Saddle Up America—A Success?

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The Horse Industry Alliance’s (HIA) inaugural Saddle Up America program, which took place this past summer, kicked off to mixed reviews around the country. The advertising and public relations campaign had focused largely on open houses, where people would have a chance to see and learn about horses up close. While the 250 participating facilities came nowhere near HIA’s early prediction of more than 2,000 open houses, Carol Alm, a past HIA chairperson who is acting as group representative, (Larry Anton recently vacated the post of executive director to pursue other interests) notes that, “We got unbelievably good feedback from farm owners who did participate and from people who attended.”

According to Alm’s reports, 250 farms, ranches and stables in at least 44 states hosted open houses, mainly this past May and June. The American Quarter Horse Association tossed approximately 600 people onto horseback during a two-day test ride in Amarillo. And 4,500 fourth and seventh graders in the Fort Worth school district attended the Saddle Up America kick-off held in conjunction with the Black Stallion Literacy Project and Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration.

Farms Welcome Visitors

Joy Harris and her partner, Anne Wood, were among the open house hosts, welcoming visitors to their Ananda-J Ranch, a small Arabian breeding farm in Nevada City, Calif. Says Harris, “We had a wonderful time. Although the turnout wasn’t huge, we had between 23 and 26 people attend, ranging in age from seven to 70.” Some were newcomers to horses, while others had owned horses years ago and wanted to get re-involved, she adds.

Harris and Wood handed out packets of information donated by Arabian Horse America and APHA, as well as their own folders of horse-care information. A selection of snacks and drinks was provided, but the main attractions were the educational offerings, which included:

• an exhibit of horse care supplies and equipment (sponsored by a local tack store)

• an acupressure/equine massage demonstration

• a continuous video on horsemanship and safety

• a yearling Arabian colt working with his new 13-year-old owner

Says Harris, “The point of Saddle Up America was not sales, but to acquaint people with horses. Still, we were able to give referrals to two local breeders, one trailer distributor and an over-40 trail riders’ group.”

Maureen Hamilton, owner of Diamond H Ranch in New Mexico, also held an open house. “I was very pleased with the information packet I got from HIA, but I also found the group very disorganized.” For Hamilton’s open house, she teamed up with two local galleries, the local pharmacy, the fire department, a vaulting team, shoers and the Boy Scouts, to name a few, and hosted a day of festivities and learning.

“I quickly realized that the event was going to be bigger than I thought,” said Hamilton. “I had to call HIA five times to get more information packets, and even when I got someone, I still didn’t get my packets in time.”

Nonetheless, the 350 people Hamilton hosted did receive packets from the American Donkey & Mule Association, which Hamilton believes was the main attraction in any case. “We surprised a lot of people when we showed them that the long ears do dressage, eventing, reining, you name it.”

Hamilton did note that the horse industry has always been too splintered and has never had any good initiatives to introduce people to the sport. “HIA has the right idea and the right information, they just need a little work on execution.”

For Mary Newton, owner of Ash Lane farm in Massachusetts, the open house she hosted “went well.” The 25 people who came mingled with stallions, mares and foals and were treated to a dressage clinic. “[HIA] supplied good information on how to advertise the open house and the packets of information they supplied for handing out were well put together, though they could have been more complete with breed information.”

Plans for 2001

Although no one has yet confirmed that Saddle Up America will run again next year, chances are good, says Alm. “Now we have the protocol, the materials, the forms in place, and it will simply be a matter of tweaking things next year.”

HIA will meet in Orlando in September, she adds, and next year’s program is sure to be a topic of discussion. “We have a strong, dedicated board and there will be another person or management company instated to take over the executive director role,” she notes.

For More Information

To learn more about Saddle Up America, visit www.saddleupamerica.com; for more information on the Horse Industry Alliance, go to www.horseindustryalliance.com.

Sushil Dulai Wenholz is a freelance writer based in Lakewood, Colo., who, as a little girl, caught the riding bug from her grandfather.