It's Show Time

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So, you want to hold a schooling show. You figure these low-key competitions can’t be as complicated to produce as some of those high-brow, association-recognized shows. And you’ve heard that schooling shows can even make a little money.

But that doesn’t mean you can slap them together on a whim and expect an event worth rave reviews. As with any show, producing a good schooling competition requires sound planning, tight organization, hard work and a dash of luck.

Profit Potential

For some people, profit is the primary motivation for holding a schooling show. Such is the case for Beth and John McCashin, co-owners of Thoroughbred Training Center in Mocksville, N.C., who have been hosting 24 to 28 shows of various types every year for the past 20 years. “Our consideration for having schooling shows was simply economic,” says Beth McCashin. “With a boarding operation and saddlery shop on the grounds, our choice was a lesson program or shows. We chose the shows.”

One element that helps schooling shows turn a profit is that they are relatively inexpensive to produce compared with most recognized competitions. You’ll have fewer regulations to abide by, in terms of officials, arena specifications and other potentially pricey details, says Dana Sachey of Raintree Ranch Equestrian Center in Santa Barbara, Calif. Sachey has been hosting schooling shows for eight years and produces seven to eight each year in various locations, including training dressage shows and a cross-country/dressage hybrid called The Event Derby.

A little creativity can further minimize your costs, she says. For instance, instead of having fancy, professionally printed premium books, make your own on a personal computer. And see if an area group—such as a 4-H club, a state/regional breed or sporting association, or even a school group—wants to run your concession stand. “At The Event Derbies,” notes Sachey, “our local Pony Club prepares and sells food to raise money, so that’s zero outlay for us. For awards, see if local businesses will donate items—coupons, gift certificates, ball caps, nearly anything, really. In exchange, the business gets free publicity in the form of announcements during the show and a listing in the premium.

The Must Haves

To put on the kind of show that will please competitors and boost your business, you need a few essentials. Must-haves include good footing, enough room to provide at least one show arena and at least one warm-up area, enough level ground for trailer parking and a way to provide water to visiting horses. Or, you might rent space at a county fairgrounds, or you might consider talking to another local barn about co-hosting an event at their facility.

Once you have the site, producing a schooling show that everyone will enjoy boils down to a handful of things, explains Sachey. “A good schooling show is well organized, friendly and accommodating to those who enter,” she says. “Basically, people want to have a good time at a schooling show and enjoy the day. Make people feel welcome.”

McCashin also believes in the basics. “Forget the huge entry crowds, forget huge trophies, forget the hype,” she says. “If your grounds are neat and clean, your footing good, your parking ample, and if you are organized and fair, competitors will come to your shows.”

Part of making the day enjoyable is ensuring you have enough people to help out. That includes someone to coordinate the parking and check Coggins papers before horses are unloaded, helpers to work the gate and hand out ribbons, and people to assist with entries, make sure the judge has everything s/he needs, and so forth. In addition make sure you have a good [public address] system that reaches the trailers and warm-up areas.

Fair, consistent judging is another schooling show must, says McCashin. This is one place not to skimp on funds: Hire an official judge who is qualified for the disciplines and levels represented at your show. To keep costs in check, look for someone local, so you can minimize or eliminate travel expenses.

Karen Brozek, a Ouray, Colo., judge who has put on some 20 schooling shows over the past decade, aims not just for qualified judges, but also for those who will help make the day a quality learning experience. “One of the best [traits] is if the judge gives feedback,” says Brozek. Many judges, says Sachey, actually look forward to schooling events for just this reason.

Make Your (Class) List

Before you can hire a judge, you need to know when your show will take place and what types of classes you’ll offer. And check with barns and associations in your region to make sure you do not have conflicting dates. If two or three events appealing to the same audience take place on the same day, everyone will lose participation.

You’ll also want to make arrangements in case weather forces you to cancel, notes McCashin. Will you refund entry fees, set an alternate date, or simply let the show go on, regardless? Make sure that information is printed on your premium list.

As for what classes you’ll offer, that depends on what your customers want, says Sachey. She recommends talking to trainers who may send numerous students and to associations whose members may attend.

At the same time, don’t go overboard trying to offer something for everyone, or your show will run too long. McCashin suggests pruning the list so that the show will finish in eight hours. “After eight hours, you’re tired and getting cranky and so is everyone else,” she says.

Friendly, Fun, Educational

At this point, you have the basic outline of your show in place: the site, the volunteers, the judge, the dates and a class list. The attached checklist will help you address the many other details you’ll need to fill in your master plan and pull off a good schooling show.

A List to Work From

8 to 12 months before show

  • Set a show date and an alternate bad-weather day
  • Create a rough class list/premium
  • Delegate volunteer committees
  • Hire a judge; have a back-up in mind

3 to 6 months before show

  • Secure other officials/show staff (some you’ll hire, some will be volunteers): announcer; show secretary; gate help and award presenters; crews for maintenance, jumps, trash, etc.; parking coordinator and Coggins checker; scribes, ring clerks, timers, bit/tail checkers, scorers, etc., as your show requires
  • Approach sponsors and vendors
  • Reserve equipment/accessories: portable toilets, trash cans; tractor/drag; jumps, barrels, poles, cones, trail obstacles, etc.; temporary stabling; PA system
  • Arrange for concession stand
  • Send Calendar of Events listing to magazines/newspapers

3 months before show

  • Mail premiums and post fliers
  • Reserve a show photographer and videographer
  • Run advertisements
  • Order awards
  • Arrange for human/horse emergency services (on-site or on-call): ambulance/EMT; veterinarian; farrier

One month before show

  • Check your insurance coverage
  • Confirm arrangements with show officials, photographer
  • Make follow-up calls to key trainers and competitors
  • Have show secretary start working on entries

Two weeks before show

  • Send out ride times (if applicable)
  • Mail press releases
  • Prepare horse/human first-aid kits

One week before show

  • Prepare show grounds (including warm-up and parking areas)
  • Make any needed signs (such as for parking directions, ring numbers, show office, etc.)
  • Prepare welcome letter (with information such as where to find horse water, when and where lunging is allowed, where to dump manure, etc.)

Night before show

  • Post all tests and patterns, such as for trail, dressage, jumping, reining or equitation classes
  • Post all signs
  • Make sure all needed accessories (such as barrels, jumps, cones) are handy.

Show day

  • Have volunteers in place early
  • Have parking coordinator hand out welcome letter and check Coggins papers as competitors arrive
  • Ask participants what they like about the show and what to improve
  • Play fair and be consistent in sticking to the rules

After the show

  • Review the event with your volunteer group
  • Send thank-you notes to volunteers, sponsors, vendors, key trainers
  • Return all borrowed/rented equipment and accessories in good condition. 

—SDW