Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tribute to Judy Thayer

Judy Ericson Thayer:  April 1956 – July 11, 2014

Judy Ericson was a skinny, curly headed kid, the middle one of three siblings, who fell hard for ponies and later horses (not to mention multiple cats, dogs and chickens).  She continued her equine interest as a student at the University of Delaware.  After college she worked at The Radnor Hunt Stables under Sally Graburn running the barn and the teaching programs, training and competing horses (including her own), and working with the Radnor Three Day Event organizing committee. While there she made a huge impact on many young riding students who gravitated into her general care.  In addition to Judy, her pony Popcorn was a presence in the equestrian education of many children.

When Sally Graburn decided to leave Radnor Judy purchased the entire operation - beginning on the weekend of the Radnor International with a full three day event in progress around the barns.  Luckily Judy exuded calm in the midst of chaos, an attribute much appreciated by those who have worked with her.  While responsible for the stable business at Radnor, Judy also served in a number of capacities with the three day event organizing committee and as the Area 2 Chairperson for the U.S. Combined Training Association (now called the US Eventing Association).

Accompanied by several event organizer friends, Judy made the car trip to the 1978 World Equestrian Championships in Lexington, KY.  On the way her friends hatched a plan for Judy to meet eligible bachelor Ed Thayer, one of the course builders who happened to come from southeastern Pennsylvania. The plan worked and Ed and Judy fell in love and were married.  It was a great match; the course builder/farmer/woodsman and the rider/coach/event organizer.  The Thayers lived in the apartment over the Radnor stables while Judy ran the stables until they found and moved to a farm in Lancaster County, PA, just a short straight drive north of Fair Hill, MD.

After leaving Radnor Judy continued to teach and coach riders on a freelance basis, honing her touch for getting to the bottom of a student’s problem and offering a good, usually classical but just as often innovative solution. Students were always encouraged and finished lessons uplifted.  She became a guru of sorts in the horse community, dispensing wisdom and practical horse knowledge.

In addition to her regular students Judy was over the years the Show Jumping coach for various Delmarva and Eastern PA Pony Club teams at the United States Pony Club National Championships. Teams coached by Judy enjoyed top placings, evidenced by the patches on the souvenir jackets she wore from those championships and the pins on her “pin hat”. This is the first Championship in thirty years she will not attend. The team she would have coached this year (this week!) will be wearing Judy’s cross country colors backing their USPC pins as a thoughtful tribute to Judy’s long commitment to Pony Club.  Similar tributes from those who knew her are popping up at horse trials, too.  The USPC coaching position this year has been assumed by Allie Blyskal-Sacksen, winner of the 2013 Dutta Corporation Fair Hill International 2 Star.  Since the age of ten Allie has been a student of Judy’s. 

When Fair Hill International (first known as the Fair Hill Championships) was organized in 1989 Judy was one of the original founders along with several others from the Radnor eventing community and the then recently defunct Chesterland Three Day.  In fact Judy brought with her some friends as volunteers who have stayed into this, the twenty-sixth year of Fair Hill International.  It seems every riding student of Judy’s has secured a spot on the FHI volunteer list.  Surely that has contributed to their equestrian knowledge base as well as an appreciation for the span of Judy’s responsibilities at FHI.

Judy was keenly interested in and knowledgeable of the cross country phase of the FHI events. Through the years she enjoyed partnerships with the two course designers (originally Mike Tucker, and now Derek DiGrazia) and various course builders (now Eric Bull and his crew) as the courses materialized.  That involved walking potential course routes through snow and other inclement conditions and discussing numbering of jumps, planning and installing roping along the course route (to limit or allow good lines for approaching fences or for vehicle access to service the course), and finally decorating the course with help of those many dedicated volunteers.  Ed Thayer contributed by solving special problems and acting as a repair crew chief the day of the cross country competition.  His tolerance for the long hours spent by Judy on the FHI grounds and in the office was his biggest contribution.

In addition to the above areas of interest at Fair Hill International, Judy was ultimately head of the safety arrangements for horses and humans, enlisting the considerable capabilities of a cadre of professionals and volunteers who handled the details.  Judy knew the details too.  These included a communications network, cross country control, vets, paramedics and ambulances.

To make the enormous enterprise of Fair Hill International a success a diligent work ethic, a brain with a knack for figures and a sharp pencil to cut the budget to the bare bones is a boon - and Judy had those gifts.  Each Board of Directors meeting a new sheet of budget figures is produced, scrutinized, and defended or altered.  The position of treasurer interpreted by Judy was more that of a hands on Chief Financial Officer than a club treasurer.  To give an idea of the task, the budget grew over the years to now range upwards of three quarters of a million dollars.  And this was a volunteer “job”!

Surprisingly Judy actually found time to ride, train and compete her own horses in eventing.  The names of Popcorn, Galloway, and I.V. (Instant Voltage) were familiar at horse trials and three day events in past years.  Judy’s new horse, Bijou, has been showing that she too can follow in their galloping strides.  Her new rider will reap the rewards of Judy’s careful and diligent training of Bijou.

Those who have known Judy - her family, close friends, her students, the eventing and Pony Club communities - are reeling with the loss of this key figure.  The sudden onset of a brief and aggressive illness led to her death early Friday morning July 11, 2014.  The community Judy touched is so wide, her influence so deep and the vacuum left by Judy so vast that it seems to be drawing her community of friends closer together.  We will be thinking of her  (and as a friend says “she will be there”) when we are at Fair Hill, when we are looking for answers to horse problems or practicing what she taught us.  We will remember that calm in the midst of chaos.

(Written by Judy's long-time friend Fran Loftus)

I've been looking for appropriate photos of Judy, but they are difficult to find.  Judy was always working, and never one to stop working to pose for a photo.  Here are a few I found of Judy doing what Judy did best - helping to make Fair Hill International the best it could be.

That's Judy with the white hat, stapling a banner to a cross country fence
Judy in the sunglasses and the blue jacket, going over the cross country course with another volunteer.
Judy in the background and author of this post, Fran Loftus, in the foreground.  They were putting up flags before the 2013 event.

1 comment:

  1. Fran, thank you so very much for writing this. As she was not one to toot her own horn, for those of us outside of the horse world, your lovely article gives an invaluable snapshot into the depth of her busyness and contributions. Her absence leaves an immense void. How lucky we all were to have known her!