After taking off more than two decades to practice law, Jackson native Jamie Planck Martin began competing in equestrian events three years ago. Last fall, she brought home a national equestrian championship title from an invitation-only world premier event.
Her mission: winning and selling Mississippi.
Recently, the Mississippi Business Journal asked Martin, who grew up in Louisville, Ky., and was an Olympic hopeful in the late 1970s, about her decision to attend law school and raise a family instead of continuing competitive equestrian events, the status of her law practice, the potential for equestrian activity in Mississippi, and Providence Hill Farm.
Mississippi Business Journal: When did you originally start riding horses?
Jamie Martin: I first started showing when I was 10, and showed all the way through the college graduation in 1981. Most of the time growing up, I’d been the Kentucky state champion. Then I competed on a national level. Sweet Briar College in Virginia gave me a riding scholarship and I went to school in England for a year. I won the National Collegiate Championship all three years in college. Then I went to Vanderbilt Law School and quit riding. I got married right after graduation from law school and we lived in Atlanta and Boston and started a family. Riding wasn’t a priority.
MBJ: What prompted you to start riding again three years ago?
JM: I made it through about two months of sitting there, watching my 10-year-old daughter, Tinsley, ride before I said, “If I’ve got to spend all this time at the barn, I might as well do it, too!”
MBJ: Tell us more about the competition you won last October with your bay gelding, Cayman.
JM: It was the amateur-owner hunter, 36 and over tricolor, at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pa. The show, America’s largest indoor multi-breed horse show, is the equestrian Super Bowl. More than 1,200 amateur and professional riders competed for $340,000 in prize money.
MBJ: You and your husband, E.B. Martin Jr., own Providence Hill Farm, a world-class equestrian riding and jumping facility near Pocahontas, where Tinsley also trains. Tell us about the farm.
JM: It’s the most complete and advanced hunter and jumper equestrian facility in the South. We built it with the idea in mind of having everything necessary to train horses and produce top competitors. Even though those horses are our pets, they really are performance athletes.
We named the farm Providence Hill because ‘providence’ means the manifestation of divine intervention. I really do believe that it’s God’s gift to us. We’re going to host a camp this summer for Operation Shoestring Kids. We recently had a clinic for the local pony club, in which all proceeds were donated to the Katrina Relief effort. I hope we can do lots of things to benefit our community.
MBJ: When did you open the facility to the public?
JM: We’ve been using the property for about two years, but we just finished the new barn and moved in right before the Labor Day weekend. We built a big covered ring, a big outdoor ring, a covered European walker and lots of trail space. The last thing to get finished was that silly barn. We have about a dozen horses of our own and are boarding about 12 right now. The new barn has 36 stalls in it.
MBJ: Why did you decide to make such a big investment in Providence Hill Farm?
JM: It had always been my life dream to ride again and train horses. I’m an amateur. My husband and I built that barn because of our passion for horses and to show people you can do things from Mississippi. We’ve assembled a great group of people to run the business: two full-time trainers, a consulting trainer based out of Lexington, Ky., and West Palm Beach, Fla. In November, we had a past member of the U.S. Equestrian Team teach a clinic. We really felt like it was time for Mississippi to be able to take advantage of and participate in equestrian sports and that if we put together the right team of people, that barn could be just as successful as any of the huge barns in the more horse-y parts of the country.
MBJ: Tell us about Mississippi’s untapped equestrian activity potential.
JM: Mississippi is right in a place that’s surrounded by some of the largest horse states in the country. In various communities around the country, the equestrian part is a huge factor. Look at Ocala, Fla. It’s a nothing kind of place. The horse community drives a significant part of their economy there. I just flew back from West Palm Beach, Fla. You couldn’t imagine the number of barns and horses there and the thousands of people that show up to ride.
I’m really hopeful that the popularity of horses will get people here thinking about it being a real possibility for our state, like golf. We have a huge opportunity! We have the right weather and lots of open space and an area that’s really conducive to raising and training good horses. When I compete nationally, people always ask: where in the world are you from? Most of those people are from the Northeast, West Palm Beach or California. We’re trying to show people that you can be right there at a national level and live in our state.
MBJ: Specifically, what could Mississippi do to draw more interest from the equestrian community?
JM: We have five very large hunter and jumper horse shows that have always been held at the Gulfport facility in February and March. This year, they’re going to move them to Pensacola, not because the horse show facility was damaged, but because there are no hotels for people to stay in. The Tunica area has three good-sized horse shows.
If you look at Mississippi, the number of horse activities is tremendous between the western horses and the hunter and jumper horses. Then there are the Appaloosa horses. The more equestrian activities we can have in Mississippi, the better. It’s great for our economy and local business.
The Lexington horse park in Kentucky will host the world equestrian games in 2010, and 300,000 to 350,000 people are expected to attend that 10-day event. Anywhere from a third to half will come from overseas. Last August, the American Horse Counsel published a 10-year study on the impact of equestrian sports and horses on the economy. For the first time, they haven’t just focused on the thoroughbred industry but horses as a whole. It’s not just for people with $500,000 incomes. Many people with incomes of $60,000 own horses.
I’m working with the Canton Board of Aldermen to help raise money to improve their multipurpose center to have a site in Central Mississippi for equestrian events. We’ve got a great facility in Tunica and in Gulfport and one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-granted facilities in Forest. But we don’t have anything right here in the middle part of the state. The Mississippi Fairgrounds took away one of the equestrian rings but they have plans to add another ring. You still need a grassroots place where people learning to ride and develop can go and show for the weekend.
MBJ: Do you still practice law?
JM: I don’t. I stopped practicing about 14 months ago.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.