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UPHA Helen Crabtree Equitation Instructor Of The Year - Nancy Whipple Becker

Nancy Becker joined Lisa Waller and Christy O’Donnell after receiving

the UPHA Helen Crabtree Equitation Instructor Of The Year Award.

(photo by Jane Jacobs)


(Editor’s Note: The following speech was read by Christy O’Donnell on Friday, Jan, 5, 2007 at the UPHA/AHHS Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.)

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor to be here tonight to tell you more about a truly amazing woman that I have had the privilege of knowing for what seems like my whole life. As a teenager, I knew her as a successful instructor and horsewoman – someone I frequently saw running into the ring at the biggest shows in the country to help one of her countless champion riders or making a victory pass herself with a good horse. As a young adult, I knew her as a respected judge and more importantly, as half of a tremendously talented training team operating a highly successful show barn, first on one coast of the U.S. and then on the other. Her personal accomplishments and those of her riders grew exponentially during that time.

Eventually the boundaries of the U.S. could no longer contain her, and she impressed not only me but pretty much the entire global Saddle Seat world by coaching an outstanding group of American riders to a coveted gold medal. After coming home from this victory, she didn’t head to Disney World – she simply went to lunch. That lunch changed everything, and set in motion events that would lead me to become lifelong friends and ‘partners-in-crime’ with the woman you will soon meet.

Now as I recall, the lunch in question was in fact at the 1999 UPHA National Convention. She wasn’t even having lunch with me. She was instead enjoying a lovely meal with her wonderful, devoted husband of now 13 years. I was at the convention to do what I always seem to be doing – talk about World Cup! In particular, I was charged with the task of trying to find just the right person to take over the leadership of the U.S. arm of the event. It was a tall order to fill - we knew we needed to find someone well respected, well liked, professional, a talented instructor, a skillful ambassador and negotiator. It was not at all hard to find the right person – the catch was getting her to say yes.

I approached her in the hotel restaurant to feel out her interest. She pulled up a chair for me and told me, “Now sit right down here and tell me more about this.” I talked. She listened. Questions were asked and answered. “One thing before I say yes,” she said, widening those eyes in her trademark style. “What’s that?” I asked. “You have to help me. I’ll only do it if you’ll help me with all this,” she said in all seriousness. “Of course,” I responded. “Wouldn’t even dream of asking you if I weren’t going to be right there with ya.” A pause…”Okay, I’ll do it.” And I was thrilled to go into the next World Cup meeting to announce that Nancy Whipple Becker was going to be our new Executive Director. From that day forward, I have counted myself lucky to have the chance to know and work with a true treasure of our industry and one of the finest people I’ve ever known.

So how did someone who has pretty much conquered the world in Saddle Seat get her start? Well, it began with rides on a Shetland pony when Nancy was just three years old. By the time she was eight, she had graduated to riding American Saddlebreds and had been taking equitation lessons from M.L. Porter at a barn in Charlotte, N.C. It wasn't long until young Nancy was in the show ring at local shows. She continued to ride and hone her skills.

At age 18, she briefly held a job as the assistant manager of a ladies' clothing store, but admits that working there was just a way to pay the board fees for her horse. By the time she was 19, Nancy had made her career choice – she wanted to teach riding. Many show ring successes would follow over the years for Nancy with other special horses like Capricious Capers, The Merry Rambler, Dancing Time, Tender Tone, American Dancer and A Rich Girl.

Now anyone who knows her knows that Nancy Becker loves animals. Her horses are like her children and she tends them with the utmost care and devotion. Nancy’s extraordinary efforts in caring for her beloved stallion, Sultan’s Caper, are widely known. But it isn’t just horses. Nancy is frequently seen with her wonderful dog, Maya, and is friendly with a whole host of other critters. Animals of all shapes and sizes love her because she treats them with love, respect, gentleness and kindness. From exotic birds to vervet monkeys, animals just seem to want to get close to Nancy, sometimes a little too close.

I know she’s going to kill me for telling this story again, but hey, they gave me the microphone tonight so here goes! One of my most favorite memories of Nancy came about as the result of us being travel companions for the trip to South Africa for the World Cup in 1998. We went over early to visit my mom, who was living there at the time. Nancy was very much looking forward to coaching the US team for the competition, but I think she was even more excited about the opportunity to see the exotic animals of Africa. As we unpacked the night before our ‘warm-up’ safari, Nancy called home to Bill to check in and let him know she was fine. He asked to speak to me. “Now Christy, you gotta do me a favor. Please don’t let Nancy pet the big kitties, okay?” I promised I would keep her out of trouble. The next day, I found that promise a little hard to keep when we were on a game drive at a large private reserve. Nancy had the windows of our truck down and was intently studying and taking pictures of several lionesses who were just about to be fed a side of beef – the problem was that our truck was between these lionesses and the truck that was there to deliver said feast. The rest of us in the vehicle were more than a little concerned about our position and the fact that Nancy had the window down, but she was completely unfazed. “Now y’all …we’re just fine. These lions are with the program. They’re gonna get their dinner,” she drawled. With these hungry lionesses just about three to four yards away and an open window between us, the rest of us weren’t so sure that we weren’t going to be dinner. But, as always, Nancy’s instincts were correct – the lionesses were in fact ‘with the program’ and waited patiently for their beef rather than dining on us instead! I was quite relieved that I wouldn’t have to explain any missing fingers or arms to Bill!

