Plaidcast 356: Dr. Betsee Parker by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 356 Dr. Betsee Parker


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Piper speaks with Dr. Betsee Parker about being one of the top horse and pony owners and sponsors in the horse show world, what it’s been like supporting so many junior and professional riders over the years and how she is overcoming biases in our sport. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!


  • Host: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Guest: Dr. Betsee Parker is the 17th Baroness of Lochiel, Scotland, and also a philanthropist, ordained Episcopal minister and one of our country’s top horse and pony owners and horse show sponsors from Middleburg, Virginia. While living in Manhattan in 2001, Dr. Parker was among the first responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11, working primarily with the Chief Medical Examiner of New York to help identify victims. Dr. Parker is also a decorated member of the United Nations, serving in multiple capacities with an emphasis toward sustainable development and climate-change issues in Africa. She has also been the keynote speaker on sustainable development at the Vatican. Dr. Parker also the proud owner of a 15th century castle, Ackergill Tower on the rugged northeast coast of Scotland, converting it from a luxury hotel into her private home. In Middleburg, Virginia, Dr. Parker’s Huntland Farm is home to many of her retired, top show horses and ponies.
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services, Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Photo Credit: Shawn McMillen Photography
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: Purina Animal NutritionAmerica CryoAlexis Kletjian Jewelry, LAURACEA, BoneKare, Show Strides Book Series, With Purpose: The Balmoral Standard and Good Boy, Eddie

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm 
[00:00:56] This is the Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of the Plaid Horse magazine. And coming up on today’s episode number 356, I talk with Dr. Betsee Parker about being one of the top horse and pony owners and sponsors in the sport and what it’s been like supporting so many junior and professional riders over the years. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. 

Piper Klemm [00:02:25] Dr. Betsee Parker is the 17th Baroness of Lochiel of Scotland and a philanthropist, ordained Episcopalian minister and one of our country’s top horse and pony owners and horse show sponsors from Middleburg, Virginia. While living in Manhattan in 2001, Dr. Parker was among the first responders of the World Trade Center on 911. Working primarily with the chief medical examiner of New York to help identify victims. Dr. Parker is also a decorated member of the United Nations, serving in multiple capacities with an emphasis toward sustainable development and climate change issues in Africa. She has also been the keynote speaker on sustainable development at the Vatican. Dr. Parker is also the proud owner of a 15th century castle Ackergill Tower on the rugged northeast coast of Scotland, converting it from a luxury hotel into a private home. In Middleburg, Virginia. Dr. Parker’s Huntland farm is home to many of her retired top horses and ponies. Welcome to the plaidcast. Dr. Betsee Parker. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:03:29] Thank you. It’s good to be here. Thank you for having me. 

Piper Klemm [00:03:32] You have sponsored so many junior riders in their career. Can you talk to us a little bit about your philosophy on opportunity and giving back to the community? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:03:42] Yes, I can. But I think I would like to first explain what the motivation is behind that, because I think that my motivation and my story is a little different from other people that sponsor our youth here and there. In my case, I took one of the biggest losses in the sport that anyone can take many years ago. I had a younger sister who was also a show rider, and she was quite a good equitation rider and she met with a very terrible fall, died in my arms, and it was very traumatic for me and I was not able to save her life. And so what I’m saying is that I had to pay quite a high price for going forward. My family were not in favor of me continuing to ride. There aren’t too many people in our sport that pay this price, but it is a dangerous sport and sometimes things happen. And so I come as a testimonial, really. That you can go on in this sport if something does happen to you or a family member or a friend. You can go on and you can mend and come back into the sport and thoroughly enjoy it and be strong for the rest of your life. As far as you know what I think about giving back to the community. Well, I think the most important aspect of what we do in our sport is giving back to our community. And I think it’s a good thing if that can be learned in childhood. There are many ways in which we can give back to our sport, including helping at therapeutic riding places, just giving tips to another junior at the ring or becoming friends with someone who doesn’t really know anybody else at ringside. There are just so many ways that you can be helpful in the sport, draw other people in and do positive things in the sport and become a good sport yourself instead of instead of criticizing others and putting them down online and gossiping about them and playing in clicks and that sort of thing. There are so many positive things that you can do that will really give back to the sport in time. And so if you can, as a junior, if you can always think of what could I do to be helpful to my sport and my friends today, then I’m sure you’ll come up with some good answers on that. 

