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Running a Successful Schooling Show - Any and All Advice Welcome!

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  • Running a Successful Schooling Show - Any and All Advice Welcome!

    I'm helping a friend plan a charity fundraiser schooling show, either in December or January most likely, and am looking for any advice to help ensure a successful show. Neither of us have run a show before, so we want to make sure that we have all of our bases covered and can actually make some money for our cause.


  • #2
    Make money at a dressage schooling show? Interesting concept.

    One money making idea I do for my little jumper benefit shows is to have the concession sponsored, and then have payments be on their honour (just a bucket with a slot for payment). DH was worried we would be ripped off, but just the opposite happened, and I thnk we received double what we would have charged.

    I also saved money by not buying competition numbers. People could make their own, and we had prizes for the most original number. Some just used store bought ones, but some were really in keeping with our charity (Canadian Blood Services).

    I shopped around for ribbons too. I found a person that supplies to ribbon stores and bought direct for 2/3 the price I would have had to otherwise.

    If you want to make it a repeat thing, make sure you have:
    1) A good judge; if you don't have one in mind, ask the people you want to have come to the show who they would suggest. Possibly tie the show into a clinic on the last day to further help pay for the judge.
    2) A legible scribe
    3) Ride times that aren't too tight and that allow for some issues with green horses to be sorted out, or for pokey lesson horses to make it around the ring.
    4) Know the rules as far as the ring should be set up and such, and have the rules on hand at the show.
    5) If you have the equipment, maybe offer a level of choice freestyle class so people can test out new freestyles?
    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


    • #3
      Our local chapter has put on a show for three years and while the first year, they just broke even, they manage to make money now.

      Definitely do not cheap out on the judge. A great, friendly, but still fair and realistic judge will make or break you for next year if you plan to do this again.

      Start begging for volunteers now. The more you have, the better run the show will be and the happier riders will be. Make sure rides go on time. Getting ready and then not being able to ride at your scheduled time is super frustrating. Adding a bit of extra time like CHT said is a good idea so the judge can make some comments and/or you can catch up if you fall behind.

      Make sure to schedule mini breaks both for the judge and possibly to use as catch up time. Have drinks, snacks, and lunch at the ready for the judge. Don't forget somewhere for the judge to sit comfortably, and if you use a vehicle, make sure it's something high like an SUV or pickup truck.

      Go to local tack stores and any other business who might be interested to have awards sponsored. We generally ask for something with approximately a $40 value. We've gotten Dover Saddlery gift certs, sheepskin half pads, a couple rounds of golf, free lessons from a local FEI instructor, and lots more. Offer high point champ and reserve champ awards at least. We usually do something else as well like best turned out, high point eventer, and/or high point junior rider.

      Since this is your first show, do have someone else do food. We make our own now to maximize profit, but it can be really hard to figure out how much to make and not have lots of left overs or run out.

      Consider offering eventing and western dressage tests, depending on your area and interest level. We do both and always have enough entries.

      Try a money back class - usually the second test in a level ie: Training 2. Charge a little more for it and then offer 50% of the entries back as winnings. Money back would of course depend on the number of entries.

      Make sure the arena used is big enough to have a true full size ring in it, especially if you are going to offer 2nd level and above.

      Take the holidays, travel plans, and the weather into account for choosing a date.

      Consider talking to your local chapter, maybe they will help! Good luck!


      • #4
        A short list of volunteers you will want/need:
        scribe, ring steward, at least one person doing the score calculations- two is better to double check, front desk check in person/manager/go to person, runners to bring tests to office for scorers, ring help if you offer prix caprilli, concessionaire or have a "on your honor" table with snacks and a money jar.

        Offer prix caprilli if you can. It might draw in some H/J types, or pony clubbers. Advertise to local pony club - they have dressage in their regional shows. Offer games such as dressage by the letters - (timed, enter at A, go through cone "gates" at each letter in alphabetical order - including those down the center line! - no callers allowed!!..) It's a great deal of fun!

        Do Intro tests in the small arena. Saves time and otherwise the tests are V...E...R...Y.....L...O...N...G....!

        Give the judge a 15 min break in the morning and afternoon, as well as lunch.

        Offer prizes for best turned out, or best saddle pad, etc. Have a donation jar near the snack table for donations to your cause. give winners the option of NOT taking a ribbon to increase your donation. Seek donations from local tack/feed/or other stores (maybe even fast food coupons?) for prizes. Maybe offer prizes for highest TB score, highest pony score, etc...

        Good luck!


        • Original Poster

          Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!! These are some very helpful ideas and ones I wouldn't have thought of!


