By Lauren R. Giannini
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
Vicki Lowell began preparing for her new role as US Equestrian’s chief marketing and content officer as a kid when she was bitten by the horse bug. Her destiny was greatly influenced by an off-the-track Thoroughbred, bought by her father to lessen the shock of their move from Oklahoma to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The horse still triggers powerful emotions when Vicki talks about him.
“I didn’t like moving. It was really hard for me, but my horse really helped me through it,” said Vicki, who was in eighth grade at the time. “We named him Spats for his white socks. He was 6, dark bay, very pretty. He was green and not a schoolmaster by any means, but he taught me many lessons, including how the barn is the best place to relieve stress and working hard for a horse is the most rewarding experience in the world. Spats took such good care of me and for four years I did all sorts of amazing things with him, but I also learned that it’s really important to have the right trainer and that it’s probably best to have an experienced horse as your first horse.”
Vicki wanted to ride with a more advanced trainer and go to shows. “I kept trying to jump higher. Spats wasn’t so sure that was a good idea and had started to stop,” she said. “My trainer didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what I was doing.” She reached out to Audrey Winzinger of Tustin Farm, who worked with Gary Kunsman at Four Seasons Farm.
“Gary had Spats for a month,” said Vicki. “He loved my horse, but Spats really had learned to stop. Gary recommended that we sell him. I was going to college in a year. I was working three jobs so that I could ride, but I wouldn’t be able to keep doing that because I had to pay for college. We sold Spats and I leased an older, experienced horse, Skyhigh — I think he was Greg Best’s junior hunter at one point. I competed in some A-rated shows, mostly 3’ equitation, but at the end of the summer I was able to show in the 3’6” equitation at Monmouth County. At the end of the summer I was done. I went to Bryn Mawr College where I played lacrosse and field hockey because I wasn’t riding. It was so hard giving up horses for my education.”
Vicki’s blessed with a great work ethic and questing, creative mind. During those horseless years, early in her career, she earned her master’s degree in business administration from Wharton, focusing on marketing and finance. After three years with a consulting firm, she signed on with Proctor & Gambler (1992–2000) where it took her five years to leap up the levels from assistant brand manager to director of marketing for Cover Girl Cosmetics. But business success wasn’t enough.
“I had worked and worked and worked,” said Vicki. “I really wanted to ride. I said to myself, OK, it’s time. I wanted to find a barn instead of just going to horse shows and watching. It can be difficult to find somebody willing to start you. I found a show barn, Rolling Acres Farm, between where I worked in Baltimore and where I lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I called and told them I just want to get started again. They were willing. I said I didn’t have a horse, but I promised to lease or buy one eventually — Can I take a lesson? They said, ‘Yes, come out.’
“I ended up leasing a horse two weeks later, sharing with another lady who didn’t show,” continued Vicki. “I competed Dutch Treat in little shows around Maryland and qualified for the Washington International Horse Show Marshall and Sterling Adult Hunter Finals. I trained with Laura Pickett. She was amazing, a gem — loaned me her shadbelly, top hat and boots for my first WIHS and first ever indoors. I ended up with an eighth place ribbon and couldn’t have been happier. That’s how I got back into riding.”
In 2000, Vicki became vice president of marketing and communications for Discovery Health and Fit TV, which put her on course to the pinnacle of her corporate career when she went to work for Discovery Communications in Silver Spring, Maryland. Vicki spent from 2005 to 2015 leading marketing for Animal Planet and other key Discovery networks, which showcased her exceptional talents for marketing, redefining brands and cause marketing, to name only three of her strengths.
“I always wanted to work at Animal Planet when I got to Discovery,” said Vicki. “They had a moment when they were willing to try horse content and that was just at the time I was making a transition in my riding career and started training with Kim Prince. I was meeting a lot of people at the top of the sport, which led to “Horse Power – Road to the Maclay,” the Animal Planet sporthorse series, and the World Cup Finals on Animal Planet.”
“Horse Power – Road To The Maclay” debuted the first of six episodes about Big Equitation on February 1, 2006, capturing a unique audience of more than 6 million viewers of all ages. Animal Planet’s production crew filmed at the various prestigious horse shows from summer through fall of 2005, as well as at the barns of the starring riders and their trainers, including Brianne Goutal, ultimate winner of the 2005 Maclay Finals. In 2006, “Horse Power – Road to the Maclay” earned Vicki the USEF President’s Award for Overall Excellence.
