Monday, July 13, 2015

The show must go on

I, like most competitive people in this sport, show my and my clients' horses on a frequent basis. It means like everyone else I have to scrape money together to get five minutes in front of a judge to get scores for what goal du jour I have that year.

It's tough but it's apart of the job.

It's a tentative, balanced relationship between organizers, who put on recognized events in a waffley economy and with a scattered population, and the people who show and expect things like nice ribbons, low entry fees and reasonable scores. 

Recently, Region 2 lost a local show venue. It was a small Regional Qualifier show with just two arenas that ran a total of three weekends a year - six shows total.

I competed at this little venue on again and off again. I've taken my horses also to school there occasionally. It's not bad, but it's not the best. The footing was average, the stabling was alright, the warm up in one of the arenas was sketch city, and the secretary wasn't exactly all there somedays. You go there when you need a last minute score or just need to get a green horse out there for miles. It's quiet and it's about 20 minutes from my farm. It's not my favorite, nor is it my least favorite, it's just average and served a purpose.

Over the years, the organizers have poured countless hours, dollars and ideas into the show series. It's endured for better or worse, secretarial changes, horrible weather, and a few other items only to really see an overall decrease in population with rising costs. 

In other words, the ROI sucked and it became the white elephant. It had to go. With the show gone it leaves one host and venue in the state to dominate the area. Kentucky showing for dressage, and some parts of eventing has become a monoculture.

Not soon after Eventing Connect put out a piece on organizers not stepping up enough to do for competitors.

The timing between the closing and the article struck a small nerve for a variety of reasons, but mostly it's serving as a personal wake up call as an organizer that the business has irrevocably changed. 
I've been on both sides of the fence, as competitor and organizer. I frequently organize large-scale clinics, and I've been apart of show management before (both local and international). I respect that hard decision to cancel or not host. It sucks. However, if it's a choice between fiscal solvency and being a community player, I choose the money.  Every time. 

Because I run large-scale clinics, I'm privy to the numbers and to people's wishes. I'm literately a one man band when it comes to running things.
It's a point of huge pride for me to be able to give twenty something people at my largest clinic a goody bag of stuff (valued by the way at: $300-$500 per bag), an even larger point of pride that people; riders, sponsors, staff, facilities come back and invest their dollars into my program, business and trust the quality people I bring in.
But at the end of the day, this is a business. I need to earn a living, and at minimum break even, and I'm not shy about saying I need to keep a roof over my head and food on the table.   

If you run the numbers, at minimum to host a recognized show is $8,000 (for reference: large scale international clinics you're looking at closer to $10-20,000, for schooling you're looking at $3,000).

That's $8,000 before a single competitor (or sponsor) steps foot on property. That's your licensing, officials, travel, accommodations, food, prizes, advertising, et all., that an organizer is taking the liability on.

It's a huge gamble to take responsibility of that checkbook.

It takes at minimum, a three month lead up time, and an average of 60-100 hours to pull off a recognized event. Again, before the event ever goes off. That time, an organizer will most likely never see a penny for those hours, or if they do, they make the child labor in India look rather well-off. 

So to break even at a show, at $35 a ride (going price in Kentucky for Intro - 4th level), you need roughly 115 rides over two days (at worse case scenario assuming everyone just does two rides over the two days and no FEI rides). 

This cost and volume has also lead to an increase in schooling shows and the USDF Opportunity Classes, which show a stronger ROI and lower base costs associated with hosting. 

This forfeiture of the dates, alongside of the outrage of "why isn't my show organizer doing more and giving me more free stuff?!" has caused a big community outcry.

Which really makes me wonder, if the show and it's venue was that important- why wasn't there more done on the competitor side to assure the success and helping underwrite the costs of doing business?

Do you want free things in your packet, better ribbons, prizes, et all? Then volunteer to sign on sponsors. A lot of them. Or donate your own money, goods and services to buy the ribbons.

Do you want to help lower show entry fees? Volunteer for any position with management, not just the during show operations. 

You want a friendly, non-stressed out staff? Become apart of it. 

You want more regional/national qualifiers? Organize.

The answer is, and always was if you want the show venue to continue, if you want the organizers to keep organizing, support them. Not with words but with actions. We know we will never be millionaires and a thank you, alongside an appreciative crowd that pays its bills on time, goes a long way to keeping the population in ribbons and scores.

Show business is a business, and businesses aren't run off of wishes, they're run off of numbers and facts. If you want to support the economy of showing, clinics or any event then become an active part of that economy and put your wallet where your wishes are before they become relics of nostalgia.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

On the road again

For the last two years, my summers have been relatively quiet.

Yes, we did travel a little bit, taking trail rides and going to clinics; but for the most part my herd and myself were homebodies.

It was for a variety of reasons. Sinari needed to then concentrate on the GP work, Danzador needed to grow up (or get over cellulitus) and the dynamic duo of Flair and Haiku weren't around yet. The homefires were strong and the trailer was regulated to it's parking place at the house.

The homefires are put out and we're already off to a running start for the summer season. The season is steadily going forward with the girls working about six days a week, and trying to keep the appointments on schedule.

The trailer this year has barely been unpacked and remains a consistent fixture on my hitch some weeks. Good, bad and otherwise, I've missed the travel. 

Flair, for now, going out more frequently than Haiku, who had some unintended time off due to rolling in an ant pile. Both girls are again steadily progressing within the work. It's amazing how far they've come.

I know I'm bias, but Haiku is just flat out pretty and exceptionally mature looking for the age. I was so lucky to have found her and receive the backing to bring her along. While I'm itching for a four year old bid with her, I know that she will probably sell by the end of this year.

