The 2003, 15th Annual Fair Hill International, host of the Pan American Eventing Championships, not only was truly International,” it was a weekend for which the entire State of Maryland could be proud.
Blessed with unusually beautiful and balmy weather, FHI enjoyed record crowds. This was a plus, as FHI also enjoyed un-precedented recognition from the State, with the Lieutenant Governor Michael S. Steele on hand Sunday to enjoy the day and present the trophies. Thankfully, Fair Hill’s legendary rains did not fall this weekend, so perhaps it was Mr. Steele’s presence, and if so, we hope he will grace us again and we can continue to foster the illusion that all of us ride under perpetually sunny skies!
Evidence of this is the growing number of quality sponsors, sponsors that are not equine-based businesses. Equestrian events that rely solely on equine industry sponsors put themselves in a tenuous position. These feed companies, pharmaceuticals, saddle makers and others are approached by every show and event in the country, large and small. Wells are only so deep, and once they dry up, everyone loses.
Additionally, by focusing on equine industry businesses, organizers fail to establish the local base of support that is so necessary for this success of a spectator- driven event. By establishing relationships with local affiliates of national businesses, shows and events can tap into a new spectator base, working with the sponsor’s contacts to pull new viewers into the grounds. Likewise, the event gives the sponsor a unique opportunity to reach a demographic they are unlikely to reach any other way.
Well, FHI seems to have figured this out, and this year evidence of non-equine industry support was prominent. Sponsors such as Wilmington Trust, Glenmede, Sentman Distributors, Inc., Archer & Buchanan, Century 21, Jeff D’Ambrosio Chevy, and Wachovia received good exposure for their dollars, and the Lexus cross country test course was an outstanding example of a win-win arrangement.
FHI continues to build good partnerships to attract a wider range of spectators. After reader complaints, organizers brought back the dog agility trials. This year they added sheep herding, a classic car show, a pony club national championship, and pony rides. Horse people like dog agility and herding dog folks are awed by the horses, and everyone enjoys the cool old cars which & a great place to drop off a spouse not interested in animals. The children’s activity area was a huge hit, with the pony rides, coloring and horse crafts.
Spectators of all persuasion (being horse folks and others) appreciated the spectator wagons, sponsored by The Equiery, that moved them to jumps. This one addition has made a difficult spectator event now spectator friendly, and is sure to encourage people back. Additionally, FHI enjoyed cable coverage this year. With help from the USEA, coverage of the events appeared on the Outdoor Life Network.
Fair Hill now has a solid and outstanding package to offer everyone, spectators and sponsors, and now that they have established this, we hope that next year they will attempt to promote this fantastic package.
”I’m a sponsor,” noted John Nunn, Bit of Britain, “and my tack store is just down the street, yet we got nothing, not a brochure, not even a poster promoting the weekend.” More than one Equiery reader let us know that if they had not read about the Pan Ams in The Equiery, they never would have known they were here.
It was quite evident that organizers probably enjoyed the largest gate they have ever seen. We hone that this success doesn’t obscure the fact that they have barely scratched the surface of what could be, in terms of attendance, and we hope that they will increase their profile in both the general and equine media in coming years. You have a great package! Now, let everyone else know! You will be rewarded for this effort with increased sponsorship, we know!
Fair Hill has had two strong years in a row, providing it, we hope, with a solid foundation upon which to build for the future. They are still learning, massaging and tweaking. One reader noted that she goes to several three day events, and that FHI is the least organized of them all. One can sense that just under the surface, such as during a baffling two hour, prime time lull on Sunday in which FHI had a captured audience eager to view any activity in the arena. As one survey respondents noted, “I missed the four-in-hand to watch the show jumping, and then had two hours of down time! Now why would they do that when they could arrange it so we could watch both?!”
Nevertheless, Rome was not built in a day, and FHU is a work in progress, learning and growing each year, and for the last two, the improvements have been on a steady upward trajectory.
