When it comes to show jumping, Pam Saunders knows her stuff.
Saunders has written about a plethora of topics, from real estate listings to the back story for a video game, but says the days when she get to sit ringside at Langley’s Thunderbird Show Park and capture the equine action “are pretty great.”
A Simon Fraser University graduate with a degree in communications, Saunders approached Thunderbird about doing some writing and has been at it ever since.
Helping Saunders craft show jumping articles is the fact she is an equine enthusiast and a somewhat experienced rider in her own right.
“I started riding as an adult, so I was never one of those adorable kids with braids and ribbons at the show,” she said. “But, once I got into the sport, I couldn’t get enough.”
Saunders’ grandfather was the only other person in her family to ride, so he loved it when she got into the sport.
“I don’t have kids, so my mom used to call my mare her ‘grand-horse,’” Saunders said.
A Christmas gift of a couple riding lessons got Saunders into the sport and within a year, she had bought a horse which, a couple of years later, she took to Thunderbird.
Since then, she’s been back several times with other horses, competing in both the hunter and jumper classes.
Her last show was on a friend’s horse, Final Twist, and she described the experience as “the best time I’ve ever had.”
“This season I’ll be cheering on my Alchemy Equestrian teammates from the stands,” Saunders said.
Covering Thunderbird events is equally rewarding and challenging, mainly because of how invested Saunders becomes in the competitions.
“If Rich Fellers tips a rail or Brian Morton gets a time fault, it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “I’m sighing right along with the crowd.”
She feels a closeness to the Thunderbird staff, describing them as “family.”
“I’ve been lucky to be part of it for the past eight years,” Saunders said. “It’s been amazing to watch the park grow and I’m always excited to see what’s new when get together to talk about the upcoming show season every spring.”
High level competitions such as the recently held $126,000 Longines FEI World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird means long days for Saunders.
On a typical day she’ll get the park early and catch up with Thunderbird vice president operations and tournament manager Chris Pack before heading out to the field.
Saunders is usually positioned in the tower at the front gate, but she’ll move around and chat with trainers, competitors, and visitors over the course of the day to “grab a few quotes and get an overall sense of the atmosphere.”
“I also check in with the course designer for a rundown of what riders will be facing during the class,” Saunders shared. “Once the course walk is underway, I usually tag along with a couple different riders to get their take the elements.”
Then, once the first horse-and-rider team heads into the ring, it’s all business.
“I watch every round, make notes and keep track of every clear ride,” Saunders said. “These are the things that I’ll need later to write the press release that goes out to media outlets.”
At the end of the class, she interviews the top riders and then sits down to write.
“Add a couple pictures, and I’m ready to send it [the press release] out,” she said.
For Saunders – who does public relations, writing, event management, graphic design, advertising, social media and even photography for her clients – the biggest difference between covering show jumping and other subjects is timing.
“Most of the other writing I do happens over days or weeks, but at Thunderbird, it comes together as the action unfolds. I’m in the moment,” she said.
“Every time I bring a friend out to watch, they’re blown away by the experience and that’s what I’m always trying to get down in words.”