By Chelsey Burris
March 4 is Employee Appreciation Day. USDF is made up of a group of awesome and hardworking individuals, who lend their skills to ensure the long-term success of dressage in the US. We wanted to take this day to shine a spotlight on some of the interesting and unique things about our employees that make our team special!
When she’s not helping to coordinate shows as USDF’s Senior Competitions Coordinator, Lacy Jinks enjoys taking care of her backyard chickens. She currently owns four feathered friends and admits, “I like them much better than they like me!”
Amber Wisemen, USDF’s Senior Sales and Marketing Coordinator, has an imported reformed street dog, who came all the way to Kentucky from Egypt, with a pitstop where she lived in the Bahamas for a little while! “She’s the sweetest dog, and my son’s favourite,” Amber says.
Alex Belton loves to travel and has been to 14 US National Parks. This photo was taken at Arches National Park in Utah. When she’s not checking destinations off her bucket list, Alex works as USDF’s Education Coordinator.
USDF’s Senior Programmer, Chad Compton, has a wide variety of interests beyond dressage. He runs a non-profit called Knit It Forward where he makes hats and scarves for the homeless. He’s also a professional body piercer (who sports over 60 piercings himself), and, in the little free time he has left, Chad also enjoys playing and refereeing volleyball.
USDF Senior Operations Coordinator, Amanda Ciejko, lived on a private island in Maine (Hope Island in Casco Bay) for a year and a half as a barn manager. There were a mix of draft and light horses and one donkey under her and the farm manager’s care. She lived on the island full time and only went into port once a week for groceries and such. “It was an adventure I’ll never forget!” she shares.
Taylor Chism, USDF Senior Competitions Coordinator, started making horse tack and dog collars out of paracord in 2020. She makes traditional halters, rope halters, reins, bridles, lead ropes, western style fringe breast straps, dog collars, and leashes. “It started out as just a hobby to make some items for my own horses and dog, but it has grown to a small side business. I’ve had a lot of fun designing and creating new tack items and seeing them put to use!” she says.
As you might imagine, many members of the USDF staff come from horse-related backgrounds. Jill Chamblin, who works as USDF’s Senior GMO Coordinator, used to be the head clocker for Thoroughbred racehorses at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. “I had a 10-minute TV segment called Clockers Corner that covered training races, morning workouts, and other handicapping endeavors,” she says. Her segment was on the local FOX network during a show called the Remington Report that ran every Tuesday night.
A horse-lovers dream! Sharon Vander Ziel, USDF’s Senior Education Coordinator, lives in a barn and loves it. “I call this my Barbie dream barn,” she shares. When not working at USDF, Sharon also teaches dressage lessons.
You might be familiar with some of Katie Lewis’ creative works, as she is USDF’s Graphic Design and Multimedia Coordinator. However, did you know that this creativity also extends into her personal life? In her free time, Katie is an avid fiction writer and is currently in the process of not one, but two debut novels.
Alexandra Tingle, who works as USDF’s Administration Coordinator, has always loved marine wildlife! “When I was younger I knew for sure I wanted to be a marine biologist; studying and working with orcas. While I didn’t become a marine biologist, my love for orcas has never changed,” she shares. For her 13th birthday, her parents gave her the gift of SeaWorld’s Trainer for a Day program, where she got to swim with dolphins, walk sea otters, give enrichment training cues to sea lions, and of course the highlight of the adventure…touch and work with the orcas! “It was an adventure I’ll always cherish. To this day, I love these beautiful and smart wolves of the sea. I have been on two whale watching trips since my thirteenth birthday adventure, and though I have seen some awesome humpback whale and blue whale activity, no orcas seen yet. Guess that means I need to plan another trip!” she says.
USDF’s Senior Publication Coordinator, Emily Koenig, is an avid gamer, with her favorite being World of Warcraft. She has actively played it since 2005 and enjoys going on raids with her guild in her free time.
