You don’t have any idea how much someone means to you until you open your cantankerous laptop when you get home from work and, in quickly scanning email and social media, find a note from friends that a very important person to you has passed away. What shocking news. It seemed like just yesterday — in fact, in was just five days ago — I got an email from Judy about a clinic she was hosting, and no more than a month since I saw her up at Fair Hill and we chatted about things.
Judy Thayer died suddenly from an aggressive disease that was only recently diagnosed, from what I understand, and was, at the time of her passing, heavily involved with Fair Hill International three-day event and the year-long schedule of horse trials and schoolings that support this large FEI three-star event held every autumn in Elkton, Maryland. As long as I can remember, having lived in this area well over 25 years, Judy has been part and parcel of Fair Hill. Many of her students and friends know her also as a great instructor and trainer.
Judy asked for help with decorating the International’s cross-country course and I volunteered. That was about 12 or 13 years ago, I can’t remember exactly. But Judy is the kind of person that is easy to work for. You don’t mind coming back year after year, and going to work. And it can be brutal, slogging work – like the 2011 Year of the Monsoon, where it rained cats and dogs for four days, and yet, we still showed up. Or the year the mulch arrived late, and it was all hands on deck to shovel it under 30 cross country jumps and we had blisters on our hands for a week from the shoveling. Or the lovely way she’d drop off nine or ten baskets of fruit, piled high in plastic crates, and let me go to town on the last jump every year — calling me after a couple of hours to see what sandwich I wanted to order for lunch. In nice weather, too, Judy was great fun, always gracious with us volunteer decorators and letting us do fun things as long as they fit within the famous “Fair Hill Standard”, which was a beautiful, meaningful concept of making the jumps look in harmony with the great scenery of one of America’s finest eventing sites. Over the years, you came to understand this concept, as Judy directed and inspired. But that wasn’t all she did at Fair Hill. As chief cross-country coordinator, Judy worked tirelessly before the event, meeting with course officials and the designer, FEI CD DerekDiGrazia, and many others to put forth the best cross-country courses in America. She inspired legions of volunteers. Many of my friends worked for Judy on cross-country day at Fair Hill because she was so great to come and work for. As I say, I knew her mostly in this capacity, but many others knew her as a great instructor and trainer, too.
Judy gave a lot to eventing. She was also a past Area II Chairman, and involved with putting on events for three decades; her loss to Area II, and to eventing nationwide is going to be immense. Riders looking to Fair Hill International in the fall to get their Rolex qualifications have to get through one of Judy’s courses, so without her, we are all lessened — all of us, from the biggest four-star rider on down.
Here is a terribly sad thing: I had just put down on paper a few questions I was going to ask her in August at the Fair Hill recognized horse trials. I was thinking on doing a blog on her role as XC coordinator, which was really going to be a story about her and her service to the sport. I was a day too late in calling her to talk, a fact that I will regret forever. Rest in peace, Judy. We loved you so much and are so sad you are gone!