Piper Klemm [00:06:33] Did giving back come from how you were raised? Did it come from a role model or trainer you had? How how did you develop your ethos on how you wanted to live your life? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:06:46] Well, I think that one is pretty much my mother, who was very much a giver and believed that you should learn to give back even when you were a small child, I would have to give her the credit for that one. 

Piper Klemm [00:07:02] Tell us about your own riding career and how you fell in love with horses and how that’s changed and evolved over the years. Now that you have your own farm and you are able to have them at home, I understand you have a lot of retired horses at your home. How do you get to interact with horses on a daily basis and how has that changed over the years? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:07:26] Well, the way that it started was that when I was four years old, I was at my uncle’s farm in northern Minnesota, and he brought up this splendid Percheron workhorse named Beauty, who was in her 20s. And he only used this horse sometimes in the spring if the tractors couldn’t get in to seed the fields and it was muddy, he would hitch up the old workhorse from the 1930 and use her in the field. And so he brought her up to the house with a halter on her head and a rope lead, and he picked me up. I was only four years old and set me up on her back bareback and told me to hold on to her beautiful gray mane and that we were going to go for a walk. And I went for a walk on this horse up to the barn. She was a huge old gray percheron. And I remember it was just like the minute my uncle lifted me up on her back, it was like a light bulb went off above my head and it was just over with. I was absolutely thrilled. I can still remember sitting up there and the feeling of just having this wonderful caring animal that was my companion that I was with, and it even seemed to me like the fields and the trees were greener when I was up on the back of the horse than when I was just out playing and walking. And when my uncle took me down from Beauty, it was over with. My parents could never hear the end of it again. So that was my beginning in it. When I started to take riding lessons. I never did ride at a farewell type barn that we often associate with. When you begin these kind of backyard barns, you often think that children begin and those and that they work their way up and maybe somehow they end up going to a very good elite barn and and going into the world of showing horses. But in my case, I went to a stable that was really state of the arts for the late 1950s and early 1960s. And the main patron at the stable was Patrick Butler, who was one of the well-known patrons of the Olympic team. And he would bring his hunters and his Olympic horses to Clearview Stables in Minnesota in Hamilton, Minnesota. And it was owned by a very elite polo player by the name of Charles Sifton, who lived up in canada and would come down and bring his polo ponies into Minnesota. And then he’d take some of them down to Palm Beach in the wintertime. And I happened to be this fortunate little girl that just found the name of this stable in the Yellow Pages. And I looked under that heading Riding Academy’s, and I found it and I called them. And the next thing I was taking riding lessons at this very wonderful stable. And Mr. Butler was there with his horses, you know, with many children. And in fact, one of my friend, Lauren Pitts, who is still in our sport, we started up about the same time I did. We’ve been talking through all these years about our horse experiences, and we were very fortunate to start at that stable. And my first trainer was Cathy Courtright, who is still in our sport, and she now often works at the Upperville Horse Show as one of our heads in the administration and offices there. So I went to her every year and then my second trainer was actually the great grandmother of the girl who just won the Maclay final. Carlee McCutcheon. Her mother is Mandy McCutcheon. Her grandmother is Colleen Vanceroy. Who was a friend of mine and her mom was Rita Vanceroy. So we’re going all the way back to Carlee’s great grandmother was my second riding instructor at Clearview Stables. And so I never was in a situation where I was at a barn where I just was kind of teaching myself. There was lots of good instruction right from the start. They were serious training barns, and so that was kind of the only orientation I ever had. And I would have to say that what really helped me to take off in. Really learn discipline and training and going to the highest levels was when I started riding with George Morris. And that was really the beginning of the greatest amount of knowledge I could ever attain about riding and showing. And so I’m forever grateful to him for all that. He believed in me and provided for me throughout the years. 

