Thoughts On The Indoor Show Season

Apr 18, 2011 - 10:48 AM

Our columnist examines some changes to the fall show schedule.

As the winter show circuits were thriving, three of our major indoor shows experienced significant changes that could have a strong impact on the hunter industry. As people start packing to move back to their summer bases, they’re deciding which shows to attend based on criteria like distance to their home, quality of the show and footing, and costs. The managers of most top shows have learned that they must make improvements in order to attract exhibitors, and the indoor shows are no different.

Let’s start with the Washington International Horse Show. Their board has signed a new three-year contract with the Verizon Center, which ensures this show will move forward. I’m hoping that sponsorship has stepped up and that the exhibitors won’t have to pay the ever-increasing price of running this show in the middle of Washington, D.C. Hats off to the organizers for running this show in a non-horse facility, but one has to wonder how long the board of directors can justify the expense.

Once we’re all in the arena and the show begins, the atmosphere at Washington is spectacular. But we cannot keep asking the same people—the exhibitors—to support this show. To show at Washington, you have to pay for two sets of stalls—one at the show and one at the layover facility—two hotels, and shipping charges between the two. And the prices continue to grow. The trade-off for the inconvenience and price is that the show has a great feel and excitement. But you have to wonder if these stand-alone shows, with one ring, limited stabling and  difficult logistics, can continue.

We Lost One

Organizers of the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament (N.Y.) have decided to close the doors on this wonderful jumper show. I say “jumper” because that is how the show started, with a schedule full of jumper classes, in 2003. In 2005, the National Horse Show partnered with Syracuse, bringing the ASPCA Maclay Finals to the show. And in 2008, the National Horse Show hunter divisions followed, in an effort to see if both shows could benefit.

We all wanted a recreation of the glory days of the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden to bloom from this combination of two great shows, but it didn’t happen. Since the National left Madison Square Garden in 2001, the NHS has been struggling in each venue it appeared, from the Meadowlands (N.J.) to Pier 94 in New York City, and Wellington (Fla.), and finally at the Syracuse Invitational. There is only one Madison Square Garden, and short of returning the National Horse Show to New York City, we all must move on. We can debate all day as to the reasons for the Syracuse show’s demise.

But the expenses of running a top horse show in a non-equestrian venue are prohibitive. And it was difficult to fit the hunter classes into the established jumper schedule in a way that showcased the hunters. Is it possible to find sponsorship to support a jumper show and hunter show? Are the higher-end jumpers and the higher-end hunters a formula that can be put together successfully?

Hats off to John Madden and his team for trying to bring a first class jumper show to the fall indoor schedule. The international flavor was something we had at Madison Square Garden years and years ago, with international riders showing. Hopefully, the National Horse Show can do the same.

A New Start

So now the National Horse show moves to the Kentucky Horse Park for 2011.

We will be in a top horse facility with a fantastic indoor ring. A second indoor ring will be available to host qualifying classes. There are lots of places to ride at the Park and a local population familiar with horses. The question remains if the NHS committee will make changes to keep up with the times. We cannot keep up with the same-old, same-old or again we will be relying on the exhibitors to make this work.

It would be great to make this a true national horse show. The elimination of the Maclay regionals would be a major step forward. Wouldn’t it be great if we could let all the Maclay riders show in the second ring in an elimination round? The final number (whatever it may be) could show in the ASPCA Maclay Finals in the main ring on the last day of the show. We would be back to an even playing field—all riders competing on the same day and over the same course. The extra cost of the regional qualifiers has become a factor for riders’ parents. With this class running in the Midwest section of our country, we may start to attract more kids to show in it.

Do we need to have the children’s, adult amateur and pony hunter divisions as part of the National Horse Show? In my opinion, the pony riders have one of the most unique and special events all their own in August, the U.S. Equestrian Federation Pony Finals. But the children’s and adult amateur riders also deserve to have a championship class in the main arena at the KHP—perhaps including the top 10 from each USEF zone.

Horse shows that use just one ring and span five days are difficult to produce. Unless they are heavily sponsored, the shows end up passing on the costs to the owners through entry and stall fees. Let’s hope the National will have the wherewithal to be able to give owners and riders something to look forward to without making it prohibitively expensive. Riders and owners can have a taste of what it’s like to show in that special arena when they get to show in one class that highlights their division, whether it’s in a classic or a stake class. Hopefully, this first year of the National at KHP will set the stage for further improvements.

The NHS organizers also plan to offer many of the jumper classes that were on the schedule at Syracuse. Hopefully the jumper riders will follow the National, and riders of all levels will be able to watch these superstars in a Saturday night grand prix—just like we did at Madison Square Garden and Syracuse.

So now it’s up to all of us to make the National Horse Show special with top competition in many divisions. We have to think outside the box. We cannot keep making the same mistakes. The trick is to put on a new show with the history and tradition that has made this show so important. I hope the National Horse Show can show riders the history and tradition of 128 years of the National right in the middle of horse country. Let’s make our owners covet having their names engraved on those beautiful trophies that have been with the show since its inception in 1883.

Susie Schoellkopf, of Buffalo, N.Y., is an active R-rated judge for hunters and equitation. She was a successful hunter rider and now is the owner and manager of SBS Farms, a training stable, as well as the executive director of the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center. She is a member of several U.S. Equestrian Federation committees and a founder of the Horsemen’s Advisory Council. Susie’s first Chronicle column was published in November 2002.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Thoughts On The Indoor Show Season” ran in the April 18, 2011 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

If you’re a Chronicle subscriber, you can log into and read all of the Between Rounds columns that were printed from 2010 to the present.


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