Sips ‘N Saddles Synergy

It was time for a party. MMSC had been an independent non-profit for a year and a half. People needed to know that, what we do and how we do it. Besides, we needed money.

Guests got to hand dip VIP MMSC bottles!
The idea had come from Rob Samuels, CEO of Maker’s Mark, one of our iconic namesakes. I had been to him earlier in the year to see if he would renew his support of the Center which we had not had since the Center’s inception ten years ago.

“Susanna, we are proud of our association with you, but our company policy is to support a charity for one year and then move on to another worthy cause,” he told me. “Maker’s Mark has never in its history done what it has done for your Center, raising money over three consecutive years with our limited run Triple Crown series of bottles.”

I was aware of that and very grateful for it. But we were the only charity that sported their name, and, like them, were known for producing excellence in a signature Kentucky product. Perhaps he could show his support of our association is some other way?

“We could do a party together,” he suggested.  

Party?! BRILLIANT! Much better than an out and out donation. A party would achieve so much more on so many fronts. Thank you, Rob. Great idea!
 The site was a no brainer. MMSC, of course. The date was trickier. It was already mid summer. We needed time to do everything. November? Too cold, and getting into holiday season. October seemed good. Chances for nice weather were good. The races were on at the nearby Keeneland Race Course, so Thoroughbred people would be in town. But UK football was in full swing and Kentuckians support their teams (especially basketball), which might hurt attendance. The Kentucky Horse Park’s teeming schedule of shows had to be considered as well. Would they boost or deflate our crowd? And we had to make absolutely sure there were no scheduled school cross country meets which the Horse Park hosts in the field across from us. At those times, a swell of youth flaunting fit calves and thighs spews over into the drive to our entrance like a surging, turbulent sea. Your car gets engulfed. Most of the runners are oblivious to its presence; all seem to resent moving out of the way. Some glare or make unpleasant hand gestures. This is not something I wanted our guests to experience.

So we picked a Friday to play it safe. No football games. No track meets. October 25, the night before the closing day of the Keeneland Fall meet. The last race ran at 5:45. People could come straight away afterwards in their race garb. 

I have never organized a fundraising party before, and I had no idea what was required. Thank goodness for Maker’s Mark event planning team: Natalie Stone, Valerie Netherton and Jen Jacoby! They were as comfortable with the intricacies of party planning as I am with a horse, which was a great relief to me. I also have a wonderful board who quickly formed an event committee.

So what did we hope to accomplish? 
  1. Let people know that we exist.
  2. Show them what we do.
  3. Make friends.
  4. Get horses adopted.
  5. Make money, best-case scenario.
  6. Break even if not.
Xin Xu Lin (left) and Electromagnetic (right) during the demo
Because all that we do is horse centric, our horses had to be involved. We decided we would do demonstration in the arena with some of them. There would be a bar in the barn wash stall and guests could visit with the horses which, restrained simply by stall guards, would hang their heads out into the open aisle. A 100 by 40 tent would be put about between the barn and the office so that people could stream easily between one and the other. Maker’s would provide the bourbon and the mixed drinks, as well as donate several hundred VIP bottles emblazoned with the MMSC logo that guests would receive as a party favor and get to hand dip in Maker’s trademark hot red wax themselves. We would hire a celebrity chef. We envisioned the event as both elegant yet down to earth. We dubbed it Sips ‘N Saddles.

One board member, Louise Riggio, who is an experienced party giver and goer offered to design and produce the invitations. “They set the tone,” she said. Her invites were G O R G E O U S, printed on heavy brown card stock which gave them both a rustic feel yet class. Exactly what we hoped the party would be.

Johnathan and team working in MMSC garage.
Jonathan Lundy, chef of gourmet restaurant Jonathan’s at the historic Gratz Park Inn in downtown Lexington agreed to prepare a fine Kentucky themed menu at a very reasonable price. “My family is from the horse business,” he said, “I figure I need to give back to help the horses.”

Arthur and Arthur (right and second right) and band
Also stepping to the plate, or, more accurately, the stage, were “the Arthurs,” Arthur Hancock Sr. and Jr. of Stone Farm/ Sunday Silence/Hancock family/Secretariat-Claiborne fame. (Google any of those and you will see that Arthur and Arthur are Kentucky TB royalty) both gifted bluegrass musicians who gave of their time and talent to help the MMSC, along with several other band members.

Because I think of Thoroughbreds as a premier Kentucky product, I wanted Sips N’ Saddles to celebrate our commonwealth’s riches. Therefore in addition to Maker’s Mark and 46, we had such Kentucky elixirs as Ale Eight, and West Sixth Brewing amber and indian pale ales, and newly roasted freshly brewed coffee from Lexington Coffee Times. Jonathan’s Kentucky ambrosias of burgoo, fried grit cheese straws, pork sliders and more shared the spotlight with Kenny’s Cheeses (their Wheel of Awesome is aptly named! Utterly AWESOME!!! Try it!), Bluegrass Baking Company’s Julep Tulips and mini pecan tarts. 

Xin Xu Lin, 2010 Brazilian Horse of the Year,
painted his interpretation of the Brazilian flag
And, of course we had a silent, and a live auction that included original artwork brush, nose, or hoof painted by our MMSC students as well as such celebrities as Cigar, Funny Cide and Go For Gin.

What a party! The horses in the demonstrations were stars. Despite the gelid temperatures in the thirties (so much for the October weather) the tent was packed with people. The auctions went well Every bottle was dipped. The food vanished. Every gift bag was taken. At the closing, board member Walt Robinson asked party chair Mimi Porter and me to step on the dais so we could be acknowledged. I know that Mimi deserved every accolade. But I didn't.  I had soooo much help. To acknowledge that I said:
Walt Robertson introduces party chair Mimi porter on left and Susanna
“I have as my screensaver in my office a picture of one of the stained glass windows of the Sainte Chappelle in Paris France where I spent some time as a girl. I keep it there as a metaphor to remind me of the importance of synergy. Without every shard and every color, the picture would incomplete. That is how I feel about all who help the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, not just for this party but also throughout the year. Without the talents and presence of all, whether they be donors, volunteers, board or staff members, Sips ‘N Saddles could not have happened, nor would the MMSC be able to do and continue the work that it does day in day out. Therefore, I thank each and every one of you for your varied contributions both now and always. With this synergy and blessings from on high may our story continue to be lit and shine so many can see and appreciate what we do for the horses we love. Thank you all!”  

Cheery bye,