Piper Klemm [00:12:53] It’s so changed how you know, obviously how you grew up and how children have been raised over the years. And then you’re interacting with so many of these young riders as as you give back and give opportunity. How have the riders changed that you see even over the last 20 years or more that you’ve been providing ponies and junior hunters? How have these riders changed? How do you see that different from when you were growing up? Are there good things? Are there bad things? What what’s your take on all this? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:13:28] Well, I’m sure there are both. But I think we have really great youth in our sport, and our entire legacy depends on them going forward of sport. And this is why I really believe so much that everyone can sponsor youth in some way in sport. And it’s worth doing because it’s more fun than doing it yourself. And I just think that back in the late 1960s, when I started in 1958 and into the early 60 plus, we had horse shows. And yes, they were considered very elite. But if you start to analyze things like the courses and the way the horses are produced, I think you find that in the main a young rider is a much better rider today at the same level as we were at that time. I think they have to work harder, have a better horse, have better positions and work harder with their trainers. And of course, there’s no substitute for hours in the saddle. So today I see some of these young leaders, like one that I sponsor is Maddie Tosh, and she is an absolute self-starter. She’s completely a partner with her father, as if she were a junior professional. She can get up to the barn before Hunt does her father and start helping the team get on board for what’s going to happen that day. She rides many horses that day. Her father doesn’t have to be at the barn with her. She can manage the situation. She’s an all around rider, all around horse woman, all around sportswoman, which I think is so wonderful. I think today it. It really requires great commitment to get to the top. And even when you do spend all that time and hours in the saddle and educating yourself about dressage, getting your background in your flat work properly, and getting together with the right trainers and the team of trainers, you really find that riders have got to devote more time to it where they cannot get to and attain to the highest level in the sport. They really have to do that now. I think when I was young. People do not spend as many hours, nor did they have fleets of horse to ride. You didn’t see anyone who had four and five horses to ride. When I was a child, you were lucky if you had one for yourself and it was your own. There weren’t a lot of people sponsoring you. Sometimes somebody would leave the horse and ride it. But in my case, I think that my motivation was different because, as I say, I lost a sister in the sport. And also I had a very bad fall when I was 12 and I broke my neck in two places C two and C3, which I’m just millimeters from being a paraplegic. So I was told I had to get off of horses by the time I was 30, my doctor told me I had to stop, that I wouldn’t sustain another fall. So I do have different motivations and other people I cannot ride myself. And I lost a sister in the sport. And so I gain a lot of vicarious pleasure out of helping on the ground and picking horses and picking the riders for them. I can’t do it myself anymore because of these things that happen in my life that do happen to people. But I think I just am a testimonial to the fact that you can go on and you can go forward and things can be positive for you. 

Piper Klemm [00:17:23] Tell us about your farm and you know what it’s like to have all of the ponies there and the horses and all these, you know, giants at once So much just enjoying enjoying their days.

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:17:37] Well, I feel like my horses, and my ponies don’t owe me anything. But I owe them everything and a good life. And I really do love it, if at all possible, to keep them into old age and retire them. I don’t like them to be run off their feet and come broken back retiring at my farm. I like to stay, to retire a little early and they’re still at the top of their game and they can come here and really enjoy their lives in Virginia and. That’s been my philosophy for a long time. I’m fortunate to be able to afford to do that. I have retired horses for other people here as well. Some great champions here that other people could not retire. So they asked me if I would retire them here at Huntland the Huntland book has just been released by the Virginia press. It’s written by Mark Leetson. So we have chronicled the history of the farm here. It was built in 1834, and it’s always been a horse farm. And there were some owners that didn’t have any particular interest in keeping horses. There were others here that were international and had race horses here and steeplechaser and show horses. So it’s had this rather elite history through the last 120 years, certainly. And the farm is actually closer to 180 years old. And we don’t know all that many records about it before the Civil War. But we do know that the man who built Huntland in 1834 also was active at the Upperville Horse Show so many years later. So there is this wonderful history on the farm, and it also retains a pack of beagles here. The Middleburg, Orange County Beagle Pack  is in residence here at our old kennel, and they move off every Saturday from our farm and from farms nearby and hunt a pack of beagles. Children can ride on horseback or on pony back, whichever works for them. And we get good crowds out here doing it and also hiking through the fields and enjoying field sports. It’s wonderful to own this farm. I’ve been a steward of this farm for 20 years and it has a remarkable history with presidents having come here. President James Monroe was a frequent guest here in the early days of the farm. President Kennedy was also a guest here and loved Huntland. And President Johnson also has this history of there have also been diplomats here from all over the world in the Kennedy and Johnson era. And then since I’ve owned it, I work for the United Nations in sustainable development and climate change with the deputy secretary of the United Nations and various macro economists throughout this country and the world. And so we have more diplomatic meeting going on now, But a lot of these are Zoom meetings now. Instead of people coming to the farm in person, for instance, I’ve been asked to be a panelist at the Cop 28 climate Accords in Dubai in December. So I have to go and give a speech there and have also been asked to joint-chair a meeting in China in March with a macro economist from Asia. So there are lots of things that I do that are similar to what happened in the Kennedy and Johnson administration era here. And so the farm has always had this horsey history and Middleburg hunt moves off from its farm. There are Bassett packs that have hunted the farm, the Piedmont hounds hunt the farm. And really what it amounts to is kind of a conservation ride across country. I mean, we don’t actively go out there and try to get hunting animals. We more do a conservation ride and teach people how to gallop across country to hounds and all the fun that you can have with parties afterwards. And going to these lovely old farms, Huntland is just one of many of those. And the book tells that story. And it also focuses on the four owners who did something positive for the farm. Or in my case, I was one of the four owners because I’m the one that saved it. It was derelict when I bought it and I brought it back to what it is now, which is very similar to how it was around 1912 to 1915 and that period of time. And it’s really thrilling to have horses here, to have hounds here, the beagles, and to have parties for different events. I’ve had parties here for the Upperville Horse Show Exhibitors Party during that, and they’ve had people here for different hunts and different horse associations. Carriage driving pony breeding associations. It lends itself very well to everything in the sport. It really it’s a very old farm that lends itself well to those purposes. 

