A Horse Show, and So Much More

'Jump for the Children' celebrates 40 years of incredible support for Duke Children's

By Miriam Sauls
Photography by Les Todd, additional photography provided by the 'Jump for the Children' Board 

Published as part of the Summer 2023 issue of Duke Children's Stories

“Nobody says ‘no’ to Joan Petty. Don’t answer her phone call if you don’t want to work,” says Barbara Bays with great affection. Bays is a longtime collaborator with Petty on the ‘Jump for the Children’ Horse Show, the longest continually held fundraiser benefitting Duke Children’s.

The show this fall, running November 8-12 and 15-19, will be celebrating its 40th year, and over the years has surpassed $3 million in fundraising.

Petty, a powerhouse in the hunter/jumper horse show world, has been with ‘Jump for the Children’ since 1985, but she fell into her role, not as an experienced fundraiser or horse show producer, but as a mom.

“I recall sitting in the stands with the horse show founder, Pat Holsten when our daughters were riding in the show,” recalls Petty. “And Pat said, ‘I need some help’ and I sat there wondering why is she telling me that? All I am is a pony mom and a school teacher. I don’t know how to run a horse show.”

Holsten had sketched the original idea of the horse show as a fundraiser for the hospital on the back of an envelope in a tack room where her daughter’s pony and her rescue horse were stabled. She had been regularly visiting a child of close friends who was battling leukemia at Duke Children’s and felt compelled to do something to help.

From envelope to reality, that first year, 1983, they raised $3,000 in the one-day show, but she knew the show had potential to grow and she couldn’t do it alone.

Petty decided to join the planning board, launching a legacy that has brought both change and meaning to her life and impossible-to-calculate value to the lives of sick children.

"I recall sitting in the stands with the horse show founder, Pat Holsten when our daughters were riding in the show. And Pat said, ‘I need some help’ and I sat there wondering why is she telling me that? All I am is a pony mom and a school teacher. I don’t know how to run a horse show.” - Joan Petty, Chair of 'Jump for the Children,' which is celebrating 40 years of supporting Duke Children's in November 2023. 

Glenn and Joan Petty stand in front of the riding arena at the James B. Hunt Horse Complex at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Joan and Glenn are white individuals in their 70s. Both wear glasses and casual riding gear. Glenn wears a blue had that says "Jump for the Children."


Petty may have seen herself as only a pony mom, but in fact her background provided her with unique experiences that contributed to her success and eventual takeover of running the show in 1990.

Petty grew up Joan MacNair, one of six children in a clan that understood hard work. After the untimely death of her father in 1965, her mother, also Joan, bought “a string of horses,” and the family started offering three-dollar trail rides and then riding lessons and Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs and day camps. She recalls working four to six hours a day every weekend. Their family farm became MacNair’s Country Acres and grew into a beloved Raleigh institution.

Joan Petty was joined by her now-husband Glenn Petty in the fundraising efforts. Though both had long been involved in the horse world— he was a rodeo rider for six years and had been the state horse specialist in North Carolina— they had not crossed paths because Glenn rode Western and Joan was a hunter/jumper equestrian.

He was the director of the James B. Hunt Horse Complex at the NC State Fairgrounds and by then Joan had founded Triangle Farms for providing training and shows and ran shows for other groups as well. “I remember going to him that first time about having a horse show over there and I was a nervous wreck,” recalls Joan. Glenn pipes up and says “Yeah, back then she was scared of me.”

But what a team they became when they married in 1991. ‘Jump for the Children’ is now one of the largest horse shows in North Carolina and the only true charity horse show, guaranteeing Duke Children’s $200,000, each year. And the event is an extended family affair. Joan’s late sisters Caroline MacNair Carl and Catherine MacNair Midyette co-chaired the event with her, as has her brother Colin’s wife, Bridget Gibbons MacNair. “It’s a lot of work, but I think of my parents,” says Joan. “They didn’t sit down and preach to us, but we knew that giving back to the community was part of our life.”

