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A Tribute to Helen Fenton



 

by Bob Funkhouser

New England and the entire show horse industry lost one of its stellar members with the May 30 passing of Helen Fenton, age 86. She will forever be remembered for her integrity and love of helping others, trying to bring out the best in people. Those characteristics, along with many others, helped her to become one of the most respected show managers and stewards in the Saddlebred, Hackney and Morgan worlds.

“She really concentrated on the exhibitor,” said John Lampropoulos, who in addition to training Saddlebreds, Morgans and Hackney has recently taken on show management due to Fenton’s inspiration. “She handled people well and knew what the horsemen needed as well as what the show needed to be a success. There wasn’t just one formula. She could look at an individual show or venue and do what needed to be done to make it better depending on its circumstances.”

For others she has been their mentor, a beloved, but firm schoolteacher type.

“I can’t say enough good things about her, a delightful woman, said David Rand of Fenton in a 2006 Saddle Horse Report interview. “Showing as a young kid, she was my horse show conscience and horse show mom. When I was young and didn’t know what I could and could not do, such as warming up a pleasure horse in chains, she was always there with a firm, yet gentle hand. She made me know and play by the rules.

“Just last year she chided me,” he added. “I can be too aggressive on the rail, but I hate to scream. I’m tall and instead, stand up, point and wave my arms. I guess I was getting in the way of others and Helen was there to pull on my shirt and remind me by saying, ‘David, you’re not flying an airplane.’”

A daughter of Irish immigrants, Helen Powers grew up in the Boston area where her father had managed the Dedham Country and Polo Club and was co-founder of the Dedham Hunt. Unfortunately, he died in a horse accident at the age of 38 but she followed in his footsteps riding to the hounds and show jumping, competing in such famous venues as Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden.

In 1950, she married Whitey Fenton, a Massachusetts based Saddlebred, Arabian and Morgan trainer and they had five children, all sharing a love of horses. The Saddlebred and Morgan communities are familiar with one of her sons, announcer/horse show manager Peter Fenton. Peter’s siblings include James Fenton, Michael Fenton, Anne Canniff, and Stephen Fenton.

An extremely active woman, in addition to her equine interests, Fenton was secretary to the Head Master of Brooks School from 1974 to 1991 and also showed dogs as young adult. A Dalmatian named Decker was named Best Of Opposite Sex winner at Westminster Dog Show.

For all she did in the horse show world during her time here, Fenton was honored with the 2008 UPHA Herman B. Miles Horse Show Manager Of The Year award and was inducted into the Northampton Horsemen’s Hall of Fame at the New England Regional Morgan Horse Show. She will be fondly remembered by all of us who were fortunate enough to call her a friend.

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