeavors, including her husband and local entrepreneurs. “There is no “I” in Team. These events would still be just ideas without the support of my family, friends and loyal sponsors. They are the magic that makes all these dreams come true.”
The format of the Derby Weekend supports education, horsemanship, and competition. Held at the Washington County Fair Park, the grounds can host up to 130 horses, a number that the event is nearing. Wednesday and Thursday offer a local hunter/jumper competition. Friday launches the Derby Weekend with riding clinics taught by the same judges who will preside over hunter and jumper classes offered on Saturday and Sunday. A jumper clinician will teach on Friday morning and a hunter clinician in the afternoon. Well-known professionals such as Steve Wall, Diane Carney, Nancy Whitehead, Haylie Jayne Rolfe, and Maggie Jayne have taught and judged at the Wisconsin Equine Derby Weekend. In addition to riding lessons, participants are offered stable management presentations on topics such as first aid, feed, and veterinary care. Prize money for the derby classes has reached in excess of $5000 while the Derby Calcutta raises money for Healing Haven, a non-profit supplying wigs to cancer patients. Sunday morning of Derby Weekend features the ever popular Bloody Mary and Mimosa Bar for adult enjoyment. Fun, great spectator experience, philanthropy, competition and education are the hallmarks of the weekend.
“I am all about the grass roots,” Courtney states. “Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden – all of us started at the local level. We have to nurture these programs or the industry falters.” Rather than paying lip service to the idea of broad based, lower level development, Hayden-Fromm steps in and makes it happen. Her Sweet Summertime shows in Wisconsin are geared toward families and children just entering the equestrian sport arena. “Our shows are about the experience for everyone. We care about the people new to the sport, we care about the families coming to watch, we care about hospitality. The grass roots programs have to be nurtured to stay strong. They don’t maintain themselves.” The Derby Weekend event provides an educational experience with top clinicians as well as a chance to put into practice the lessons learned the day before. Through programs such as Hayden-Fromm’s, the pipeline to high performance competition that seems an elusive ideal can become a reality. Young riders can begin to hone their skills at local, well supervised stables, start their competitive careers at local shows, and attain success commensurate with skill and opportunity.
“As trainers, as professionals, we can all support grass roots efforts. Encourage people to join the USHJA, sponsor classes at local shows, lend a horse for a kid to show at a local competition. I do this because I love horses and riding, as we all do,” Hayden-Fromm concludes. Events that promote our industry and provide a fun, educational equestrian experience will effectively increase the number of riders and horses in the sport. Promotion can begin at the very beginning.
To learn more about the Courtney Hayden-Fromm, Sweet Summertime Series and the Wisconsin Equine Derby Weekend go to oldseoulequestrian.com.
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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