You might have heard a new voice inside the Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City, for the 6666 NRHA Derby presented by Markel. Chelsea Sutton is the first female announcer to ever call the show from the main arena at any NRHA major event.
How did you get started?
“I started announcing 12 years ago. I was 19 years old, and the announcer of the Carolina Classic Derby didn’t get off the plane, and I had to fill in. I was unprepared and inexperienced. By the lunch break of the first day, I was smitten.
“I never had a problem talking. My parents probably nurtured that when they said, ‘she’s not bossy, she’s managerial.’
“It was by accident that I realized I had a knack for being able to command a room. Once I learned how to use that to truly create a unique experience, an environment, a vibe – I started to do things like announce horse shows, lead youth retreats and speak at marketing conferences.”
How did you feel when you got the call to announce at The Derby?
“May I answer you with a re-enactment:
“A call out of nowhere from Cheryl (Cody) begins with ‘Chelsea, are you sitting down?’ I said, ‘Well, now I am.’
“She continued, ‘Good, because I’ve got some bad news. I won’t be able to hire you for the Adequan® Arena.’ The pause that followed felt like an hour. Of course, she followed up with ‘Because I’ll need you in the Jim Norick.’
“It was an incredibly special moment for me. I had worked at NRHA majors since I was in college, and never expected to be sitting at the top of the arena. The fact that she believed in me and is willing to stand behind me while I serve my industry means more than she’ll ever know.”
How does it feel to be the first woman to ever announce a major reining?
“Surreal. Epic. An honor.
“There have been many greats before me on the microphone that I’ve been able to learn from—to be in the chair that so many have sat in after only 12 years of practice is the greatest honor of my reining career.
“As for being the first female, I see myself as Chelsea first, woman second. I’ve never felt my gender was an obstacle for me in the sport of reining. I have had amazing cheerleaders and pioneers -men and women, show producers and exhibitors – who have rooted for me, trained me and opened doors for me. If they had not believed in me, I would not be here.
“I do hope my work on the microphone this week is an inspiration to others, both for women and anyone who feels they have been looked over. My career is a testament that if you set out to serve people, and stay committed to your vision, even if it is out of the box, it will pay dividends in its right time.”
Tell me about your connection to the reining industry?
“Everything great that I am is first because of my great parents. My father taught me business and reining. My mother taught me how to deal with people and carry myself with class.
“I was born on horseback. My dad Brian Dygert started as a reining trainer, and my parents produced shows such as the Erie County Fair horse show and the Carolina Classic Derby. As I grew up, my dad became heavily involved at the NRHA level. He is a visionary. He saw the future 10 years before anyone else. As the 2002 past president, he was a pivotal part in reining’s elevation to an international stage via the FEI and invested the better half of his career to the development of the NRHA judges’ program.
“My uncle Duke Dygert is a judge and reining breeder, my cousin, Kirby, is a reining and livestock announcer— you can catch her in the Adequan® Arena. Half of my family is directly involved in reining, and the other half are wholly supportive.”
What do you do outside of reining?
“All things in my life could be summed up by my title of CEO— Chief Espresso Obtainer. I drink a lot of coffee, and I am the founder of two marketing agencies, Visbiliti Creative in the East Coast and the ConsultMent Agency on the West Coast. Both are digital marketing agencies focused on bringing business owners more personal freedom and business growth.
“I am the Partner in ReinerStop, an online brand providing real, raw conversations and reining education. We are approaching reining topics differently than it’s ever been done and we aim to open the door for 100,000 people to get involved with reining in 2021.
“I have a few pit bulls and a Reiner at home that teach me new lessons about life daily.
“I’m wife to a genius and amazingly supportive husband, Travis, who teaches me new ways to love, daily.
“I enjoy long walks on the beach—really, I do! And, if someone asks I will two-step or country swing dance to everything from hip hop to Hank Williams.”
You have a big social media presence, what does that mean to you?
“Social media has given me the ability to connect with people I never would have had access to and share my love for my work with those who have never even seen horses.
“To make sure I stay familiar with how all social media sites are working, I am an active user. I don’t get to post as frequently as I advocate for clients to. Isn’t that funny, the trainer’s horse is always unfinished.”
What was your favorite memory in reining?
“It’s the small moments, the quiet moments, the personal moments in reining that have changed my life.
“It’s the early mornings, getting coffee with the arena crew and a few exhibitors, and realizing that I’m not the only one addicted to this sport… and caffeine.
“It is the late-night dinners after a long day of classes, when a judge shares about the research development of the system and their passion for judging.
“It’s the relentless pursuit of excellence: when I see competitors start early in the season at affiliate shows with such raw unfinished horses and make it to the finals as an underdog and electrify the crowd.
“It is the song requests from exhibitors and watching them light up or tear up as they round the pen for their final stop.
“It’s getting home from a long show, and having nothing left to give, and stepping in the stall with my gelding and getting loved on and cuddled with.
“In reining, it’s the horses and the people that are my favorite.”
“If I had to identify just one memory though it was Sunday night, here at the Derby. Standing on top of the announcers platform at the end of the coliseum, on Father’s Day, and realizing that my father not only paved the way for growth and innovation in Reining, but he paved the way for my career and success. That’s been my favorite moment yet.
“Although, ask me Sunday, and I’ll probably say announcing the winning score on Saturday!”
How do you take care of your voice?
“As a competitive high school cheerleader, one of the things we were judged on was our volume and how well our chants carried in the stadium. I learned how to speak from my diaphragm rather than my throat or top of my lungs, as we usually do when we talk.
“While at a show I try to stay hydrated. I minimize extreme colds and hots to keep my vocal cords safe. Yes, I still drink coffee, I just give it a few minutes to cool. Triple shot latte, coconut milk, one pack of honey, if anyone is asking.
“Also, if I feel my throat get dry or tired, warm honey water or tea. Local honey is my favorite as it’ll help me acclimate to the local pollen and allergy stimulants, but any honey will do.
“While at home I’ve learned from my cheerleading days to do cardio while talking or singing. I’m not a runner, but I will do about 15 miles on my bike each week and I’ll take phone calls or practice long-winded phrases.
“Rest is more important than I gave credit to when I was younger. Before a show, I do my best to get two to three nights of really good sleep.
“I’m a student of my craft and continually learning new things. A reining friend and auctioneer, Daniel Miller, recently shared some tips that I’ll be implementing, and I’m always open to learning new tools.”