“A couple of phrases I always use to tell the story of our involvement in this show is that this is a horse show that makes a difference,” says Joan. “It makes a difference in the lives of sick children and nothing matters more. That’s how I sign my letters to our sponsors because in fact, nothing matters more.”

“Everybody’s heart goes out to the children,” says Glenn. But he also attributes the success to his wife’s powers of persuasion. “Many years ago, I remember Joan made 72 phone calls to sponsors and she got 71 positive responses.”


The Pettys are known for their extraordinary hospitality and doing all the extras to attract and keep people coming. “Having a horse show that you have a good feeling about is everything,” says Joan. “Along with our board, we’ve developed a lot of support of sponsors and friends over 40 years. And the intention is for people to leave this horse show with a smile.”

From a one-day to a two-week affair, the show has grown and grown, with 400-500 horses participating each week from up and down the East Coast. “It’s huge. We had 600 people last year at our sponsor dinner, and it takes a lot of extra people to help,” says Joan. ‘Jump for the Children’ is fortunate to have an active 20-member board, all of whom are sponsors and strive to bring in new sponsors.

The board is instrumental in pulling off the ambitious hospitality events as well—Wine & Cheese on Thursdays, the Exhibitors’ Derby Dinner on Fridays for the 20 or so vendors, and the Duke Grand Prix Sponsor dinner on Saturday evenings for the more than 130 sponsors and guests. The board also organizes the Duke Children’s Auction which generates approximately $10,000-$15,000 for Duke Children’s each year.

Funds raised have generally gone to support Duke Children’s areas of greatest need, but some have been designated for a research project at Duke Children’s that is a perfect fit for the horse show: the canine therapy program.

“Horse people are dog people too, so the whole idea of supporting dog research made perfect sense to us,” says horse show board member Bays.

“The dog therapy program was developed with the idea that for children, having an echocardiogram can be a scary experience,” says Piers Barker, MD, professor of pediatrics. “The question was, if we brought dogs into the echo lab, would that help children be more comfortable, would it help us get a more complete echocardiogram, and would the quality of the echocardiogram improve? And then as an additional step, would the parents overall feel it was a better experience for the child?”

Data is being gathered and analyzed, but anecdotally, the experiment seems to be working. 

“We’ve had young patients who are excited to come back to the echo lab because of the dogs,” says Barker. “How great is it to turn a medical visit into something a child actually positively anticipates?

“Joan and Glenn and the show board have been absolutely instrumental in helping us,” says Barker. “I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. I feel like I’m being trite to say this, but I am beyond honored and flattered and privileged and just grateful that they’ve supported us for so long. Something like this canine project is hard to get external funding for, so they’ve given us the ability to see it through.”

The Pettys with Anna Tyler, a young rider currently taking lessons at Triangle Farms. 

'Jump for the Children' offers two weeks of hunter/jumper competition, bringing some of the finest equestrians from up and down the East Coast. 

Family-friendly activities are provided at the event as well, including horse-themed arts and crafts for the youngest attendees. 


The Pettys give even more of their time serving as members of the Duke Children’s National Leadership Council. At the inaugural Duke Children’s Society Celebration luncheon last September, held for Duke Children’s donors who give $2,500 or more annually, they were honored with the Duke Children’s Hero Award, given to those who have shown an exceptional commitment to Duke Children’s through advocacy, support, partnership, and dedication.

“They are my heroes too,” says Holsten. “Starting this horse show is one of the very best things I’ve ever done in my life. Second to that would be finding Joan to take over from me!”

“I was fortunate to never have a sick child that needed a hospital, but if I did, there would be only one place that child would go,” says Joan. “Thanks to Pat for starting this show and thanks to Glenn for joining me on this journey and thanks to the whole village that makes it happen for Duke Children’s.”

I was fortunate to never have a sick child that needed a hospital, but if I did, there would be only one place that child would go. Thanks to the whole village that makes it happen for Duke Children’s.

- Joan Petty


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