By Katie Navarra
Thirty years ago, Joan MacNair Petty was just another horse show mom sitting in the stands rooting for her daughter, Cam, during a show at the Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina. Little did she know the impact that show would eventually have on her life.
That show was the inaugural Jump For Children Show – a fundraiser for Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. Since the first show in 1984, the annual event has since raised a total of $1.6 million for the hospital.
Over the past 30 years, the Jump For Children Show has become a vital part of Joan’s life and she explained how it began. “Pat (LaFevers Holsten, the show founder) sat down beside me and asked me if I’d be interested in being on the show committee,” Joan said.
Pat spoke passionately about a friend’s five-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed with Leukemia. She described the many hours she spent at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center with the family.
“I witnessed the determination and resilience of those young patients and their families, and the tender care of the doctors, nurses and staff,” Pat explained.
It was a life-changing experience. One that inspired Pat to petition Dr. Sam Katz, then chairman of pediatrics at Duke Children’s, to consider holding a horse show to raise money for the hospital. Impressed by Pat’s dedication to helping children at Duke Children’s Hospital, Joan considered Pat’s invitation to join the show committee.
“Lots went through my head as Pat and I talked about the Duke Show and its continuance as a benefit for Duke Children’s Hospital,” Joan said, “But, the big question that I did not voice to Pat was, ‘why would you ask me to be on the committee?’”
The Right Woman for the Job
Initially Joan was hesitant, unsure she could offer much assistance. Pat knew otherwise. Joan was the oldest daughter of six children in the MacNair family, widely known in the Raleigh area for their involvement in the horse industry.
Introduced to horses at a young age, Joan’s childhood was consumed by horses. “I’ll never forget my first pony, Sky Rocket; he scraped me off on the first apple tree on my first ride!” she laughed. “That first riding experience did not deter me as I really didn’t have a choice.”
In 1965, her father died tragically in a hunting accident, leaving her mom to raise all six children alone. “Horses were our livelihood,” Joan said. “We led trail rides around Lake Johnson, taught riding lessons, boarded horses and ran MacNair’s Swim School and Day Camp.” Eventually, the family opened MacNair’s Country Acres, a thriving Wake County horse farm.
Picking Up the Reins
In the end, Joan accepted Pat’s invitation to serve on the Duke Children’s Show committee and worked closely with Helen Idol, Ron Wood and Josh Hewitt from Duke Children’s development office and the horse show committee members for several years to ensure the event’s success.
When Pat stepped down from her role as chairman of the committee, Joan took the reins and has managed the show under contract ever since. “I am dedicated to continue making miracles happen for children,” she said.
Fundraising efforts are vital in supporting the hospital. Funds raised by the horse show are used to support research, offer special programs and provide assistance to patients and their families through gift cards or vouchers for gas, transportation and other expenses.
“Duke Children’s Hospital does not turn away any child in need,” said Josh Hewitt, associate director of development at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. “Therefore, we rely on the support of our community. Events such as the horse show help to spread the word about the good work that is taking place at Duke Children’s.”
The local community is instrumental in the show’s success. “The horse show is unique and what is even better is that it was started by community members and not the hospital itself,” Josh said. “This was and continues to be a community effort and Duke Children’s is incredibly grateful for the support, passion and dedication from our community, especially Joan and her committee.”
The Jump for Children Show is a legacy Joan sees as her responsibility to pass onto the younger generation. Cam (Joan’s daughter), Leah and Rachel Bergman competed together in the show’s inaugural event in 1984. The three women are still involved in the sport and all volunteer time to assist the show committee.
As fate would have it, one of these women who competed in the event as a carefree youth in 1984, would one-day benefit from the generosity of its supporters.
Rachel spent a month on bed rest at Duke Children’s while pregnant with her daughter. Born at just 26 weeks and one day, her daughter weighed only one pound 15 ounces and was 36 centimeters long. Her daughter spent three months in the neonatal intensive care nursery. Because of the wonderful care from Duke Children’s, Rachel’s daughter is now a happy healthy, active toddler.
Carrying on the tradition
“Looking back, I saw Pat’s invitation as an opportunity to do what I loved, working with children and horses and affecting a change in the lives of children at Duke Children’s Hospital,” Joan said.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary, this year’s event will honor and thank all of the volunteers who have helped make the show a success year after year, including show founder Pat Holsten. Joan anticipates 1,200 spectators will attend the highlight of the five-day event, the $30,000 Duke Children’s Grand Prix event on Saturday evening. This year will also be the first time the show will offer a $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby.
“We are honored to host the hunter derby on Friday evening, sponsored by Dr. Betsee Parker,” Joan said, adding that the derby will attract top hunters from around the country to compete. “We truly know that the Jump for the Children Horse Show is not just another horse show, but a horse show that makes a difference.”
The Jump for the Children Horse Show will take place November 5 – 10 and will benefit the Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. The show is located at the Hunt Horse Complex. 4601 Trinity Road, Raleigh, North Carolina (across from the Carter Finley Stadium). Highlights include a $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby sponsored by Dr. Betsee Parker on Friday, November 8 and a $30,000 Grand Prix on Saturday, November 9. For more information visit jumpforthechildren.org or www.trianglefarms.com and click on the Duke Show.
About the writer: Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer in the horse industry for 12 years. She has been a lifelong horse lover and recently purchased a Dun Quarter Horse mare with hopes of re-entering the show ring in 2014.