Friday, Jun. 9, 2023

Plantation Goes Purple For Seema Sonnad

The eventing community came together on the weekend of June 6 to honor Seema Sonnad, an event rider, volunteer, mentor and beloved friend to many who passed away unexpectedly on May 27. Plantation Field Horse Trials (Pa.) invited everyone at their June Horse Trials to wear her favorite color, purple, in remembrance.



The eventing community came together on the weekend of June 6 to honor Seema Sonnad, an event rider, volunteer, mentor and beloved friend to many who passed away unexpectedly on May 27. Plantation Field Horse Trials (Pa.) invited everyone at their June Horse Trials to wear her favorite color, purple, in remembrance.

Organizers, staff, volunteers and competitors alike turned out in purple, and those that didn’t picked up a ribbon from the secretary’s office to wear. Eventers across the country joined in as well, sporting purple at their competitions over the weekend even if they weren’t at Plantation.

Sonnad brought her off-the-track Thoroughbred, VS Pass Play, from the beginner novice level to preliminary in the three years she’d had him. When she wasn’t competing, Sonnad could usually be spotted with sunglasses on and clipboard in hand, ready to help in whatever way was needed. Last weekend, volunteers came out in droves, honoring Seema’s memory by taking on the tasks that she did selflessly for years.

“She was always been willing to help because she knows that’s what keeps the wheel rolling,” said Denis Glaccum, the founder of Plantation Field Equestrian Events, Inc. “She symbolized the type of person that we need to attract to and keep involved in eventing if eventing is going to survive because you cannot do it without people willing to volunteer and take on whatever job.”

Plantation organizers provided purple ribbons for riders to wear to honor Sonnad.

Cindy Gilbert volunteers at Plantation every year, but was joined by a even bigger group of people from her Harvest View Stables in Manheim, Pa., than usual.

“We loved to be able to do something to honor Seema,” said Gilbert, who had known Sonnad through her work at Plantation and at the Fair Hill International Horse Trials (Md.) as well as through their mutual trainer, Missy Ransehousen. “She was such a fixture in the eventing community and was always, if not on course, helping out at events. I thought that it was really great that this was a way that we could all show our support.”

Plantation volunteer coordinator Melissa Roddy Wright, wearing purple in honor of Sonnad.

Missy Ransehousen, who trained Sonnad, rode Sonnad’s Thoroughbred gelding VS Pass Play, or “Keegan” in the open preliminary, division A on Saturday.

“I had planned to ride him; she and I had discussed the schedule before she had passed away,” said Ransehousen. ”It’s funny, when she first asked me to ride the horse, she was like, ‘Oh, well hopefully you can knock some points off of his dressage test.’ He’s a fabulous jumper, but he’s not always the best on the flat, and this weekend I did it for her. I got a 28 in dressage, so that was really special, and when I saw that score, I was like, ‘This is for you Seema, this is for you.’”

Missy Ransehousen on VS Pass Play at Plantation, wearing purple and with purple braids to honor late owner Seema Sonnad. 

Ransehousen and a group of other riders who had been directly connected to Sonnad wore purple for all three phases while many other competitors changed into their purple attire for cross-country and show jumping. Gilbert, who volunteered as a cross-country fence judge last weekend, said that more than half of the riders that galloped past were also sporting Sonnad’s favorite color.

“Looking out into the field you saw a lot of purple, which was wonderful,” said Ransehousen. “It’s amazing how many lives Seema has touched and the following that she had with everyone dressed in purple to honor her.”


The very BEST way to honor Sonnad—wearing purple while volunteering.

Sonnad attended all of Plantation Fields’ competitions each year, whether she was riding or volunteering. “Seema, being a professional with a professional career, understood what a job meant, which was to take it from the beginning and follow it through to the end,” said Glaccum, who has known Sonnad since she volunteered at Plantation’s first CIC. “We sit around all the time saying how busy we are, but if you look at what she used to do schedule-wise in a week – I guess not so much what she did, but how diversified everything was, how versatile: everything from ballroom dancing to wine tasting to her professional job to the horses to running. She also was, in a very quiet way, a great supporter to a lot of the young kids who didn’t have a lot of resources.”

