Sweet Briar riding director wins coveted award

Sweet Briar director of riding Shelby French recently received a big surprise from the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association. She was named the USHJA’s 2007 Volunteer of the Year at its Evening of Equestrians Dinner awards ceremony on Dec. 13 at the Hilton Pointe Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix.

According to an announcement in the Dec. 19 issue of the association’s E-Update newsletter, “Of all the awards USHJA offers, it is the Volunteer of the Year Award, that we deem the most prestigious.”

Shelby French is flanked by USHJA president Bill Moroney, who presented her the Volunteer of the Year award, and last year's winner, Geoff Teall.
Shelby French is flanked by USHJA president Bill Moroney, who presented her the Volunteer of the Year award, and last year’s winner, Geoff Teall.

Earlier this year, French displayed her dogged dedication both to Sweet Briar and the USHJA when the association launched a new membership category for competitors who ride in its local affiliates’ medal classes. Needing a suitable name for the category, the USHJA held a naming contest, offering a full-page spread in its In Stride magazine as first prize.

French wanted that prize for Sweet Briar’s riding program, but she also wanted the right name for the membership level she helped to develop. She got both by flooding the field with entries.

Her involvement with such grass-roots outreach efforts helped her earn the award. In addition to advancing the new membership level, she “made it her mission to develop the Affiliate Equitation Awards program and to see it implemented for 2008,” according to the E-Update announcement.

French, who serves on the USHJA board of directors, worked on these projects as co-chair of the Affiliates Council. She also chairs the Community Horse Show Committee.

“Shelby is honestly the best committee chair I have worked with in all of my years in the industry,” said Christine Kennedy, the USHJA’s competition and special project coordinator. “Of course, her passion for the sport speaks for itself, but it goes beyond that. She truly cares about and believes in the committees and projects she is working on.”

The volunteer award is kept secret until the winner is announced at the annual dinner. SBC associate director and instructor in riding Mimi Wroten ’93 witnessed French’s reaction at hearing her name.

“Shelby was shocked and quite touched as this was a total surprise,” Wroten reported later in an e-mail.

French acknowledged feeling humbled because, for her, it’s a privilege to do “work that benefits the sport that has done so much for me,” she said. “The USHJA is an organization that is working diligently to build cohesion between all levels of participants in the hunter jumper sport and provide education about the sport.

“The fact that I serve on the board of directors and have been given the opportunity to develop outreach programs is one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had.”