Do the horse shows that you attend operate as a part of the larger community or do they go their own way without regard to what is happening in the horse world around them? If you are a horse show manager for your stable or breed club, you may want to look at the world around your show as you plan your next event instead of operating in isolation. If your goal is to bring in competitors and spectators, and promote your breed in the process, then you need to look at the bigger picture.
Take Dressage at Devon as an example. This is a major week-long horse show in September that is considered one of the most prestigious dressage events in the country. This show is so well established that they are not going to lack for entrants no matter what minor changes they make, but this year they are moving their show date. Why? Because the Pope will be in Philadelphia on their normal dates. Show management recognized early on that a big event in the area is going to make hotel rooms harder to find than usual. Traffic will be worse than normal, and all of the press coverage will be centered on the Pope. Dressage at Devon is a major event drawing thousands of spectators. In their case, they are better off to avoid the stresses put on by a another big event — even though it is far from a horse show.
Sometimes, it can work the other way. The Radnor Hunt Steeplechases are run on the third Saturday in May, the same day that the Preakness is run an hour away in Baltimore. Instead of racing fans racing home to catch the second leg of the Triple Crown on television, Radnor usually keeps the grounds open after their card is done for the day, and shows the Preakness on their jumbo screens. The race broadcast gives spectators a little more for their money, keeps the tailgate parties running a while longer, and lightens up the crush of exit traffic after the last steeplechase race.
Major equestrian events get big and stay big by remaining aware of the world around them. Local horse shows may operate on a smaller scale, but they should try to be aware of what is going on in their immediate environment. If your club or stable is planning a show that should draw a lot of junior riders, you don’t want it to run on the same day as the local prom or graduation, and you won’t want to conflict with 4-H events or the county fair. What you may want to do is work together with other groups to coordinate your dates or even share a showground. If an exhibitor can travel to a show and get a chance to compete again the next day at the same site, in a different organization’s event, it becomes tempting to rent a stall and stay the night. If your entrants are more likely to want their show space out a week or two apart, you could coordinate with a nearby stable so that you alternate dates, giving riders a steady string of shows throughout the season that are comfortably spaced. Work together and put in a joint championship series awards program or a single combined championship show that counts points accumulated at both locations, and you can boost participation for both organizers.
Working with the community can go beyond the equestrian world. I go to many events where there are car shows running at the same time. There is a physical separation between the two, but the food vendors and other sales tents cater to both, and spectators wander back and forth, enjoying both. In addition to car shows, it could work for craft fairs, dog shows, running events, or many other activities. If two events can share a site, they can hold down their costs by sharing grounds rental, advertising expenses and other fees.
Exhibitors need to play a part in helping improve the shows they attend. Riders may have great ideas for how their local horse shows can be improved, but they will never get implemented if they don’t share them. When you are happy with a show, let them know it, and let them know about problems. If you miss a show in a series because it conflicts with something else that happens locally, the organizers may not be aware that entries are down for a particular weekend because it conflicts with a big event of a non-horse kind. They may not be able to change their dates this year, but if several riders let them know why that is a bad week, they can keep it in mind when picking next year’s dates.