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The Backstage Pass: Samantha Cram McDermott

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Photo © GrandPix
Samantha Cram McDermott works as the lead event coordinator at Split Rock Jumping Tour. Photo © GrandPix.

Text © World of Showjumping

You often hear riders say how it ’takes a village’ to succeed, referring to their teams that make sure their equine super stars stay safe and sound. But what about the other side of the backstage crew – the event organizers? In our new series ’The backstage pass’, World of Showjumping goes behind the scenes at some of the biggest events in our sport, with the people who work around the clock to put together a great show.

Samantha Cram McDermott works as the lead event coordinator at Split Rock Jumping Tour (SRJT). “My job is to make sure all aspects of the show are taken care of and that the right people are in the right place to put on the best event possible,” the 29-year-old explains. “I also work closely with our head of sponsorships on all sponsor activations.” Samantha took on her role at the end of 2018, a year after joining the SRJT family. “In 2017 I was riding full time when my husband was offered a job in Lexington. Being a “hub” for all things equine, I knew there would be plenty of jobs to choose from. I was burnt out from the riding side of the sport, so I kept my options open,” she explains about the change of scenery that also resulted in a shift in her career. A good friend mentioned an open position at SRJT to Samantha, and the rest is history. “The idea of something different in a world I loved sounded appealing,” she recalls.

Despite her strong equestrian background, in her new role at SRJT Samantha quickly realized how different the side of a show organizer is. “After 60 days on the job, I had completed my first SRJT show in Lexington at Split Rock Farm. I left that show on Sunday feeling proud and motivated, feeling as a part of something that was way bigger than myself, with a crew that was devoted to making real change in a sport that needed it.”

 “I was looking into a world I thought I knew so much about, through a whole new lens,” Samantha tells about her first impressions in the new job.

Growing up on a farm surrounded with horses, Samantha had continued her riding career at St. Andrews University, competed on both the Hunt Seat and Western IHSA teams, and graduated in 2013 with a BS degree in Biology with a focus on Equine Science. After graduating, Samantha spent a year and a half working for Kent Farrington. However, getting a new aspect into the sport she loved so much was refreshing. “It was quite humbling and I was into it. I read books, took classes on FEI Campus, and injected myself into every aspect of the event, where anyone was willing to teach me. I’m forever grateful for Derek and Robin Cravens, our office manager, who answered hundreds of questions and really taught me just about everything I now know about how to run a great horse show,” Samantha tells about the early days of settling into her new role.

A cozy office at the SRJT home farm in Lexington, is where the SRJT team works Monday to Friday – when they aren’t on the road. “The time between our last event of the year and the first one of the next is spent planning, organizing, staffing, site visits for new locations, apparel ordering, prize list building, and so on,” Samantha tells. “The goal as we approach our first event of the year is to have everything that CAN be organized, done so that we can handle the unexpected when it arises.”

Every year, SRJT adds new events in new locations to their schedule. “Our scouting procedure for new venues often begins from an invitation for a site visit or a recommendation from others in the sport,” Samantha explains. “Each venue and audience has its own strengths and weaknesses and it’s our job to play off of those. This part is quite fun! Once we arrive on site, it’s all hands on deck. Each facility is different in what it needs to be ready, and each location requires differing amounts of modifications. For example, some locations have events ending the Sunday before our show, and some have events right after ours. This has led us to build a clear plan for every event, with a maximum two day set up and a twelve hour tear down for most locations,” Samantha tells about the team’s routines.

“It’s a full team effort from the minute we arrive until we wrap up and head home. Each person has their designated areas of expertise, but we truly operate as a team,” she goes on. “We have a joke at SRJT that your first skill to learn when you join the team is to operate a drill,” she laughs.

Photo © Winslow Photography
“The job - and life - brings on new challenges every day. Be a student, learn, grow, do - you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish,” Samantha says. Photo © Winslow Photography.

“To do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Samantha goes on to describe the mentality of the team at SRJT. “No horse show operates successfully because of just one person. It’s a compilation of people who are good at their jobs, pushing for one common goal. Every person on the team, whether you are full time staff or temporary show staff has the same point of view during our events.”

“We are in the customer service business,” Samantha points out another important factor. “We are there to make sure the riders, horses, and their support crew are taken care of. This is their livelihood, and they go from one show to another. We want to be the OC that everyone can rely on and trust to put on a world class event. The goal of SRJT is to revolutionize the sport of showjumping in America and looking at the future, we are doing just that.”

Founded in 2015 by Derek Braun, a professional showjumper himself, SRJT hosted two competitions on home turf at Braun’s farm in Lexington, KY, The Lexington International and The Bourbon International, in the Tour’s first year. Going into 2020, SRJT has expanded into eight scheduled events. “We are essentially a horse show in a box,” Samantha smiles. “In 2017, we had our first event “off site”. Between three of us, we took 17 trips up to Columbus Ohio with flat beds and trailers filled with stuff. It’s funny thinking back on it,” she recalls. “Now we have two semi trucks that are filled with anything we could possibly need. In 2019 we really focused on honing down our set up and tear down. Now going into SRJT’s 6th year, and my 4th, it’s truly remarkable to look back just three years ago having only two events and now looking over at my 2020 Tour Dates sheet taped to my computer screen with eight events, all at different locations, all around the United States.”

“I have learned to find a balance in standing up for what you believe in, while also being open to ideas and improvement,” Samantha tells about the many ways she has grown while on the job. “I’ve learned, and continue to learn the skill of management and leadership. That is an ongoing venture. It’s a constant working goal and I’m thankful to have the role models I have to help me navigate through. I’ve also had to focus some time on the work life/home life balance,” she admits. “I’m lucky enough to have a husband that understands the work, but I’ve also realized the importance of putting the phone down and spending time being home and being present.” Committing herself to a healthy lifestyle is another factor that plays a large role in her success at work, Samantha believes. “Eating well, working out, sleeping and doing the things I know my mind and body need to function on all cylinders is crucial. It’s no shock that this industry is tough on the body and the mind, so I made a promise to myself to always keep that in the list of top priorities,” she says. “The job - and life - brings on new challenges every day. Be a student, learn, grow, do - you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish,” she closes off. 


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