Piper Klemm [00:23:25] Shifting back to horse shows, are there any really memorable horse show moments with your junior riders or are any win that felt particularly sweet or what really stands out? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:23:37] I just had one at Washington and weeks ago with Hunt and Mandy. Tosh, Of course, when Maddie won Washington Horse Show Medal Final. And that was a real thrill. I was standing with Hunt in the ring and they announced the word Texas. And I looked up and. The rider who was in reserve started to walk forward. And so I looked at Hunt and I said, Did we just win? And he looked at me and he didn’t say anything. And I said. Am I awake? And he said, I think we just won. And then all of a sudden, Maddie went down and hugged her horse on the neck. And I realized that we had won. I mean, we were so stunned that we couldn’t take in the announcement. And I had that happen. Also, when Tori Colvin won on my Great equitation horse, Patrick, when she won the Maclay final in 2015 and we were standing out in the ring and I looked at Andre, who was teaching or at that time Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith. And I said to Andre. Are we going to win after that round she had? and Andre said, I think so, but I don’t really know. And that’s kind of the way it is, even if you’re a trainer or a sponsor. Anything can happen in the judges booth when they finally make the decision. And you can be shocked if somebody gets a gift, somebody gets kind of a bad deal. That’s all part of our sport. And we’ve all had both. So I think if you just are consistent and you find yourselves in this very good company at all times or whatever level it is that you ride and show at. That’s a good gauge of how your riding is going. I also. Have had some very exciting moments with my pony hunters. I had a very exciting one with Vivian Golden here this year at Washington, where she went to a large champion of the young and grand. And she has put that pony into a very superstar category because the pony has won pony finals and the indoors and Devon a few times. And that’s scarce for ponies to have done that. So between Maddie Tosh riding her and Kat Fuqua who who also rode the pony and Vivian Gold and they got this job done and made this pony really a spectacular superstar. And now she’s going to be leased to. To Curry Cooper who will be showing him next year and hopefully learning how to ride equitation on it. Because these other girls have made him into a real wonderful pony to ride. So I don’t think it matters so much whether it’s an older junior winning a medal final or a younger one winning small pony championship. It’s all very thrilling. You’re so happy for the child. I remember how excited I was when Elle Boyd won the Medium Pony Hunter Championship on my Baroness of Lochiel Pony and her mother, Liza Boyd rang me because I wasn’t able to be in Lexington at that time, and we both started crying on the phone. We were so thrilled for Elle. So there were all these children through time that have helped me to get vicarious pleasure because obviously my sister didn’t have a career in this and I lost my ability to ride long ago. So it can actually become more exciting for you to do it from the ground. Because when you see the joy on the face of a young child and the thrill of just being with their pony and loving it and learning to spend time with it, there’s more thrill in that, I think, than anything. And the old champion pony or horse coming home and getting off the van after indoors and coming home to retire, there is a great feeling of accomplishment. That the animal is home now. It gets to be a pet and it gets to live a natural life of a horse or pony. And I just love when that happens. I love when my animals retire and come home. 

