If you ask someone what makes a person an expert, you may receive different answers. For Lee Erlin, having spent more than 3,000 hours scribing certainly would make her an expert in her field.
“I was a rider. I taught my kid to ride, and we got into reining by accident,” she said. “I would go to shows and stand around. We only had one horse and I didn’t think it was fair for us both to compete on the same horse, so I let her do her thing. She was 12 years old and had it all figured out so I thought ‘What am I going to do?’ I started to help at the gate. Then they needed a scribe.”
Her first show was with one of the most esteemed judges in Australia and at a state show. It was high stakes and five days long, but she got a crash course and was thrown in the chair.
“It taught me to sit up, pay attention, listen and not wander your head off anywhere else. I figured I could continue to help in that capacity,” she said.
Lee has now been a scribe for more than ten years; however, the way she gives back to the industry extends far past the show pen.
“It might be some weirdly maternal thing, but for me, I feel very much like the judges’ experience needs to be the best experience possible,” she said. “For me it is about grabbing them at the airport, getting them settled, having home-baked cookies—things to make them feel like it’s their home away from home. It is really important that they do their best job possible, but also that it is the best experience possible. Why? Because it will make them come back and we love that.”
“People have referred to me as ‘Den Mother.’ It has been good for me to make people feel welcomed in Australia and that they want to come back. But also honing my skill was really important to me—that I never missed a score or penalty and that my math was always correct. I go to bed at night after a long day. I get in bed and I am still counting spins. I might just be a special kind of crazy.”
Lee believes everyone has the ability to help, but you have to be the right kind of person for the job. Whether it is a show manager, secretary or scribe, it is up to everyone to give back in their own way.
“I have no skin in this game, but I always felt like I wanted to pay back the industry that molded my daughter,” she said. “She got to go ride on a collegiate team in the states. Why? Because she spent her formative years riding in NRHA. It helped her get into college and get on a team and I felt like I needed to give back to the industry.
“To be honest it helped raise her. It helped her be who she is today. The drive and passion she still carries today, I am convinced, is because of her last ten years in reining. She has this extended family of reiners who have helped her along. That’s what NRHA is to me—a great big family of people that all want to do the same thing.”
Lee is full of colorful stories of all of the judges she has had the pleasure to sit by including mapping out a running route for the late NRHA Professional and Judge Joe Hayes to be sure he was safe. Every day he ran a five mile route with the map she made him in his pocket.
She once drove NRHA Judges Chair Dean Latimer and NRHA Professional Pat Wickenheiser across Australia after a flight cancellation at a small, regional airport had them missing their connections. “I haven’t talked to Dean in five years, and when I called to help organize a judge’s school here he said, “Lee, I have never forgotten your kindness to this day. I will always do whatever I can for you. Those things for me I will never forget and they are super special to me,” she said. “There hasn’t been one person I sat with that I didn’t just love.”
Lee tells everyone there is a benefit to sitting in the chair, and she learns something every day. Whether it is a competitor or a family member, there is always a positive outcome.
“Competitors, if you can take time to get in that chair, do it,” she said. “First, it is the best seat in the house, and what you can learn about showing is so valuable. It is also a really good place to be if you have a kid or partner competing and you don’t compete yourself. You can help your kid or partner by learning.”
Lee has now scribed all over the country and for every major event.
“I feel really blessed to be able to do this,” she said. “If more people tried what I did, I might have more competition. They might say ‘Get out of the chair. I want to do this today.’ The friendships you develop by sitting with these judges develop great relationships outside of the chair. In today’s world to be able to trust somebody like that is pretty cool.”