In this new series called “Lifers,” we interview equestrians who have spent the better part of their lives in the saddle or involved with horses in some way. This week, we interview Lee Anne Zobbe, a figurehead in the eventing community, especially among those in Area VIII.
Lee Ann Zobbe is a staple in the eventing community, and that’s not just my opinion – that’s fact. She is a familiar face for Area VIII eventers, many of whom enjoy shows, clinics, and camps at her beautiful Come Again Farm in Sheridan, Indiana, and she is also heavily involved in the USEA and development of eventing. She is known for her friendly demeanor and her acceptance of all riders who want to work hard and learn, regardless of ability or status. People look to her when things go wrong in the sport of eventing and they find comfort in her words and opinions. She knows our history and she’s invested in our future. She’s important to this community. She’s a lifer.
“I’ve loved horses since I was a child,” Lee Ann states. “One of my first words was ‘horse’ and I started riding in weekly lessons at the local hunter/jumper barn when I was about 10 years old after years of begging.” “As one of four kids in a very middle class, non-horsey family, I was really lucky to get to do that.” “I periodically was able to cadge extra rides by cleaning tack, sweeping, whatever and I always was keen to do that,” says Lee Ann. “When I was 14 I met Alma Lathrop, who invited me to come up to her farm and ride with her, that morphed into staying on the farm when they went car racing and on vacations.” “Thanks to her knowledgeable and practical influence,” Lee Ann explains, “I was able to ride, learn horse care, and make practical repairs on a farm all through my teenage years. From there I got involved with eventing in 1981 and have never really looked back, though I have had side forays into dressage, fox hunting, and endurance riding. It’s all fun.”
In addition to running a full-service facility which offers boarding and lessons to students, Lee Ann devotes time and effort to consistently offering shows and to bringing top riders and trainers around for camps and clinics. It’s something that is very important to her. “I always took advantage of clinics offered and wished more educational opportunities existed,” explains Lee Ann, “so when I had the chance I started organizing clinics in the mid-80’s with people I enjoyed riding with and organized my first horse show in 1986.” Lee Ann’s experience led to opportunities to organize other shows and ultimately a crucial role within Area VIII. “I took on the role of Young Rider Coordinator for Area VIII from late 2002 through the end of 2005 and that was a good experience to be with international level instructors, having a good time with the kids and seeing some of those kids now at the top of the sport,” she says. “While doing the YRs I messed around with a camp format for all the kids (which ranged from green kids on naughty ponies to the NAJYRC candidates) and saw how much a 4-day immersion program could do for riders.”
Lee Ann now hosts annual camps with the likes of Sharon White, and Leslie Law, among others. “Over the years I’ve gotten to know some very good people through all of this and it brought home to me how important it is to provide an avenue for people to learn and enjoy their horses and their sport,” states Lee Ann. “I believe that through my efforts the people in my area have an opportunity they would not otherwise have access to, and that perhaps some of the people that come through the program here will go on to meet their goals partially thanks to having that access.” Always thinking of others, Lee Ann explains how she navigates the organization of events and educational opportunities offered at her farm. “All of the things I do here are based on the premise of ‘Would I think this is fun?’ ‘Would it be worth the time and money?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ I go ahead and figure out how to make it happen at an affordable price for people.”
With respect to her guiding principles and values, Lee Ann cites her upbringing and influential role models as reasons for which she continues to be involved with horses and all generations of riders. “I was raised to give back and I believe it is the right thing to do,” she says. “My parents didn’t like horses much, but they loved their car racing community and put themselves out in many ways to keep it healthy and thriving. All of my siblings and I were expected to help at the races from the time we could read a stopwatch or wave a flag. That premise has continued throughout my life and I’m glad for it.” “I have been extremely fortunate at the people I’ve connected with in my life,” she explains. “My parents and grandparents have to top that list, then Alma & Steve Lathrop, who mentored me, taught me a tremendous amount about all horses (and got after me when I was a slacker), the Boses’ who let me start my first barn at their place and helped me along that path.” Lee Ann continues “All of those people (and many more) were/are really honorable, thoughtful and kind people who taught me many skills and gave back in so many ways. It is because of all their collective influence that I am able to do what I do; because of it I believe nurturing the sport and the next generation is key.”
Lee Ann also looks forward to the future of horse sports, and understands the challenges which we face as a group. “My fear is that all horse sports will dwindle over the next 25 years as horses become more distant from the everyday life of people and increasingly expensive,” she says. “When I was a little kid there were still stables in the town I lived in and it was common to see people out on horses and we were always allowed to pet them; horses were common in TV programs (albeit westerns); pony rides were common at the fairs, you could rent one at the livery at a lot of parks and stables without obligation.” “Now,” she says, “many kids don’t even see a horse in person without a special occasion and scheduled trip to a stable, where they have to pay at least $30 for 45 minutes or riding and it requires supervision.” “I’m not saying it’s wrong, it’s the way of the world, but with so much competition for the leisure dollar and the more cautious approach people have (again, rightly so) it is easier to play some other sport.” “It’s hard to miss the soft feel of a horse’s whiskers, the joy of flying a horse can give you, the soft welcoming rumble that a horse offers if you’ve never seen one in person. We need to keep horses relevant if we want them to remain accessible.”
I, for one, am thankful to have Lee Ann as a part of our wonderful horsey collective and I appreciate her influence and her perseverance to provide positive experiences for riders and horse-lovers. I was fortunate enough to take a series of lessons with Lee Ann during a very low point in my riding career and I know that without her guidance, I wouldn’t be saddling up at any given opportunity all these years later. Our lifers are crucial to our development as riders, people, and members of the larger horse sport community. Next time you’re at a show or clinic, take the time to sit down beside a lifer and talk to them a while. You’ll walk away a better rider and a better person.