Piper Klemm [00:30:28] You mentioned that you love picking out the the horses and the ponies. What what criteria and then matching them with the riders, what criteria you find yourself looking for over and over and a good horse. What to you or pony what to you makes a really good horse or pony. And then on the other side, what are some of the things that all of the riders you’ve chosen have in common? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:30:54] Well, we really do look more than anything for intellect and improvement in a rider because a rider can’t always stay the ideal size for what people claim is the best. Look for an equitation rider, the best look on a hunter. Some of the most brilliant children I’ve ever taught were not considered an athletic look whatsoever on their animals. But because they had this capacity to analyze courses to feel the animal and. Communicate with it. They actually ended up doing better than ones that had the look and were naturally talented. The children who her who pursued it and spent the hours in the saddle and time with their animals bonding with them, or be the ones that got way out ahead and stayed that way. And so when we would put a rider on a pony or on a horse. I always look for whether their temperament is compatible with the animal. I don’t ever want to frighten a child on a green horse that is going to over face them. If anything, the experienced horse makes the inexperienced rider. And the experienced rider makes the inexperienced horse, and George Morris taught me that one. And I’ve always gone by that you don’t want to frighten your riders. They shouldn’t be falling off very often at all. Or somehow the trainer has over faced them. Riders can’t take responsibility for everything because if you put them on a horse, it’s too much for them. Then things can happen. And that interrupts their progress because they get discouraged or frightened. And so we always try to go slowly and the combination kind of determine what we’re going to do. Sometimes we don’t put the pony and the child out there for a whole year, year and a half, because it doesn’t look like the child is coming forward quickly enough in their development. As an athlete, you have to really watch that and get a feel for it. And then sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised because our judges like one of your athletes very much. And you really thought that they needed some work in a certain area. And you’re surprised by the fact that the judges are liking them so much. So anything can happen. But I do think that children who have a good intellect, who can analyze, jump jumping courses and keep a cool head and that’s just critical and that they can be really analytical, just like people in academic subjects and can analyze the course and not be dramatic. I think all of that cool headedness is a type of respect for the horse and for the sport. You’re not going to blow up at the gate or yell at your competitors or say anything or stick your tongue out at them or write mean things on the Internet because you want the best for everyone. We want our sport to be great for everybody. We want to enjoy it. You don’t want everything for yourself. I mean that’s not sporting. You know, and it’s so much more fun when you can share with other people and you can talk about what is fun and what your successes are. It’s much more fun than wanting to get everything for yourself. 

Piper Klemm [00:34:37] I couldn’t agree more. Can you talk a little bit about the other aspects of your life? I know that you do so many other things that are to impact communities and then that are communities that are outside the horse industry. Can you tell us a little bit about when you’re not at a horse show where you might be? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:34:56] Well, mostly I’m traveling internationally for the United Nations because I do ambassadorial work. And so the different kinds of appointments they give me, I have to go to countries in Africa, sometimes meet with president of different African countries or a prime minister, an ambassador, someone from the Ministry of the Interior and that kind of thing, and discuss the Sustainable Development Goals with the United Nations and the possibility of how to put these goals into place in their countries. Because every country has a different economy and a different reality budget wise to what they can do. So my work is largely with the world of the United Nations and trying to be peacemakers throughout the world and to try to work with all countries if they want our help with sustainable development and climate change issues. I’ve been doing that for 20 years now and have just found it very satisfying. I was actually trained at Wellesley College. I was the. Co-captain of the Wellesley College riding team. And I also was the trainer show trainer at Dana Hall, the private girls school there in Wellesley, Massachusetts. And. From there. When I was done with my coursework at Wellesley College, I went on to Harvard and finished my advanced degree there and also was one of the early women ordained in this country in the Episcopal Church. I have been made a canon that’s with one and I know and in the Episcopal Church, which is also in all the Church of England in South Africa, Bishop there had decided to recognize my work throughout the African continent and for helping him to restore an old cathedral on this very remote island off the coast of South Africa called Saint Helena. So I was made a canon in the church, which is something a bishop can do if they want to recognize a lifetime of work that they think is in some way notable or exceptional or whatever their idea is on that. So I am the first woman canon from Saint Helena of South Africa, and I also am the only woman that has a ring at the national level named after her. I really do feel Upperville horse show committee decided unanimously to name a ring after me. The main hunter ring is now the Parker ring. That’s a huge honor for me, and particularly because our sport does not recognize how blind it is to the accomplishments of women in our sport and how women have carried this sport along. And when they named the Ring after me. One of the things I said in my little announcement was that I hoped that our sport would consider naming other venues after women horsewomen and after all the women who have been important in our sport in one way or another because it’s so top heavy with men. Rings being named after them and prizes after them, memorial prizes after them and so on. So we have to really re regroup and look at where our biases are in the sport because we we had to have had tremendous biases in the sport, even in the hunter breeding world. There’s this reluctance to get mares and the best young horse always tends to be a colt. And that’s just not right all the time. And is it is that only Colts get to be best young horses and only boy riders in equitation get to be put forward all the time in our sport disproportionately to the number of girl riders that get put forward. Then there is biases in our sport that we’re not recognizing. I mean, it isn’t as easy for a girl to when she’s developing as a teenager to have the same body type as a boy has its he grows older and yet the sport has valued this type of body that does not help or favor girls at all. And so you have to look at that and ask some questions about how can a 168 girl riders be in the top Medal final and only ten boy riders? And of the top ten. It always seems like about two of the top ten that get in are males. Versus the other 8 females proportionately, it doesn’t work and it’s a bias. There’s a body type that our sport likes which girls cannot easily attain. And which is unhealthy for girls. So even though people don’t want to revisit these things in our sport. I think it’s important because women are not remembered in our sport. They are not written about. They’re not in the old books about our sports. We don’t ask about the owners in this sport. We don’t ask about the trainers who are women that have been great. Into the Hall of Fame go many males. And not too many females. And so I think it’s important to know that about our sport and pay attention and see where it is that the biases still exist because they’re all over the place. And and change it because it’s a much funner sport when it’s when it’s fair for everyone. 

