My Heroes of 2019: A Tribute to the EN #DreamTeam

“Just stay in there until cross country is over, OK baby?”

April 27, 2019: It’s cross country day at Kentucky, and for the first time in at least a decade I’m not standing beside the galloping lanes. I’m at the hospital, in labor. Between contractions I’m watching the live stream and following a Slack thread the EN team has set up to communicate during the event, dubbed #dreamteam. Eventually I have to close my laptop — the action keeps making my heart rate monitors spike.

At 2:02 p.m. the last horse crosses the finish flags. Two hours later I give birth to my first child, a baby boy. There’s a bet going on the #dreamteam thread that I have to name him after the horse that wins Kentucky. We give him a family name, Thomas, but it’s also perhaps an omen of the horse who would be crowned USEF Five-Star National Champion the following day and go on to win double Pan Am Gold.

“It says Tsetserleg on his birth certificate,” I joke, “but we’ll call him Thomas around the barn.”

The rest of the year has been a blur. Thomas is now a bright-eyed eight-month old, and I couldn’t ask for a happier, sweeter, more chill little guy. EN is wrapping up one of its most dynamic years yet, but it’s not been without challenges.

Being Nation Media’s sole full-time employee, I couldn’t really justify taking maternity leave, especially with EN linchpin Jenni Autry leaving to take on an important and well-deserved new role at USEF. But neither could I have been prepared for the metamorphic physical and emotional challenges of new motherhood: the bone-deep exhaustion, the hormonal turbulence, a complete upheaval of life as I knew it.

Since then I’ve been carving out time for EN wherever I can, which means my office hours are a far cry from anything resembling 9-5. I’m literally writing this post at 4 a.m., as the wee hours have become my most productive time to work. It’s quiet. I can think clearly. There are no emails or phone calls coming in. Thomas is, knock on wood, fast asleep.

Photo by Mary Hollis Baird.

But it’s not a schedule particularly in sync with the news cycle of eventing, and I live in constant fear that I’ll miss some important storyline because I’ve got a baby on my boob, or we’re at a doctor appointment, or I’m rolling around with him in a pile of stuffed animals. He squeaks during conference calls and wants to party when I’m sorting through spreadsheets. My laptop is covered in milk spatters. I make stupid typos that I never would have before sleep deprivation turned my brain into dry, crunchy toast.

It’s been a great year, but also one of the toughest in my life, and I never could have made it through without the herculean efforts of my colleagues and freelance crew. Truly, 2019 has been a #dreamteam effort.

American Eventing Championships in September 2019.

In no particular order, I would like to give thanks to:

Shelby Allen: EN usually rolls up to Kentucky with a big enough crew to take up an entire table in the media center. Not this year, though. Shelby was our sole boots-on-the-ground reporter, and coupled with the herculean efforts of Abby, Maggie and Tilly working remotely, she delivered the superlative coverage that EN readers have come to expect. Shelby went on to provide coverage for us from Rebecca Farm, Great Meadow and Stable View, and despite heading to nursing school this fall she still writes several posts a week and edits the site most weekends. Beast mode.

Jenni Autry: Jenni, EN’s bedrock. The boss kitty who gave shape to this website as we know it. Who put us on the map. Who carried me through the tough times of my pregnancy, told me to not worry about the site, she’d handle it, go take a nap or stick my head in the toilet or whatever I needed to do. Who made sure EN was in a good place and in good hands before marching off to serve our sport from a different perspective. You’ll always be #dreamteam family, Jenni.

Tilly Berendt: EN’s global footprint has grown exponentially over the past couple years thanks in large part to our British correspondent Tilly. Her coverage of eventing abroad for us in 2019 — Belton, Badminton, Houghton, Tattersalls, Bramham, Hartpury, Aachen, the Euros, Burghley, Luhmühlen, Pau, Blenheim, Boekelo … I’m probably forgetting something — was consistently colorful and smart, and it’s no wonder she was recently named BEF Journalist of the Year. And her form guides from this year … epic. Hang onto your butts, because Tilly is coming stateside to help us cover Kentucky this spring!

Shannon Brinkman: Shannon’s photography is instantly recognizable. She manages to capture what it is about our sport that makes it special, what gives it value: the motion, the emotion, the partnership. She brought some of the biggest events of 2019 to life for us this year: Kentucky and the Pan Am Games, among others. Not to mention her sweet and precocious daughter Roya babysitting little Thomas at Ocala Jockey Club! Thank you for showing us the world through your lens, Shannon.

Maggie Deatrick: I don’t know why EquiRatings hasn’t hired this gal away from us, yet. Maggie’s “By the Numbers” posts, culled from a comprehensive statistics database she created, offer freakishly accurate predictions of how events are going to shake out. That series might be what she is best known for as a writer, but what readers don’t see are the contributions she makes behind the scenes, providing insight and judgement that helps us shape the voice and direction of the site. She has a lot of very, very smart things to say about our sport and — in all that “spare time” she has — she’s promised to share some of them with EN this winter.

Abby Powell: In addition to working a full-time job at MIT, Abby has contributed over 700 posts as an EN freelancer since 2015. We really threw her in the deep end this year — her first gig as a reporter was covering Millbrook H.T., then we slapped her on the back and sent her on her way to Fair Hill. She rolled up her sleeves and got the job done, professionally — the writing, the photos, the whole package. Her relentlessly positive presence is a cornerstone of our team’s camaraderie. Here’s to another 700 posts, Abby!

Jimmie Schramm: Without sponsors, EN wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have sponsors without Jimmie. In addition to competing at the tip-top of the sport and running a business — folks cramming at least two lives into the space of one seems to be a running theme here — Jimmie took on the task of managing our sponsors this year and has been crushing it. Not all heroes wear capes, Jimmie. Thank you.

John Thier: John, EN’s site founder and publisher, isn’t just my boss. In the eight years I’ve been working for EN, he’s become my friend and my mentor. Running a business isn’t in my natural skill set, but I’ve learned so much from him about how to think strategically and get the best out of people. One thing he’s always been adamant about is the importance of gathering a strong team around yourself — or #dreamteam, if you will — and that really sunk in this year when I found myself leaning on them for so much support. And then there are the other things, the stuff they don’t teach you in business school. While John is certainly a workhorse, he demonstrates through his own words and actions that life is so much bigger than what we do for a living. Family comes first, and I’ll always be grateful to him for the warm welcome he’s given the newest addition to my own.

Ocala Jockey Club International in November 2019.

Teamwork makes the dream work, and there are so many others to whom I owe a debt of thanks: my sister NM editors DeAnn Sloan, Megan DeLisle and former editor Kristen KovatchSally Spickard, who came to the rescue when I needed an editorial lifeline this fall; Kate Samuels, who stays up late to crank out News & Notes twice a week yet I’m pretty sure hasn’t invoiced us in years; the hardworking and passionate #dreamteam at USEASamantha Clark, for her encouraging words, glasses of wine when you need them most, and surprise books in the mail; photographers Joan Davis and Sherry Stewart for taking us ringside this year; our incredible stable of freelancers and contributors; my husband Tommy Bateman for his unending love and support; my mother in-law Linda Bateman, sister in-law Tricia Bateman, and mother Pat Wylie for so much babysitting, I cannot thank them enough; to everyone at Penrose Farm and the Road Less Traveled Eventing Team who looks after my pony on the days when I just can’t make it out (which is most days, sadly, but aiming for a better balance in 2020); and to the eventing community at large, for reminding me every day with their incredible spirit why this sport is still worth going to bat for.

Happy New Year, #dreamteam. Go Eventing.