by Lisa Engel
Jean Lindgren has greeted thousands over the years as the secretary for horse shows around the country including HITS Indio and Thermal, the Vermont Summer Festival, Skidmore, Old Salem Spring Horse Shows, the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden and the Meadowlands, Washington International and the Capital Challenge. For 30 years, she was executive director of the Hampton Classic alongside her husband, Tony Hitchcock. Jean is the sort of person whose warmth and laughter fills a room and makes everyone feel at home. Sidelines had a chance to catch up with Jean and enjoy some fantastic stories about her life.
How did you become connected with horses?
I first loved Indians and then I just loved their horses. By the time I was 2 or 3, I really wanted to own a horse. My mother wanted to form a Girl Scout troop in our area since there were none. The other girls and I told her we wouldn’t join unless it was an all-riding Girl Scout troop. So, she found a ‘nothing special’ kind of barn that seemed to always be muddy and we all rode there when we had meetings.
When did you own your first horse?
I was about 9 or 10, during my all-riding Girl Scouts phase, and I got a horse named Rocky. My dad saw a pretty horse when he was out buying eggs and asked the farmer about it. He was told, “Oh, that’s mink food.” My Dad thought there was no way such a beautiful horse could be mink food and the farmer gave him the horse. He was a terrible horse — which is why he was destined for the minks! He stalked the neighbors’ cars and kicked them … every car in the neighborhood had hoof marks on it. That was the extent of my horse life. I could get on, I didn’t have a saddle and I would just hang on and he would run through the neighborhood attacking any car he could find.
Did you have any other careers before the horse world?
Tony (Hitchcock) was the headmaster of the Hampton Day School. I was hired to be a nursery school teacher. I did that for about seven years. I wasn’t a “normal” teacher. I thought it would be nice to take the kids to a turkey farm near Thanksgiving. We got there and they were killing the turkeys! The kids loved it and they all came home with turkey feet — they were cleaned up, but they would pull the tendons and make the feet move. These kids were pretty well-off and I can’t imagine how this was received when they got home with their souvenirs for the day.
How did you end up where you are today?
Tony and I left the school and because we loved cooking, we were hired to cater the first Hampton Classic. The following year the Hampton Classic’s liaison asked us to coordinate the horse show and the year after that we became executive directors of the horse show. Back in the ’80s, we hired Tom Struzzieri to help us out at the Hampton Classic and then later, Tom hired Tony and me to help him out in Indio. Back then, Bob Bell worked as a show secretary/computer guy for HITS and Bob was the one who actually taught me to be a show secretary. Tony and I worked together at many shows but now, due to health reasons, we have decided that we want to travel and I would like to do artwork.
What’s your most memorable riding story?
One day my mother brought my grandmother to watch me ride at the barn. I was just a tiny girl and I rode a Clydesdale who loved mud. When I went over a jump and landed in the mud, the Clydesdale immediately fell to the ground and started rolling. My grandmother was on heart medication and had to pop nitro pills because she was watching this Clydesdale roll over her tiny granddaughter. Truthfully, the mud saved me.
Which person has inspired you the most in life?
My hero in middle school was this woman named Kitty Daffron. She chain-smoked and wore an old kimono and had fuzzy slippers and drank sherry out of an old jelly glass. Her cigarette had a cigarette holder and I thought she was the coolest. I got an old kimono and walked around like that.
What three things are the most important to you?
Peace and quiet, Tony and my family
What three traits in a person are most important to you?
Sense of humor, honesty and kindness
If you could talk to anyone, who would it be and why?
My maternal grandmother. I want to know things that I should have asked her long ago. She was truly a strange woman. When I met her in the ’40s, she lived in Coral Gables, Florida, and drove up in a convertible. She was wearing Bermuda shorts, saddle shoes and a baseball cap. No one wore that back then and she looked really tough.
What career path would you have chosen if horses were not an option?
I definitely would have been something in the arts. My entire family is involved in art.
What’s your favorite piece of clothing?
My big, fringy, full-length suede coat that I wear in the city, with lots of turquoise
What’s your passion?
I love painting, travel and living life to its fullest.
Where would you like to be right now?
I would like to be in Maine. I want to be mid-coast with a lobster roll.
What was your best vacation?
I think Paris, because since I was little, it was always where I wanted to go. When I got there it was most impressive to me.
Do you have a “bucket list”? If so, what tops that list?
Travel to Iceland
Do you have a personal motto?
I think “live for the moment.” I don’t have much planned so I try to enjoy each day.