Piper Klemm [00:41:14] I have always wondered if the body type comes from the the military background. And so our quote unquote ideals are the these military ideals or who is joining the military. When these ideals evolved, it was it was 16 year old boys. And so what we’re exactly what you’re saying, what we seem to be striving for in the equitation is, is the physique and the strength of a 16 year old boy. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:41:40] And when you constantly see those kind of disproportionate numbers of girls being put forward versus there are only ten boys and two of those go into the final. It begs questions. I’ve been in the sport since the 50s and I’ve always seen how this proportion is is not right and how when girls develop at the age of 12 to 14 or whatever, they develop very differently than the boys. And then. The boys get the advantage because there’s this tradition that this or that body type is what you really need. Well, there have been plenty of people who could go right to the top and be the best riders in this country that are more like tennis players or more like lacrosse players. They don’t have to be pinned to the point where it’s just unattainable. And I found riders of all body types. It’s more about their attitude and their willingness to try and work hard and their analytical abilities intellectually than it is about the physical body. I’ve always felt that, and I still do. And while someone might aesthetically like to look at a certain very lean, willowy body type, and I had that myself when I did equitation and rode as a younger person, you know, some people are just fortunate and they’re born very lean like that and they stay lean. But it isn’t really a fair thing in the score to judge that when you know half of the people doing it. Can’t attain that type. Just can’t do it. And I think that that needs to be looked at. And there are probably better minds than mine on that idea. But I really have felt all my life that boys always got the advantage and men judges also often favor them. And women judges seem to be a little more willing to bring the girls forward. So whatever that is, we used to be told in the sport, ‘Well, you know, you have to let the boy win because he won’t stay in the sport if girls keep beating him.’ That was one of the traditions we had in the 60s, 70’s, 80s. Well, what good is that when the girl is better? You know, and she’s always going to take second place or second prize and not to be recognized in any particular way. Sometimes the girls in our sport are the ones that really excel. And more often than not, they are. And they are big contributors to our sport. And I do sponsor girls in athletics other than our sport of riding. So I really believe in athletics for girls and pushing them forward and getting them to be all they can be because their messaging is so negative in society that a lot of times girls hardly even get off the ground without realizing what their possibilities are because their messaging has been so negative that they just kind of go on with peer pressure and all the negative things they’ve heard about girls and how they can’t be as good at this or that as the boys are. And that needs to change. That really needs to change in our sport. 

Piper Klemm [00:45:25] Years ago I interviewed a chemistry professor and he was telling me over his time of being a professor over decades. You know, originally they were told, oh, well, they’re more boys in chemistry because, you know, women don’t have the intellectual capability and they’re not smart enough. And then over the years, there would be more and more and more women in chemistry. And at the undergraduate level now we have way more nationally women chemistry majors than men. And now, you know, they started telling the professors like, oh, well, you know, boys can’t focus because of video games. And they have all these, boys have all these distractions. And. And he was commenting on how like, no matter what the data says, people seem to like stretch the data around making excuses for exactly what you’re saying, oh, well, if we don’t let them win they won’t stay in it, or, oh, if you know this, this making and I always relate this to that thing we have in every part of the sport where men are promoted on potential and women are promoted on results. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:46:28] Yes. And women do have to, in the main, and girls be a whole lot better to be holding their own with the men. Then, you know. A lot of times the advantage is given to the male rider and the boy to stay in the sport or they feel he looks nice or aesthetically or they think, well, because its a boy he’s he’s probably going to stay in the sport longer. There are all these myriad of ideas. And then how many women do you have doing course designing? How many women do you have announcing at our shows? How many women do you have in the top level being the presidents and administrators at the highest levels in our sport? It’s usually all accrued to males. And all of that has to be looked at. In my lifetime it’s been glaringly prejudice, glaringly. And it’s very hard for men to accept this or boys and feel that they want parity for the girls. So I think that women have to keep talking about this and girl riders and women representatives to convention so on and keep the dialog going about this, or it will simply revert back to the norm, which is a high level of prejudice for the male in our sport, right on down to the fact that they didn’t like mares in the hunter breeding ring because the best young horse wasn’t going to be a filly. It was gonna be the colt. 

