Jenny Belknap ’90: How Competitive Horseback Riding Helped Her Succeed in Her Corporate Career

April 9, 2020

Jenny Belknap ’90 can’t remember a time when riding horses wasn’t a part of her life. Her mother, a riding enthusiast, used to take her along to the local stables when she was just four, and Jenny recalls hanging over the side of the fence, already eager to be on the other side. By the next year, she started lessons, and by six, she was in her first horse show. “I loved everything about it from the moment I started,” says Jenny, “the horses, the barn, the friends.”

Soon, she was riding every day, and began taking competing seriously. She says competing at that level and winning required discipline, and as she got older, the ability to balance the hard work she needed to put into riding practice with her studies. She even wrote a five-year plan to convince her father to buy her first Equitation horse. “I definitely applied what I learned in riding to my school work, which helped me be organized and prioritize my work so that I had time to devote to my classes and my riding.”

Her hard work paid off. At Walker’s, Jenny qualified for the Medal, Maclay and United States Equestrian Team (USET) Finals each year. She also won the Connecticut Hunter Jumper Association (CHJA) Medal Finals and qualified two small junior hunters for Harrisburg, Washington and the National Horse Show. She also won numerous awards at Walker’s for both her academics and athletics, including the Brunhilde Grassi Cup, the Frank O.H. Williams Cup, the Voorhees Cup and the prestigious Beatrice Hurlburt Memorial Prize, which is given to a student of outstanding character each year.

“I think my success at Walker’s was due to the fact that I was doing what I loved – learning and riding – and I was incredibly well supported by my parents, the school and my friends,” she says. “I worked very hard – I had my own self-designated cubicle at the library – but I was very lucky to be part of a community that was also invested in me fulfilling my dreams.”

Today, Jenny is Senior Vice President/General Manager, Clinique North America. She has spent her entire career with the Estee Lauder Companies, having joined the company after graduating from Tufts University and returning after attending Harvard Business School. In her current role, she is responsible for everything from marketing, creative and account management to field sales and education.

Succeeding in the corporate world has required the same discipline and drive she fostered with her athletic and academic achievements. She also says that Walker’s prepared her to take on leadership positions. She was on Walker’s Judiciary Committee, led the Riding Team and was elected president of the student body. This latter role, she says, was “critical” to her development as a leader. “Sometimes I think back to my days of running Morning Meeting or having one-on-ones with Dr. Bonz, our head of school during my time at Walker’s,” she recalls, “and feel they were not that different than meeting with my team or my boss at Clinique today.”

Although work and family keep Jenny busy enough that she no longer has time for riding, she is still active in the community. She stays connected through her husband, Timmy Kees, who is a trainer and judge, and as chairman of the board of the EQUUS Foundation, the only national animal welfare charity in the United States totally dedicated to protecting America’s horses and strengthening the bond between horses and people. Since 2003, the foundation has awarded more than $4 million in grants to deserving equine charities.

The foundation and its success is the culmination of years of bringing her passion to life. “I am incredibly proud of the work we’re doing,” says Jenny, “and believe it’s the least I can do to both advocate for and celebrate the power of horses.”