Those involved with the event plan to honor her memory; Sally Ike, the USEF Managing Director of Education, hopes to plant a tree that looks out over the cross-country on top of the hill and Jeff Kibbie, who grew up with Sonnad in Michigan, wants to make a bench to put under the tree.

Sonnad was as active a contributor online as she was in person, regularly posting on The Chronicle of the Horse forums under the alias Scubed, a username selected for her three ‘S’ initials. The forum community came together in a thread to give farewells to their friend and share remembrances.

Jennie Brannigan sported a purple bracelet in Sonnad’s memory. Purple was the shirt color of choice for many on cross-country because it was Sonnad’s favorite color.

Sonnad, who was 52 and suffered a cardiac arrhythmia while running in a race in Seattle, was a tireless volunteer, avid competitor and beloved friend to many in the eventing world, but she was similarly accomplished in her professional life. A resident of Chadds Ford, Pa., she served as the Director of Health Services Research for the Value Institute at Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Del. Sonnad was a noted researcher in the medical field, published more than 100 times in peer-reviewed journals, and a fierce advocate for women in science. She’s survived by her husband Dr. Henry Glick, her father, Subhash Sonnad, and a brother, Rahul.

There is a service for Sonnad in Philadelphia this Thursday, June 11 at the Rotunda of the Philadelphia Academny of Fine Arts from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Melissa Roddy Wright wrote this lovely tribute to Sonnad…

“I don’t remember when I first met Seema, but I know from the very beginning I was drawn to her as another full-time working professional (albeit in a field that requires many more advanced degrees than mine) who was also eventing seriously and finding time to volunteer. She stood out as a Renaissance woman — her personal and professional interests were breathtakingly diverse — who seemed to defy expectations at every turn:

She was a Stanford Ph.D. in a male-dominated field and an aerobics instructor (when I got back into teaching fitness classes myself, she gave me some of her teaching CDs over lunch).

She was an eventer and an ultra marathon runner (either of which can easily take up all a person’s free time; only Seema would think of combining the two on top of a demanding career).

She was a ballroom dancer, wine aficionado, and die-hard baseball and football fan.


She didn’t have children, but she mothered, mentored and supported countless people in the horse world and in her field of health science research.

Heck, she was Indian and Jewish (I may be too provincial, but that seems pretty rare to me).

I was lucky enough to know her in both the horse world and the hospital world, and in either setting, she left no doubt that she was 100%, all-in committed to the work at hand. 

She did Big Things to make the world a better place as a researcher, driven to question the status quo and apply research in real-world settings to improve health care. As another friend stated quite beautifully, she loved teaching but she’ll be remembered best as a generous mentor and a champion of women and minorities in science, medicine and research. 

But Seema also did millions of small things that touched countless lives, and she did them without fanfare, approaching these leg-ups and kindnesses almost pragmatically, like “this person has a problem, I know how to solve it, problem solved, moving on,” without expecting the heaps of thanks her help usually deserved.

I think of the influence Seema has had on my life, and boggle to think at how many more people she has touched similarly: two of my current jobs, serving as volunteer coordinator for Plantation Field Horse Trials and working as a freelance writer for the Value Institute at Christiana Care Health System, began with simple recommendations from her. And we were casual friends, not besties from grade school. 

So I think about how many riders she has helped out in big and small ways, and I think about all the friends and acquaintances like myself who she has helped, and that is a whole lot of lives Seema touched and bettered.

Quite literally, I’m not sure five people could take on all the roles this one person leaves behind. She truly lived every day to the fullest. She did so much to make the world a better place and to help the people around her achieve success with their own professions and passions … and, as a volunteer coordinator, I can vouch for the unreal amount of time she volunteered on top of everything else. 

I have so much respect and admiration for her. I wish I had known her better, and am shocked and grateful when I think of how much of an impact she had on my life even without knowing her better.

I hope she is at peace, and I hope that all of us mourning today can find peace with her passing. 

So to quote a Lebanese poet who wrote one of his most famous works in English — because I feel like Seema might appreciate a send off from another expectation-defyer, and because this always comforts me in these situations:

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, so that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”

Rise and expand and seek God unencumbered, my friend.”





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