Piper Klemm [00:48:12] It’s. Yeah, it’s over and over. The announcer thing gets me because then we start our brain start to think that, you know, the people announcing the horse show are male by default or we’re raising our, our young girls. When I go to smaller local shows, I hear a female announcers all the time and and at the bigger shows, you know you don’t and and I do want to give a little shout out to Kim Arena for course designing at the Pan Am games, because. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:48:38] That’s absolutely. 

Piper Klemm [00:48:40] That’s a huge step on the FEI level. And I think we have really good female course design role models right now. Having a moment and I hope all women take this time to to think about it. If you want to be a course designer, find a mentor. Because I think it’s it’s a place where we historically don’t see women. And there is no reason for that. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:49:04] There’s no reason whatsoever. But the good old boy network keeps on forwarding the good old boys and so on and so forth through the generations. And they’re riders that are males and so on. So the opportunity is still there if the male rider wants it. So I think that has to change and it’s not going to change quickly. It hasn’t changed that much over my lifetime in sport. And I even seen a lot of those biases at the highest level of what I do with the United Nations. Sometimes if I’m in a high level meeting there and a woman scientist makes a report, I’ve noticed that the males in the in the committee will often question her and grill her and disagree with her report and the women’s specialists when they hear her report, they will often be supportive and tell her they like her metrics or her analytics. And could she please expand on something? What is it if a male gives the report. All the other males seem to come to his aid and agree with him and quote him and say, you know, thank you for your report today. And the women all seem to kind of take a back seat and just be happy that they’re even there. I mean, it’s a tremendous uphill battle We have even at the highest level in what I do outside of the sport. So, you know, I hope a lot of young women coming up in our sport can don’t see this as a minor thing because if you do, you’re going to keep the status quo as it is now. You need to see this as You’ve got to advocate for other girls and women going forward. If the sport is really going to be equal and is going to have representation, well, equality would be a 5050 representation. We don’t have anything like that right now. What we have in our sport is tokenism. And tokenism is where you have 1 or 2 powerful females in there, but everyone else is a male in the mix. Tokenism is not what you want. That’s not equality. 5050 is equality, and we’re nowhere near that. 

Piper Klemm [00:51:26] Well, when we look at our judges, like I think it’s 98% of the sport under 18 is female. And we have a leaky pipeline. 66% of our judges are female and that includes large r and small r. And then when you get to the big four shows, Devon, Capital Challenge, Harrisburg and the Wash and Washington, and you go back over the last 20 years, 70% of the judges for those shows are male. So we go from 98% glass. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:51:55] Ceiling again, you know that we have hit. Yeah. And I certainly have hit in my lifetime because women’s liberation didn’t even exist when I was a child. My mother was a stay at home mother who had more talent than my father did. But there she was at home raising children and pretty much kept in her place. And so we come a long way, but we haven’t come nearly far enough. And, you know, for our sport, you know, the majority of the men in us think that, you know, they are losing ground because the females are going forward and so therefore, they are losing their opportunities. Well, we just got to try a little harder because we really need to get more women throughout all aspects of our sport. We have so many women trainers. But then when you get to the highest levels of the sport, it seems that there are a lot of things in life that cause women to have to back off. One of them is childbearing years and then trying to get back into the sport. There are so many things that are expected of women and then they’re not valued as much. And as I say, it’s a situation like that about the arenas and rings and what they’re named. Meredith McLachlan has the ring named after her down in Lexington, Virginia. But that’s not a national level. That’s a Virginia state level ring. And so I’m the only woman in the country that has a national level ring named after me. And that’s just not right. I mean, you can think of so many women, horsewomen and women in the industry. They deserve that. And never got anything. 