          • #6
            --Advertise, advertise, advertise..using all your local media sources and equine related stores and grocery stores (we humans have to eat too!)
            --Don't scrimp on the judge, get a good one (word of mouth recommendations)
            --legible scribe (preferably the same one all day) is a MUST
            --feed your volunteers ALL day long
            --feed your judge ALL day long
            --make sure your volunteers know their job and make sure they are dependable, can't have a show without a scribe or scorer
            --make sure you have medical people on site
            --in short, a schooling/fundraiser show is run on the same premise as a sanctioned show only with less "tension" shall we say? ;-)

            I did several of these in Texas in a past life. Biggest thing was concessions arriving on time and staying ALL day and ensuring all volunteers showed up and not canceling at the last minute. Without the proper people in place, show won't go on....
            Bethe Mounce
            Head Trainer, AmeriCan Romance Equestrian
            Brentwood CA


            • #7
              Basing all this on the assumption that this is a legitimate charity. Not positive how this would work, but someone familiar with charitable donations should be able to answer: put together a list of possible judges you & your competitors would want to have, then solicit them with the idea of donating their time/fee to the charity. I'm thinking that this would work best if you had a local judge (someone who could drive in day of show) - or if s/he needed an overnight, might be willing to be put up in someone's home.

              Get a LOT of press: start at least 30 days prior with teasers/blurbs in local/area papers as well as any regional equine publications; closer to the day, try to get some pictures in these - of local competitors; have local competitors give you some quotes to use. Try to get newspaper/local TV to come take pictures - AND HAVE SOMEONE IN CHARGE OF meeting/greeting/showing around/pointing out what pictures would be good/getting a few minutes with a local competitor. Get the charity to put out info/include the show on their website.

              Make the show spectator-friendly: if you've gone to the effort of publicizing it to the public (see above), you don't want those you've attracted to wonder why they came. Again, have at least one volunteer available to introduce dressage to them -perhaps standing around in the most advantageous viewing area. This person could carry a sign "Don't know what you're looking at? Ask me!" or similar. Have a flyer - listing a couple goals/objectives/rules and what's expected in various levels in everyday English; why scores are posted and where to see them; maybe even a copy of a scored test - to hand out as people come in.

              Definitely need to address the needs of the choir, too - but we all talk about attracting new blood, breaking down the [perceived or real] attitude, letting 'outsiders' know that dressage can be useful to all. Wd can't do that unless we get them to come and act as though we're glad they're there.
              Last edited by ccoronios; Nov. 1, 2012, 11:40 AM. Reason: clarification
              Equine Photography in the Northeast


              • #8
                I second the advertise comment! Flyers at local tack stores, facebook promos, ads in local publications, ads at training barns - you have to fill up the show to make money! And yes, you CAN make money.

                Do get a good judge (L or higher), and make sure they will let you "out" of the contract if you don't fill up the show - or see if they are willing to judge on a $/ride contract, so they are paid according to the number of rides you have.

                Have enough volunteers - otherwise it will be sheer chaos! And treat the volunteers well - as already mentioned, feed them, and perhaps even consider a small gift or card at the end of the day. Volunteers include set up and take down crews before and after the show!

                Also second the comment - have plenty of different types of classes - Eventing, Western Dressage, Training and First Level freestyles, PDD and Quadrilles can all help fill up your day. You can even add a "walk only" class for people wanting to get their young green horses (or kids) out.

                Remember to have enough tests on hand - including a copy of each test for the judge, and at least one or two blanks of each test in case there is a problem with a test. I've had people show up and say they actually signed up for test 1, not test 3 - and they only KNOW test 1.

                If possible, get a local tack or feedstore or even a non-horse sponsor to sponsor prizes for high point and first place. Ask sponsors if they want to have a booth at the show - and ask other businesses if they'd like to rent (for a small fee) a booth.

                Be flexible, be flexible, be flexible!


                • #9
                  If this is to benefit a charity, please be transparent. Demonstrate clearly that the charity is a 501c3 (there are tons that are not). Be clear if 100% of proceeds go to this or if you are splitting them. Maybe have promotional materials from the charity on hand. If possible, provide a post-event balance sheet showing money in and money out to let folks know how you did. There are events (such as ACTHA trail rides) that do NOT share this info, so they will not get my business. Again, transparency is key.
                  Appy Trails,
                  Kathy, Cadet & CCS Silinde
                  member VADANoVA www.vadanova.org


                  • Original Poster

                    Originally posted by baylady7 View Post
                    If this is to benefit a charity, please be transparent. Demonstrate clearly that the charity is a 501c3 (there are tons that are not). Be clear if 100% of proceeds go to this or if you are splitting them. Maybe have promotional materials from the charity on hand. If possible, provide a post-event balance sheet showing money in and money out to let folks know how you did. There are events (such as ACTHA trail rides) that do NOT share this info, so they will not get my business. Again, transparency is key.
                    100% goes to the charity, which is a 501c3. We're asking the owner of the facility to donate it's use, as well as the judge her time (a friend and reputable judge). I have video, powerpoint, and flyers explaining the purpose. I'm thinking end of January might be better though, since a lot of people are already stretched and giving to other causes in December.