Flair who has been nothing but a joy to bring along, is more of a power ballad than anything else. She's my cup of tea. She has about thirty or so rides under tack and already has a steady balance point with a very powerful canter. Sometimes she just doesn't know where to put everything, but at the same time, she comes out and works 110 percent everyday.

The focus for both mares really has been the materiale and to see if we could make them land in the year end standings, and then later in August, the IBOP at the KWPN keuring tour in Indiana. We have been focusing on the tests, and ultimately it's where we will most likely end up this fall.

This July we're heading out of state to do one of my favorite dressage shows- Dressage At Lexington (just Flair, Haiku is staying home). I missed this show for the last two years for a variety of reasons. But namely just didn't have a horse peaking at the right time to send over.

Because of the required three scores, from three different judges from three different shows the goal to land in the year end awards is a tricky one.

The problem that we're facing with the materiale is that the majority of shows do not have it, or if they do have it, it's not being judged by sport horse breeding judges, which leaves us with some weird feedback or the class being judged more as a dressage test. So that leaves us scrambling for the scores on a local level (more oddly the new local USDF BC qualifying breed show doesn't have a materiale?) and spending more miles on the road.

Flair's schedule is Dressage at Lexington, Dressage at Devon and one more TBD show (either Virginia or Ohio). Haiku's is tentatively Devon, and then probably the Ohio shows. We are invited to the Spy Coast Championships (non rated), and most likely will qualify for the USDF BC in the Midwest. But doubt that we will attend simply because of the timing of the clinics I host and that I feel that we need to reserve the horses for Winter.   

If this was five years ago, there wouldn't be so much travel. But the economy and several other factors have really done away with the shows.

Breed shows, no pun intended, are a dying breed. They're expensive boutique shows that are highly contingent on economics, how good the organizer is, timing and how liquid/available the young horse market is. 

The other problem we're facing is time.

The normal season runs from October to September. Which, if you have an older horse doing tests isn't bad. You have plenty time to gain your necessary scores and qualifiers.

However the focus with the young horses, it becomes tricky because of the some of the age requirements (you have to be 36 months to be allowed in the materiale-- which leaves the the population starting to show in May/June/July), and the majority of the breed shows are either late summer (read: very hot, very flat horses) or fall (cutting it close to the deadline).

If your focus is the Young Horse Championships, like what ours will be come next year, qualifiers run from January to July, due to World Young Horse Championships. You also have to declare no later than April and then guard your average and hope that you make it to the top ten or get shipped out.

Combine with lets say, having a bad winter, inevitable growth spurts, real life items on your to-do list, getting training so you have guidance in development and your season gets pushed back or shifted around.

Despite all of this my group continues to push on and we'll see where we all end up. 

Living like we're renegades

May and now most of June was just completely non-stop with sales, lessons, clinic planning, personal items and shows.  I may have gotten a day off, but I couldn't really tell you otherwise.

I finally got back to my desk in May and put together Ulf Moeller's details and sent out. I adore this clinic because it focuses exclusively on young and developing horses. It's also held at one of my favorite facilities, High Point Hanoverian in Maryland. Ulf, who is popular as a teacher is such an asset to have in the program, and finally I have a few horses to go in the arena with him. I also have a lovely local clinic with Elly Schobel on the books who I'm looking forward to hopefully having out regularly as well.

Both mares are excelling. It's so nice to be back in my regular grind. It feel different this year with the majority of my barn being under five, it's a low key situation that allows for breathing room to keep things light but progressive.

Haiku looks just wonderful. Even through young horse moments, she's proving to be mature, capable and very level headed. Which is unusual for the breeding between Jazz and Ferro. The mare is such a good egg. She rides three to four days a week currently and another lunges two to three. She's also had some time off from time to time to keep her mentaly fresh. Physically she's very fit for the age, and beyond what we're doing currently there isn't much we can do.

So it's just a focusing on how good we can make the basics. With Haiku it's easy to fall in love with her gaits. For a three year old, she's developed easy 8 gaits all the way. Her next outing is in August, a schooling show, a clinic and the IBOP, with schooling outings in July. I wanted June to focus on development.

But, while we're in it to do well in the young horse classes, the real goal for her, no matter with who she ends up, is the Grand Prix.

For now, we focus on the tedious details that will pay off in about eight years.

It's hard to think down the pike when your focusing on somedays getting through an awkward growth spurt.

It's days spent on the ground stretching or doing things under tack that just mind little details, like how straight we can make her on non-supported lines, how clean those transitions can get or how square the halt can be or can she really follow the connection where ever we put it. Strength comes from the details- and with young horses it's all about making the details fun.

Flair is skipping right along.

Under saddle she's powerful and does whatever you want her to do, no matter how green.  For a mare that has had about 30 rides at this point, she's incredibly straightforward. She picked up changes (really accidentally) easily, and is schooling good lateral work. She's been off property a handful of times now, most recently to Meadow Lake and  Masterson Station to go school in the arenas some of the cross country, go see the dressage arenas, start thinking about tests and go for a walk.

Flair is on a similar schedule as Haiku, three days of riding and three days of lunging, which has been upped from her bare-bones winter schedule, and she's blossomed for it. 

 It's easy to forget that while physically she's older, but in reality she has less rides collectively than her three-year-old counterpart. The focus really has been to get her up to speed for the age group while developing strength. Her focus and capacity for work is huge, but because of the heat, and lack of strength she tires out. So we're especially careful not to burn out and create negative experiences. 

 We know this year is out for the FEI five year olds, so the focus is the six with a large late summer and fall schedule.