Ever the serious competitor, Nancy put her game face on when it was time for the competition though. She quickly shifted gears, going from watching lions to coaching the U.S. three-gaited team. At the end of the week, Nancy had led the U.S. three-gaited team to the gold medal with the help of team manager Rob Byers.

Whether meeting the governor of the Western Cape Province of South Africa or the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, Nancy always displays that wonderful southern charm that immediately endears her to pretty well everyone she meets. Her sparkling personality, incredible talent and keen business acumen enabled her to take World Cup to new heights, in particular spearheading the organization of the 2004 International Saddle Seat World Cup event at the Kentucky Horse Park. That event was memorable for the US in particular, as they captured the World Cups in both events. But it was also memorable for everyone who attended – all competitors and fans from around the world – because the entire event was infused with Nancy’s expertise, class and southern grace. Now she’ll be the first person to tell you she shouldn’t get that much credit since it was the result of the efforts of lots of people, and that is exactly what makes her so special.

Even in the glow of her tremendous achievements, including being honored in 2005 with the ASHA’s Gordon Jenkins International Service Award, she is always humble and quick to credit others who support her.

When it comes to both giving and getting support, nothing is more important to Nancy than her family. Of course there’s her loving husband, Bill and the children- Jane Hart, Billy and Jason, and even two grandsons, Caden and Christian. There’s her own large family – her four brothers Danny, Robin, Craig and Trey and her two sisters, Tori and Courtney. Most of her family is still in the Carolinas, including her 79-year-old mother, Lois Camp, whom Nancy makes time to visit regularly.

In her professional life, she works tirelessly and gives 110 percent of herself to everything she does. As a result, she inspires that same devotion and dedication to excellence in others. Nancy has all of the qualities that make for a gifted instructor. I should really call her a teacher, because she does so much more than just instruct a rider on how to set a horse’s head or how to do a pattern with precision. Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” This is certainly true of Nancy. She teaches her riders of all ages valuable life lessons, such as developing and maintaining confidence and poise, paying attention to details, the importance of teamwork both with a horse and with other people and dealing with both success and adversity with the same level of grace.

Over the years, Nancy has had the joy of working with an amazing group of clients that have become a part of her extended family. Older riders who have learned from her apply what she has taught them in their daily lives as adults, while the younger ones can look forward to years of “A-ha! Nancy was right!” moments to come. And the families of her riders know that although teaching is her profession, more importantly it is her passion. They know that they’ve entrusted their children to someone who cares deeply. If the true measure of a person’s worth is the number of lives that are made better for having known her, then Nancy is rich beyond compare.

Some of the many jewels in her coffer include Jill Bachmann, Jane Hart Becker, Alex Birmingham, Jensie Blake, Maggie Camp, Micaela Evans, Shana Lee Fox, Anna Hormann, Jessica Keys, Kristen Koenig, Catherine Leonard Boyd, Amber Lynn Lowry, Cassie McEwan, George Ray, Tasha Rose Sandler, Barclay Smith de Wet, Paige C. Tarver, Megan Thomas, Casey Morgan Tibolet, Alexandra Waller, Ashley Waller, Jana Weir Goldman and Beth Woods Sessums. To share with you the incredible collection of accomplishments of the riders that I’ve just mentioned would take all night, but to summarize, they include an international gold medalist and World Cup champion, world’s champions and reserve champions in countless divisions both in equitation and performance, National Finals Champions, Reserve Champions and Top 10 Finalists. Regardless of their various titles, every one of them can say they found success both inside and outside of the show ring because of Nancy Becker.

Bessie Stanley has a wonderful quote that I am sure many of you have probably heard at some point over the years. I am adapting her words a bit to suit a lady, as we are certainly honoring a lady this evening. She has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled her niche and accomplished her task; who has left the world better than she found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best she had; whose life is an inspiration.

Nancy Becker continues to be a source of inspiration for me both personally and professionally, and I am sure she fills that role for many others who have the pleasure of knowing her. I know without a doubt that she is a true success in every sense of the word. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in offering our sincere appreciation to this year’s Helen K. Crabtree Instructor of the Year, my mentor and my very dear friend, Nancy Whipple Becker.

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