                    • #11
                      I agree with all above. Also to help make some extra cash for the charity maybe set up a raffle for a blanket or horse boots or something. Or you can have a little written auction. Set up the things to auction and have paper out for people to write down their bids with name and numbers. This way no one has to stay all day but you can call let them know they won and either mail or take them their items.
                      Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                      • #12
                        You might want to see if you can find a local, experienced secretary to help you and "donate" their time. They are likely to have appropriate tools for organizing entries, scheduling the ride times, and even scoring which will make the whole process much easier and smoother. The keys to a successful schooling show, IME (as a both a rider and a secretary for schooling shows), is have a good judge (positive, helpful comments), running on time (which means appropriate ride times in schedule and breaks to catch up if you get behind), being flexible (which mostly includes accepting late entries and sometimes allowing "non-legal" equipment), and getting the word out about the show ahead of time! Donated prizes are good, but IME, most riders are happy with a ribbon and helpful comments from the judge on their test. Good luck!


                        • #13
                          have to disagree with one point above - If you want to be respected as a schooling show, you must not accept non-legal equipment. (saddle pads and riders' clothing not included here - I mean bits, lunging equip, martingales, etc....)

                          Believe me, competitors will notice and complain, even if it is in the prize list.

                          (bits especially!)


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by lorilu View Post
                            have to disagree with one point above - If you want to be respected as a schooling show, you must not accept non-legal equipment. (saddle pads and riders' clothing not included here - I mean bits, lunging equip, martingales, etc....)

                            Believe me, competitors will notice and complain, even if it is in the prize list.

                            (bits especially!)
                            THIS ^^^^
                            Some additional thoughts: Signs on the property as to where trailers to park.
                            Don't know where you are located, but our Florida group does a Hawaiian themed schooling show - we did allow and encourage loudly flowered shirts! Even the judge wore one. And instead of ribbons, we purchased Lei's (sp??) in the appropriate color - very cheap to get.
                            End of January/early Feb you could do a Mardi Gras theme and give out beads.

                            I would recommend NOT going crazy on prizes; it will eat up your $$ pretty quickly.

                            Put a line on the entry form "Would like to donate $xxx to charity" where the fees are detailed, and you will hopefully get additional money - costs you nothing and you never know!
                            We don't get less brave; we get a bigger sense of self-preservation........


                            • Original Poster

                              Can anyone make a recommendation on a good place to get ribbons and numbers? I want them to be nice but not bust the budget!


                              • #16
                                CHOCOLATE. Makes great prizes if you can get a local shop to donate the good stuff. Otherwise, buy lots of hershey kisses and distribute liberally to all volunteers, show staff, trainers, parents, stressed out competitors, etc. Save at least a couple bags for your show staff at the end of the day. You'll need it.

                                Our experience is that it takes several years and/or several shows for the word to get out that your shows are well organized, well run, and worth people's time and effort. Especially in winter (you must be in a warm place?) people get wrapped up in the holidays, or the weather, and you'll need to be really, really compelling to get people to put aside family-related indoor plans for a day.

                                Do some rough math and decide how much you want to make on this show to be worth your time and effort. Then figure out what the market will bear as far as the amount to charge per test. Calculate the maximum number of tests you can *reasonably* ask of your judge per day (hint: this does not equal 8 hours divided by 6 minutes per test!). That gives you a rough idea of how much of your goal you can hope to make if you fill all your ride times. Decide if you want to charge haul in fees, stabling, office fees, etc. Then you'll have a rough idea of how much fund raising you will need to do, over and above rider entries, to make your goal. Add your expenses to that number (don't forget insurance) and assume no donated services (what if everyone you ask says no?). Then ask yourself, how on earth are you going to raise all that money - above and beyond rider entry fees - at the same time you're organizing a schooling show for the first time?

                                If I had looked at it this way years ago, there are a lot of things I would have done differently. I would have recruited a designated person to get sponsors, donations, etc = the "money in" person. I would have designated a show secretary, someone experienced in running dressage shows, to do ONLY that part of things. I would have had a facility person who would be in charge of all the facility-related details. I would have had someone in charge of recriuting, assigning, etc all the volunteers. Instead, two of us tried to do all that ourselves, which wasn't so bad the first year when we had 25 entries but it was completely ridiculous the 8th year when we had well over a hundred and were running two rings.

                                We stopped having dressage schooling shows because we didn't have a solid commitment from enough people, early enough in the year, to take on those 4 key positions. We started planning our summer series in January. Our shows didn't make a whole lot of money - maybe $1,000-1,500 - because we didn't have the right person to raise money above and beyond entry fees. We got a lot of goodwill in the community and I think people miss them, but the amount of work was out of proportion to the profit to the group.