At Discovery and Animal Planet, Vicki made good use of every opportunity. She was known for her leadership, vision and for thinking outside the box. Within the industry, she won both recognition and awards. She was riding and showing, increasingly drawn into that world as more than a competitor. In 2009, she joined the board of the Washington International Horse Show, serving two terms as board secretary, and was elected president in 2013.
“I was invited to an Equus Foundation party where I met Lynn Coakley and, shortly thereafter, the Equus Foundation became part of the Animal Planet R.O.A.R. cause marketing program,” said Vicki. “When Lynn called me and said, ‘I’d really like to nominate you for the board position at USEF,’ I said OK, but I never thought I’d get it! That was four years ago, after they restructured the board down to 19 people from 54. They had two independent seats. I got one. Murray Kessler got the other.”
The year 2013 turned out great in all aspects of Vicki’s life, and her show results were stellar. “Riding with Kim, I achieved so much more than I ever thought was possible,” said Vicki, who competes in the Adult Jumpers. “[In 2013] I was circuit champion at WEF and champion at Lake Placid. I won a class at the Hampton Classic. I won at Washington [in 2001] the first time I competed in Adult Jumpers with my first jumper, Sara Lee, an ex-racehorse [registered as Bubbling Maxi] and although I’ve never won there again, I keep trying!”
Over time, Vicki found her professional life was becoming more connected to the horse world. “I’ve known Murray as a friend since 2005 when Kim introduced us,” she said. “Murray and I are both marketing people. I had a lot of respect for him and got to know him
better when the two of us were on the board. He’d been on the board before and helped mentor me. It was at Kim’s birthday dinner in May 2015 that Murray asked if I would ever consider working for the USEF. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time.”
Murray, in the process of retiring from his corporate career, started percolating ideas about the United States’ national governing body of equestrian sport long before he became its official president.
“Last June at the mid-year board meeting, Murray presented a whole new strategic plan to the board — it blew me away,” said Vicki. “It was pretty much what he presented at the annual meeting, except for a few little changes. At the end of his presentation, he played a short video for the board. That Joy concept tape was the killer for me.”
Quick clips feature horse crazy kids of all ages having fun communing with their equines and with each other: galloping in a field, splashing in a pond. Olympic footage. Backyard footage. Hugging horse or pony. Mugging for the camera. Caught up in the moment. #JOY.
“That tape captures the whole experience and when it played at the board meeting, all the differences went away and everyone applauded,” said Vicki. “I literally jumped out of my chair and said, ‘I want to help!’ I went to Murray and said, ‘I’m happy to help, but we can’t have the “shield” logo and we have to change the brand name.’ I volunteered my time in July. In my first week I went to the design department and said, ‘Let’s start by taking things away from the logo and see what we have.’ After we were satisfied, we had it printed and I took it to Murray and Bill Moroney. We got the approval the next day and we went on with it. In September they offered the job to me and I started in November. It’s still very exciting.”
It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind: selling her house in Maryland, buying one in Lexington, Kentucky, moving her horses, new job with US Equestrian. Her jumpers, Tippi Too and Peace, live two miles from the Kentucky Horse Park. Kim Prince is headquartered in Wellington, Florida, so that’s a challenge, but it will all work out in the long run.
“It doesn’t really bother me to take this break from showing, because I’m still riding my horses and I’m a part of that world,” said Vicki. “I like being connected to the top of the sport and I like watching the best. I’m learning as I watch. I don’t have to be on my own horse to learn. It’s like the videos in the Learning Center — I love the one about Saddlebreds with Smith Lilly. It’s my favorite production that we’ve done so far. Smith’s an incredible horseman and we asked a lot of tough questions. I want to know as much as possible about every discipline and every sport.
“I really am all about the horses,” continued Vicki. “They are my sanity and my stability. Competing is one thing and I do love to compete. That’s why I liked playing lacrosse in college — it takes your complete focus. You’re just in the moment, playing to win. But with the horses, it isn’t just about going into the ring to come out with a ribbon. There’s the time I spend with the horses outside of the ring that I also enjoy. The horses take me away from the pressures of my job … I guess we will see how that works now that they are my job! To ride my horses, to just be around them, and to keep learning is what’s important to me.”
Vicki’s new job at US Equestrian is the culmination of everything else she has done throughout her career. Best of all, she represents every horse-crazy kid because she gets it. Vicki’s one of us.