USDF Education Coordinator Christina Westfall used to work at the Parade of Breeds at the Kentucky Horse Park. Her favorite horse to ride was the English Shire, Flynn. In this photo, she and Flynn are celebrating “Hallowhinny” as Aang and Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Elena Sandidge, Senior Competitions Coordinator at USDF, writes as a hobby and has a special interest in Wild West history. A few years ago, she wrote and published a novel about the life of the gunfighter Doc Holliday called ‘A Gentleman in Hell.’ She’s currently writing a fantasy novel set in Scotland, the country where Elena is originally from.
Chelsey Burris loves NFL football. Her favorite player is Rob Gronkowski of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Chelsey is pictured here at one of Gronkowski’s football clinics, where she caught some passes from him. When she’s not cheering on her favorite teams, you can find Chelsey working as USDF’s Senior Marketing Coordinator.
USDF Executive Director, Stephan Hienzsch, began his career in Olympic-discipline sports not in dressage, but in skiing. An avid skier in his home state of Colorado, Stephan was inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015. Stephan has been at the helm of USDF for the past 20 years.
Sarah Garn doesn’t back down from an adrenaline rush! She has been tandem skydiving six times and loves it. When she’s not jumping out of airplanes, Sarah stays busy as the Administration Manager at USDF.
USDF’s Senior Horse Registration Coordinator, Phyllis Drees, wins the cuteness award at our office with her puppy, Ryleigh. Nicknamed Mrs. Kravitz, this adorable pup is 16 months old and has never met a stranger. She is a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, and Phyllis adopted her during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can’t wait to meet her in the office at a future Bring Your Dog to Work Day.
Savannah Brown, Senior Accounting Coordination at USDF, is a big fan of motorsports. “I love the roar of a car engine. I have visited many NASCAR tracks and enjoy everything that goes into a race, and watch every Sunday possible during the race season,” she says. In addition to NASCAR, she loves Dirt Track Racing, and in her younger years, worked as a crew member to a couple of her friends that raced Late Models. “My Friday and Saturday nights during race season were at the track and the rest of the week was in the garage,” she says. She also enjoys drag racing, motocross, and tractor pulls.
USDF Marketing and Communications Director Ross Creech grew up on a busy boarding farm in West Virginia, where he and his family cared for 30+ horses at any given time. Before joining the world of dressage, Ross began his equestrian career in Saddleseat, before going onto barrel racing in the western circuit. “One of the first horses I remember riding was ‘Whoa-Bob'” he shares. “He was just known as Bob to everyone else, but Bob didn’t have very good brakes!”
Cristen Brown was adopted as an adult. “I was a ‘challenging’ teenager,” Cristen shares. “My mom married my dad when I was 15 and the next several years were interesting so to speak. But with my dad’s love, lots of patience, understanding and guidance, we developed a strong bond and for my 18th birthday, he adopted me!” It was Cristen’s dad who encouraged her to come to Kentucky and follow her dreams. Cristen works as the Senior Competitions Coordinator for USDF.
Melissa Schoedlbauer stays busy at USDF as our organization’s Membership Director. In her free time, she loves gardening, and she enjoys canning food for her family.
As you might guess, at USDF, we all love horses! Some of the staff members have a favorite breed. Sarah Kissman, USDF’s Competitions Coordinator, loves Icelandic Horses. This small breed is known for its unique gaits, beautiful full manes, and large personalities. Sarah is pictured here riding her friend’s Icelandic Horse.
Did you know that pistachios grow on trees? USDF Education Department Director, Kathie Robertson, knows all about this topic because she used to own a pistachio orchard! Although she no longer has the orchard, she still keeps herself busy on her farm, which over 10 different species of animals call home (23 chickens, 13 ducks, 10 horses, 7 dogs, 4 pigmy goats, 2 cats, 2 beta fish, 2 rabbits, 1 red-eared slider turtle, and 1 pot belly pig).
Happy Employee Appreciation Day from USDF!