The Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival launched big in 2018 with multiple CDIs and masterclasses featuring dressage heavy hitters such as Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Graves. Southern California suddenly rivaled the Florida circuit with Fédération Equestre Internationale options. But just two years after the festival’s high-profile debut, it came to an abrupt end. The U.S. Equestrian Federation declined to renew the show’s license for 2020.
“The decision to discontinue the 2019 license for the West Coast Dressage Festival was the result of the organizer’s failure to satisfy conditions agreed to by the parties,” said Bill Moroney, CEO of the U.S. Equestrian Federation. “We are actively working with organizers in the region who have expressed interest in obtaining new competition licenses, and we will continue to support efforts made to offer CDI competition on the West Coast in 2020. Final approval of the 2020 calendar from the FEI will take place during the General Assembly.”
Scott Hayes, founder of the West Coast Dressage Festival and owner of equestrian event management company SH Productions, said the festival lost money both years. The Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival was Hayes’ first foray into running competitions.
“The financial struggle was just too hard to a certain point; that’s why USEF decided that they did not want to continue with the licenses,” said Hayes. “They wanted to make sure it was something that was going to be financially successful, and we could pay the bills, which, to the current point, had been hard. Even after revising the business plan and model each year, moving venues, reducing expenses, it still couldn’t quite work.”
The Canadian resident had managed a variety of non-equestrian businesses before founding SH Productions, which produced educational dressage events. In September, the production company scheduled a dressage clinic in Calgary, Alberta, with Laura Graves, but Graves pulled out of that clinic and one other after accusing SH Productions of mismanaging the funds, according to Dressage-News. Hayes denied such claims and said the event was canceled due to a lack of ticket sales. SH Productions is now on indefinite hiatus as well.
“There was a lot of hype and discussion about [the festival], but it all costs money,” said Hayes. “Ticket sales were very low for those masterclasses, but the cost of them was very high. As for entries, the numbers were low in Year 1 as we were just starting out, much under what we had budgeted based on market research. And then in Year 2, the weather really hindered us, so competitors weren’t able to ride because a lot of the riding was outside at the competition and at their own training facility.
“As any person who has to close a business [that] yourself and others have invested so much in mentally, physically and financially, you always think back to what could’ve been done differently,” added Hayes. “That’s all I think about really. I wish that I would’ve asked for more help, not only financially, but gotten more people involved from the surrounding community. That’s the only way that I think something could go forward in the future, with good community involvement in the business itself. But at the end of the day, someone has to be financially responsible if the numbers are not there. I also think I would have started smaller and more basic, as opposed to trying to be so big from the beginning. That was my choice to go that route; I have big visions, and I accept the responsibility of all these decisions.”
Robert Kellerhouse, facility manager of Galway Downs Equestrian Center in Temecula, California, which hosted several of the festival’s events, hopes that a syndicate will step up to provide riders with qualifying shows.
“At the end of the day, there’s definitely a market for upper-level dressage out here in Southern California, and there’s absolutely a strong desire to support that level of competition,” said Kellerhouse. “I’m working to try and reengage a group to continue to advance that effort.”
Marie Meyers, owner of Marie Meyers Dressage in Moorpark, California, supported the festival and brought her own horses and students to compete.
“It wasn’t for lack of support from the community, that’s for sure,” said Meyers. “There were many sponsors who gave money and who really tried to keep these afloat. It was just unfortunate that when management did decide to put these on, there were just too many shows. I think management tried to do their best to make it a big circuit, as in a Florida situation, but it was just a little bit too big of a vision too quickly.
“I think by next year, a lot of the show managers and organizers will get it going again, for sure,” she added. “I think as of this point there are four CDIs, three or four of them happening for sure that we know about. So I think it will take a year or so, but I think everybody will figure out what’s going on, since many of us had planned on that circuit happening, and it’s not going to.”