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Helen Crabtree Equitation Instructor Of The Year - Renee Biggins


Gayle Lampe and Jane Bennett presented the

Helen K. Crabtree Equitation Instructor Of The Year Award

to Renee Biggins. Photo by Jane Jacobs.


(Editor’s Note: The following speech was read by Jane Bennett and Gayle Lampe Friday, Jan. 4, 2008 at the UPHA/AHHS Convention in Roanoke, Va.)

(Read by Jane Bennett): As the 2007 recipient of the UPHA Helen K. Crabtree Equitation Award, the person we honor tonight brings to this industry the qualities that immediately distinguish a real champion:  talent, perseverance, loyalty and a high sense of purpose.  She is undaunted by difficulties, unfailingly courageous and deeply compassionate.  Her name, as we know and appreciate, is Renee Biggins.


Her accomplishments in the show ring as trainer, exhibitor and as teacher/coach are extraordinary.  As the chair of the UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup Championship. we are especially grateful.  She has pioneered in this field, forging new paths, creating new disciplines and shaping new programming.  Along the way, she has facilitated life-changing individual accomplishments and brought joy and pleasure to many.  It has brought honor to the UPHA as “the first professional organization to acknowledge and award riders with disabilities”.


Renee was born in Highland, Ill., to Marjorie and Paul Capelle and is the fifth of their eight children.  They all grew up on the family’s Merwin Morgan Farm.  Renee’s equine interests and talents were nurtured and rewarded by her parents who allowed her to start and sell colts, applying her earnings toward her college fund.


When the time came to choose a college, she chose William Woods University in Fulton, Mo.  There she was to have not only her first formal riding instruction but also her first experience with American Saddlebred horses.  Mentored by Dot Backer and Gayle Lampe, her prodigious talent was soon evident and by her junior year she was invited to spend the summer in Fulton, working and campaigning Williams Woods’ horses at local shows.


(Read by Gayle Lampe): Excuse me, Jane, I’ve just got to say a few words about Renee during her college years. You people in this room who know Renee as she is now would not believe how quiet, shy and lacking in self-confidence she was when she arrived at William Woods to begin her freshman year.  It was almost like she was trying to hide her natural talent, but it didn’t take long for me to find it. 


In addition, Renee had a great work ethic and a tremendous desire to learn.  She wanted to improve her skills by choosing to ride the most difficult horses.  We had a young gaited horse who fell down about every other time he had to canter.  Of course, Renee picked him for a project.  The final result of their partnership was that Renee won so many classes with him that they earned the title of the ASHA National Five-Gaited Pleasure Champion Of The Year in 1983. 


Renee stayed at William Woods for two summers, showing every type of horse imaginable.  Renee was the greatest student any teacher could ever hope to have.  In four school years and two summers, the only mistake she ever made was forgetting to take towels to a one-night horse show. 


However, halfway to the show she remembered that she had forgotten towels so she insisted that we stop to get gas when we really didn’t need any.  (Normally a road trip with Renee was non-stop no matter how badly you needed to go to the bathroom!) While I was paying for gas, Renee was helping herself to all of the blue windshield paper towels the station had and hid them in a trunk.  It was amazing how well they could dry a horse!

I promised to find Renee the perfect job after graduation – and I thought I had done my part when I sent her for an interview in Malibu, Calif.  She would be teaching in a ring that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.  But no, there wasn’t enough work to do there for Renee, and instead she wanted to tackle Kentucky. 


Renee, I am so proud of you and all your accomplishments, and I will let Jane tell the rest of the story.


(Read by Jane Bennett): In 1983 Renee embarked on her professional life. She was soon hired by Rob and Sarah Byers to assist at the Rock Creek Riding Club in Louisville and later, when they established their own barn, Premier Stables, in Simpsonville, Ky.  Renee relished the opportunities in a “dream of a job” for nine great years. 


However, 1983 brought another “dream” possibility for just as she embarked on her bright new career, she met trainer John Biggins and in December 1985 they were married.


In 1992, Renee joined her teaching/training expertise with Johns, establishing what would become a partnership of extraordinary achievement.  Since those early days, Renee has trained and shown nationally a remarkable string and has simultaneously honed her teaching skills to ever-greater refinement.   Riders, young and adult, from all across the industry, seek her rigorous and skillful teaching.  


She relishes the opportunity to implement the teacher’s art “mounting rider to horse” and coaching to new skill levels, greater expertise and growing confidence.

Some of the winning equitation riders that Renee has taught over the years include Claire Nielson, Shawna Hattery, Tara Hattery, Tate Bennett, Adolf Zell, Sarah Leibert, Yasmin Wazir, Jordan Underwood, Caroline and Laura Skinner, Kelly Hill, Ashley Hallock and Ashley Biggins


In 1997 Renee enthusiastically responded to my invitation to co-chair the UPHA Equitation Committee and was asked by then-president Lonnie Lavery to start a Challenge Cup Final for riders with disabilities.


In 1999, the UPHA held the first Exceptional Challenge Cup Championship, hosted by the American Royal on Tuesday evening.  There were seven entrants and it received more newspaper coverage than the entire show.  Developing the class was no small feat, because there were no qualifying classes, let alone championships to pattern the idea after.


Renee says, “What I get out of this class year after year, is the thrill to watch a rider gain muscle and the ability to walk after dismounting a horse.  The horse’s motion helps their bodies gain muscle control and that is amazing to me.  The rider may not be able to walk before he or she mounts a horse, but can walk after he or she dismounts.  I love horses and to be able to do physical therapy on top of a horse is just ideal to me.”


Now this in itself would be a full time job for anyone else, but Renee finds the time to make this happen, along with being one of the top equitation instructors in our industry, operating a large lesson program, holding several youth and adult camps each year and working her string of horses daily.


Renee, through your tireless efforts, you have created one of the UPHA’s most prestigious programs.  You have made a difference.  Congratulations to a great horsewoman, a superb riding instructor, and, most of all, a true lady. 


Please join us in presenting the UPHA Helen Crabtree Equitation Instructor Of The Year Award to Renee Biggins.




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