Piper Klemm [00:53:56] I’ve had just. The nastiest people, though, tear me down and come at me v other women, I mean, I think a huge part of this is is supporting each other. How do you view that we can all do better. And you know, you talked about online and then holding yourself to the highest standard. But how what what internal questions do we all need to ask ourselves? Because when I think of the people who have truly been the most cruel to me, it’s other women, unfortunately. And that makes me so sad to say. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:54:26] Well, I think that we’re all on different levels of enlightenment about our situation in our society and that the women that do hammer at you or go after you because they’re not as enlightened as you, perhaps at least as you stand your ground, they may consider some of the things you say, and at times it may make sense to them. But I think you have to hold your ground because we are involved in a transition and a kind of a renaissance for women. And that won’t happen if we keep getting slapped down. And the women that don’t agree and attack often, I think are looking for acceptance by the male group so that they can be accepted by those powerful ones. Because if they speak out and have their opinion, which it’s anti male, they’ll be ridiculed. I get ridiculed for my point of view in the horse show world all the time about women, but I have to deal with it at the highest levels globally with what I do for the United Nations. And so I’m familiar with this and how repressed a culture can be and how they can just shut the box on women and keep them in the box. And our culture is very traditional, and it doesn’t want to recognize the tremendous accomplishments of so many women. But it’s very happy to recognize those accomplishments of men. So I think as much of girls and young women and older women can keep talking about this, keep it up front and keep this going. It’s only going to benefit our sport because it’s going to be a fair sport finally and more beneficial to everyone who participates in it. I mean, when you go into the ring and you see that there are a couple males in there that just started, you know, riding in the equitation or whatever, and they are built in a classic way for that equitation, very lean, muscular and willowy. And then you see a girl who’s built more like a tennis player. You’re bound to feel a little discouraged when the playing field hasn’t been leveled for you to go in and be the winner. The playing field isn’t leveled in our sport. So how are we going to do that? I think it’s going to take years. So this will go forward, but it needs to. 

Piper Klemm [00:57:00] I read an article years ago and I forget where, but. The thesis of the article was You can judge how gender equality a society is by how much men and women are like separated and apart from each other. So if women do everything together and men do everything together, that’s really a sign of of a society that doesn’t have a lot of parity. Yeah. And I think about our sport. I hadn’t really thought about this in terms of our sport, but I think about like, as you said, you know, kind of that front of the house, back of the house mentality, like most people in the ring are women. Most people, you know, at certain levels of our sport and then most people behind the scenes running the horse show are men. You kind of have this like gender split for for front of the house. Back of the house? 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:57:54] Yes, you absolutely do. And in order to be accepted by the males in my generation, you had to be very careful about what you said. You’ve had to be very grateful for any ways that they would move you forward at all. And you’ve had to be quiet about how unequal the sport is for developing girl riders versus developing boy riders. And it’s just not a good thing if you’re not allowed to talk about these things. Clearly the sport isn’t equal if you feel it’s difficult to talk about this. We have issues with racism in our sport too, and everyone finds that awkward to talk about. But this issue where it’s gender is really pressing and glaring and girls are still being encouraged to go into these kind of, you know, little less competitive areas and push your boys forward. And all the students learn faster and boy student looks better and oh, he’s stronger and oh, she can’t get the job done. And all of these excuses that they’ve used for girls not to get to the top all these years. And what I mean, we have to do not only in my work with the U.N., but in my work with horses, too, is to go around male authority. And try and do the thing myself because it’s. Generally the males don’t agree with you. So if you want to get something accomplished, you’ve got to go. You got to figure out how to go around male authority and get it not through because there’ll be a glass ceiling. You’ll get blocked. 

Piper Klemm [00:59:40] I mean, I think about how many times I’ve been told, you know, stop saying that or you’ll never get a ribbon again. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [00:59:47] Yeah, I know. But I have nothing to lose now. My career is behind me, and I’ve seen things like the development and transitions and changing in the sport. And certain things have remained in place, very frozen and very difficult. And this issue between the genders is one of them. And. You know, in order for it to go forward, you’re not going to be the popular person saying things. But for the sake of the young girls and the young women that are in the sport. It’s really time to do something about the gender inequalities that we find throughout our sport. It’s really time to do something. 

Piper Klemm [01:00:39] I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much, Dr. Betsee Parker, for joining us on the plaidcast. 

Dr. Betsee Parker [01:00:45] Thank you. 

Piper Klemm [01:02:41] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit You can find show notes at Follow the Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse magazine at Please rate and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring!