Maren joins ADS Board of Directors

Maren Amdal, CAE joins ADS board

Hi. I’m Maren Amdal, CEO of HorseDriver Equine Equipment LLC and Chimacum Tack. I was recently elected to the board of directors for the ADS, American Driving Society. I am here to tell you a bit more about me, professionally, and to share with you my personal reasons for choosing to volunteer my time with this national organization.

A little about me & why I support associations

Humans are happier when we are connected. We live longer, healthier lives. Lives of purpose. Lives with meaning. According to a Pew Research Center study, more than 75% of Americans are involved with at least one kind of group or another – 24% with sports; 22% with charitable organizations; 17% in hobby clubs… It is this desire to connect with each other, to learn or teach, to share, to grow, that led me to want to grow my own career in support of non-profits and associations. In the mid-2000’s, after working with non-profit arts organizations for several years (following several years as a musician and performer), I set my sights on earning the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE); an effort which mandates a rigorous set of requirements including a tough exam and continuing education each year. Subject areas like board governance, non-profit budgeting & accounting, marketing, and membership engagement. I do this because I believe, as does ASAE, that associations make the world a smarter, safer, and better place. I get to have a small impact on my world by sharing what I’ve learned with the communities I care about.

I have applied the knowledge gained throughout my professional life – first as an arts organization leader, then a professional association executive director, and now as an organizational consultant working with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike. That’s my day job; my professional career. And I like to keep busy, so I’m also mid-way through a Master’s program in Strategic Planning.

Sound surprising?

In this space, while you may know me simply as the daughter of Janie Amdal the Harness Nana, I am really something of an unlikely tack shop owner. You can read more about the history of Chimacum Tack, but before I was a nonprofit exec and strategy consultant, I was once a horse girl. I loved my ponies. I spent hours in the barn, on horseback, in the field, sitting on hay bales. I showed in 4-H, and pony club. I rode trails. I did Western and English, and even had a homely old gelding who liked to speed through barrels. Every birthday and Christmas gift for most of my teens was horse gear. I grew up in my dad’s antique shop, a few steps from the barn. When we went to buy tack one Sunday afternoon, the closest shop was an hour away and the owner was rude – we didn’t look the part, or some such nonsense. We came home, and after a not-too-long conversation, Chimacum Tack was born: an addition on dad’s shop. I was 13.

To say I grew up in this business is entirely accurate. As a young teen, I remember designing the first printed catalogs we mailed out on our old PC at the dining room table; printing them on the fancy new inkjet printer; borrowing the school’s long-neck stapler to assemble them. So, while it’s a funny part-time foray from my career to be back at the dining table tonight writing a newsletter for what is now my tack business, I share all of this so that you have a chance to better know who I am and where I come from.

Many people want into a hobby that can feel inaccessible

Driving can be expensive! There is a LOT to learn. It can feel entirely overwhelming to get into this hobby/sport. If you start out on the wrong foot you can make costly and painful mistakes. Meeting another driver with different goals or poor information can lead a new driver to feel isolated from either the adventure and friendship of a long trail drive, or the fun and formality of a proper turn-out at a show ring.

Where to start? I want that answer to be always and obviously: The American Driving Society.

Why? Because there needs to be a history-keeper, and a rule-watcher, and a safety-worrier, and the consistency to feel confident that when you’re judged at one show it’s the same measurement as at the next one. Because all this needs to be done by an independent non-profit organization. HorseDriver, all of us at Chimacum Tack, want to give you as much access to information and education as we possibly can. But the broader community needs a central source for safety, for networking, for history.

ADS has the potential to bridge this gap

I have stepped forward to volunteer because I understand the purpose of associations and see the value that a national organization like ADS offers to the people who love this sport/hobby/community.

I’ve gotten to chat with several board members during my recruitment process. Current ADS Treasurer, Dan Rosenthal recently wrote to several of us a bit about how easy it is to lose sight of the big picture when caught in the daily weeds of being on the board. He sometimes hears from members at renewal time who question continued involvement:

Though many of their stories are about years and years of loving the sport and their beloved equine companions and the hard choices that age sometimes brings with it, many times I read “I don’t belong to the ADS because I don’t do CDE’s any longer so why bother since I don’t save on my entry fee” or some painful experience with a judge or the office or the website or a story in the Whip – (these folks all got one of my notes, and I am happy to report that some of them changed their point of view.) 

There will always be a rule we don’t like or a judge who thinks our circle is too small or someone who rubs us the wrong way. But that stuff is just one moment out of many years of camaraderie and learning and fun and in the end, it is those things that matter and not the day to day frustrations.”

Dan went on to talk about his experience attending the recent Brandywine Valley Driving Club (BVDC) event: their third annual Beginning Driver Camp at Yellow Pony Farm in Coatesville PA. He described watching the half-dozen happy hardworking volunteers donating their time to share the love of driving with 5 junior drivers and 3 adults. All of them riders and horse lovers; none of them with any measurable driving experience.

Over the course of five days they learned to harness and drive, and above all to be safe. I won’t risk leaving someone out by trying to list them all, but there were at least 6 licensed officials or senior drivers of the ADS donating their time and skill. Some of our best and most experienced teachers all there to share their skill and love of driving – and all so 8 people could learn driving! National and international champions who were not being elite athletes or worrying about being paid. I have participated in equine sports for 50 years and I am continually amazed and delighted by how our best drivers are willing to share with our beginners – often just to be a mentor. ADS members. ADS officials. ADS materials. ADS insurance. ADS in action at the most important level – helping new drivers see and feel and understand our passion and our fun. 

Events like this take place virtually every weekend. Our Regional Directors organize or support them. Our Clubs fund them and volunteer for them and run them. Our licensed officials teach or judge at them. Our office helps in any way that they can, and people learn, and some stick around and become the drivers who will carry the sport into the future. 

The ADS is a grass roots volunteer organization. Yes, we need to have centralized programs and rule-making and education and oversight of competitions and so on, but at the heart of it we are drivers who love equines of all sizes and all shapes and who drive because we love it and who share that love with others because it feels good.

That’s my why.

Concern from our community

You can imagine that I have heard a fair bit of noise about ADS over the years, too: The internal politics, issues with FEI and/or USEF, rule changes, canceled shows… Chimacum Tack hears all the time from long-time customers about a shrinking number of shows. One friend recently wrote: “Unfortunately the lack of shows was a major deciding factor in me not showing this year (chicken or the egg issue). I can’t justify months of training and huge monetary investment for one CDE that’s 8 hours away, and one pleasure show that’s close at 3 hours away.” And I certainly know the expense and huge investment of time and effort putting on an event of this scale requires. It’s no small feat – and so while I’m sad to see shows canceled and farms shutting down long-loved clinics and weekend workshops, I also get it. It’s a lot of work. And the people who’ve done this for years aren’t getting younger… This leads to another issue: We have to make this hobby more accessible to more – and younger – people.

I want you to know that I go into this board seat with clear eyes and an open hand. These issues are not going to be resolved quickly.

ADS has the potential to bridge a gap

All that said, there is a need for education among horse people, especially people who want to get into the sport and hobby of driving. We talk to customers every week – young parents wanting a fun family hobby they can do together with the ponies; retired riders who fondly remember younger days on horseback but no longer have the physical comfort to ride. And even to regular eventers looking for safety and opportunity and camaraderie.

For the sake of full disclosure, Janie and I have been ADS members because of our business on-and-off for many years. It’s been nice to become a regular advertiser with the Whip again these past few years, getting to know Abbie before she was promoted to ADS’s executive director chair. As a vendor, there will be places I get to recuse myself from board votes. But on the whole, I am looking forward to sharing my personal professional expertise and helping where I can.

So, why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish as a board member?

I want to see healthy happy horses safely handled by engaged educated horse people. I know the power of organizing passionate people around common purpose. I see ADS as the organization servicing this corner of the horse world on a national level, and I want to help it succeed.

How? We will find out – together. I welcome you to reach out to me: To share with me your past experiences, good and bad. To share with me your hopes, and your vision for a bigger better ADS

I hope you’ll keep an open mind to the potential for progress. Everyone I’ve met so far is working hard to build the ADS into a strong organization that can capably fulfill its mission. I hope I can lend my non-profit experience to helping this goal come to fruition.

Thanks for reading.


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