The Directors: WIHS’ Winning Sisters by Katherine O. Rizzo
first published in the January 2019 Equiery print edition
Like many other kids who grew up in the horse show world, the Washington International Horse Show was always in the sights of sisters Brittani and Chelsea Director. Even when they were young, both girls knew that WIHS was the show they aspired to and together, they worked their way from ponies to be crowned WIHS Regional Hunter Champions, with Chelsea winning in 2012 and Brittani winning six years later in 2018.
All in the Family
Brittani and Chelsea were exposed to the horse show world at an early age through their mom, Shari, who showed on the circuit and often had one daughter or both in tow while taking lessons and competing. “Once the girls started to compete, I stepped back from the show ring but still do ride,” Shari stated.
Older sister Brittani, 30, first got on a horse when she was about five years old and started taking lessons. “I fell off at one point though and got scared, so stopped,” she said. “My mom didn’t want to pressure me but while on a vacation in Colorado, we did some trail riding and I got hooked back into it.” Chelsea, 26, began riding when she was seven. “My mom had me doing just one lesson every other week to see if I really liked it or not,” she explained. “I never stopped!”
When the girls started showing, Brittani did Short Stirrup classes and Chelsea did leadline. “They learned to pitch in with everything and help each other as well as others from the barn who were showing too,” Shari said, adding, “Because we all have the same passion, we all are very close and I think that is a unique experience for a family.” Shari laughed, adding “My poor husband. It was talk of horses nonstop at our house.”
Although both daughters joke about how little their father, Mark, knows about horses, they both talk about how incredibly supportive he has been through the years. “He’s our biggest cheerleader at all the big shows,” Chelsea said.
The Directors, which is how they are known in the horse show world, started on the local circuit with WBTA shows and schooling shows at the Potomac Horse Center and Prince George’s Equestrian Center, among other local venues. Chelsea remembers her very first win, a leadline class with Kenny Krome as the judge. Both sisters now ride with Kenny Krome and Jennifer Newman of K2 Show Stables at Persimmon Tree Farm in Westminster. “I showed him the video one day and we both laughed at me winning the class with him as the judge,” Chelsea remarked.
For the most part, the sisters competed together, though their ages often had them in different classes. With mom as the trailer driver, they moved up the ranks together. “We are each others horse show moms. We aren’t competitive with each other at all,” Chelsea said. “They will be the first to tell you, when one of them wins, they both win,” Shari added.
“We are the ‘Directors’ and that’s how it always will be,” said Brittani, who although married and now has the last name Godfrey, still shows under her maiden name. “The one time I went by Godfrey at a show, it caused all kinds of issues with the show office! Everyone told me, ‘never again’ and really, I’d rather keep showing as Director anyway,” she added.
While many people might get obsessed with placings and ribbons, the Directors simply cannot stop talking about their horses! “Riding is a unique sport in that there is a whole other animal involved in your success or failure. It is our duty to do right by them,” Brittany said. There have been few horses in their careers, simply because they hold on to them.
Brittani’s first show horse was Humphrey Bogart, a Thoroughbred Carolyn Krome found for her. They first started showing in the Low Children’s Hunters and worked their way up to the WIHS Classic classes. “Bogey” was the first horse Brittani qualified for WIHS on and competed there twice with him. “I was just so happy to be there,” she said. She was 16 years old during her first WIHS experience when Bogey spooked at the trophies sitting just outside the ring. “We didn’t place, but that was ok. He did the right number of strides, just not in a straight line,” she said, smiling. Interestingly, he did the exact same spook the following year.
While Chelsea was still on ponies, Brittani got a second horse, Change of Season, and competed both horses at WIHS in 2005. Bogey had his trophy line spook but Season finished 10th in the Children’s Hunter Championships. Soon after, Season started showing lameness issues that were never truly able to be resolved. After a year of trying to help, Season was retired and lived out his days at Brittani’s farm. He was in his 20s when he passed away.
Bogey spent a few years being leased by a friend and then Brittani picked up the ride on him again before her current horse, Rococo, came into her life in 2006. Around the same time, Chelsea was ready to make the move from ponies to horses. “I was scared at first to move onto horses and Bogey ended up being the right fit for me to learn on,” Chelsea stated.
With Bogey, Chelsea moved up to the Low Children’s and competed in her first WIHS Local Day in 2007. “He was one of those horses that was great when he was on but a challenge when he wasn’t,” Brittani remarked. Chelsea and Bogey ended up winning her first class, getting dumped in her second and then went back to win the hack. “We ended up with the championship that year even with the fall!” Chelsea said laughing.
When Bogey was ready to retire from the show ring, he went to stay at Brittani’s farm in Eldersburg, where he lived until the spring of 2018. He was 28 years old when he died. Soon after Bogey was retired, Chelsea leased a horse named Harry Winston to compete in the Children’s Hunters before she found Urban.
The Big Guys
Urban is a Dutch Holsteiner-cross gelding that Chelsea bought in 2009 to take her from the Children’s to Junior classes. “He’s full of personality and spoiled rotten,” Chelsea said of her horse. “He knows so much more than me and loves his job.”
In 2011, Chelsea and Urban finished sixth in a WIHS local class. “I was so nervous and just hung on for dear life,” Chelsea said. “Urban just carted me around.” The very next year, the pair won at Locals and went on to be crowned Regional Hunter Champions at the 2012 WIHS. “Washington is on everyone’s bucket list and it was a great feeling to win there,” Chelsea added.
Brittani’s Rococo, better known as “Cody,” is a petite Trakhener gelding that Kenny Krome found while wintering in Ocala, Florida. When he was purchased, Cody was a six-year-old dressage horse that had little jumping experience. “Buying him was a bit of a gamble but we figured we had nothing to lose,” she explained. It turns out he is a natural jumper and loves every minute of it.
In his first few years with Brittani, Cody competed with Kenny in the 3’ through 3’6’’ Greens, and Brittani showed him in the Adults and Amateur Owner 3’6’’ classes. “He’s always good but he’s little so it can be harder to get down the lines sometimes,” she said. “But he consistently does whatever you ask him to do, which is what makes him so great.” They made their WIHS debut together in 2012 when they finished fifth in the Adult Hunter Championships. Chelsea and Urban finished fourth that same year.
Brittani went back to WIHS a few more times with Cody, placing third in the Regional Hunter Horse championships in 2014 and sixth in the Adult Hunter Championships in 2016. “The judges either like him or they don’t,” Brittani explained about the way Cody jumps. “He has to go around a little quicker to get the strides done.”
Brittani crossed into the jumper world with Cody at one point and then focused on Equitation, making it all the way to the Ariat Equitation Finals in 2014, and finishing second at the MHSA Medal Finals in 2017. But there was just one more goal she felt she still hadn’t achieved–a win at WIHS.
“I really didn’t want her to go back,” Shari said, adding that “she had done so well and been so successful at WIHS in past years and at other venues I just didn’t see why she needed to do it again.” Last October, Brittani and Cody headed to WIHS, and brought home the 2018 Regional Hunter Championship. “Man did she make me eat my words!” Shari laughed.
“Washington is the show of all shows. It’s an adrenaline rush and I’m so happy to have won there with Rococo,” Brittani said. Cody was a 19-year-old during his winning WIHS round.
The Road Ahead
“It hasn’t been easy, but I think that is what makes them a good team,” Shari said of her daughters’ path to WIHS. “Both of their horses have had serious health issues over the years and they have helped each other take care of them.” Shari pointed out that while Urban was recovering from surgery and Chelsea was at college, it was Brittani who did his rehab. “Chelsea may have gone on to ride Urban at WEF that winter but it was Brittani who put the time into getting him there,” Shari said. “That is what these girls will do for each other.”
As with all horses, injuries occur, rest and rehab are needed… but the Director sisters do not shy away from any of it. “There was a time in Florida that Cody came up lame and we did an MRI. Everyone said he was done but we treated him anyway and he came back strong,” Brittani recalled.
“A lot of people would have given up on these horses but we just keep going and give them whatever they need to be healthy and happy,” Chelsea said. “They will tell us when they are done and so far, they clearly don’t want to stop!” Chelsea has found that Urban is best at 3’, so builds her show schedule around his needs. She purchased a new young horse, Ego, in December of 2014 and currently shows him in the 3’3’’ Amateur Owner classes.
Brittani went on to say, “To be successful in this sport, you have to have the right support and that is what we have with each other and our parents and trainers and everyone at the barn.”
Chelsea added, “You have to be dedicated to be successful and know every inch of your horse. If anything changes, you should be the first one to notice.”
Horsemanship and family is what has carried the Director sisters to the places they have been, to the awards they have won and will continue to carry them into whatever future endeavors they choose to do. Well done ladies and good luck in 2019!