To Fair Hill organizers: you have created a fantastic weekend. Fair Hill has never been better. Now, go sell it – to sponsors and to the general public.
Unlike Washington International, almost 50% of the survey respondents attended FHI more than 1 day, with the most popular day Saturday, of course, featuring cross-country, next Sunday. 95% of respondents were already aware of the event, and 5% just discovered it, and for those who were new, they learned about it from a friend.
REVERSAL: While we realize that the survey is inherently biased toward readers of The Equiery, equine publications are the primary source of information for respondents, approximately 55% cited equine publications as their primary source, and 45% sited the internet. 50% of the respondents sited the internet as the secondary source, about 33% citing the telephone, and the rest citing the ticket booth. Perhaps the publication promotion is then driving the audience to the internet, but that is hard to determine from the survey.
In general, FHI received high marks for each of getting information, and for quality and accuracy. However, those who relied solely on the internet for their information were the only ones who gave low scores for ease, accuracy and quality. Conversely, one in Pennsylvania respondent noted, “Only The Equiery gave complete info!”
Very few purchased their tickets in advance; with little fear of FHI being “sold out,” most just purchased their tickets at the gate, and FHI get high marks on their ticket booth and on their prices.
KUDOS: Scores keep inching up for the announcer, but considering that they were in the mid 9s last year, and this year they are in the high 9s (9.96, 9.84, and 9.88), they are about ready to top out. Good job!
A little over 90% felt that the announcer provided good background information on the horse and rider. A little more than 10%, about 12% felt that the announcer did not provide enough information about the phase or the requirements for that phase, an improvement over last year when 33% reported dissatisfaction. However, more than 15% said that they didn’t hear anything about the ranking of the horse and rider, which was up a bit from10% last year. However, less than 4% reported not understanding how the competition was judged. 100% felt that announcer added to their enjoyment.
About 85% came in contact with event staff, and of those, 99% found the staff to be helpful, friendly and polite (only 1 person responded with a “sort of”).
KUDOS: 98% of the survey respondents said that the demonstrations add to the weekend, up from 90% last year. Last year, you readers told us that you wanted more dog stuff, and not just on Saturday. Organizers listened, and you got a full weekend of agility and sheep herding which just about everyone reported as their favorites (minis and Pony Club were also cited.) What would respondents like to see added? This engendered some creativity, as answers included in Monty Roberts, chariot races, and more kids’ activities.
A little more than 75% purchased a program, up from only 70% last year, and the program continues to receive consistently high score for content, with a 100% satisfaction on ease of use (same as last year, up from 60% in 2001). Respondents enjoyed the photos, bios, description of cross country and drawings of the jumps/obstacles, and they really, really appreciate the map. However, they would like orders of go and rider numbers included with the program, more background information on the horses, possibly pedigrees, and color photos of the jumps, rather than line drawings.
Shopping, Food & Parking
It is unanimous: everyone loves the vendors. The satisfaction rate remains about the same as last year, with 95% happy with the selection of vendors. If our numbers are any indication, vendors should have had a better year this year, with about 95% reporting that they purchased something, up from only 75% last year. Again, about 45% purchased FHI souvenirs.
Satisfaction with food declined, as respondents were unhappy with the limited number of food vendors and the long lines. Some vendors even ran out of food before lunch was over! Quality received a 7.17 average score, and price satisfaction was down, receiving a 5.69 score. Although a lot of respondents appreciate the unusual variety of tasty and savory foods, many bemoaned the lack of a simple hot dog or hamburger.
Parking continued to receive good scores as very convenient or reasonable location, most considered the price reasonable. Several respondents thought that the parking price ought to be noted on the website.
99% said they would go back next year!
Tell Us What You Realty Think
“Better traffic control-sat in backup on Galleher Road”
“More competitors from England & New Zealand!’
“Love variety of events!”
“Would like to see XC roped off so spectators don’t get in the way”
“Would like earlier communication from volunteer coordinator.”
“Difficult to get orders of go.”
“It was great!”
Washington Rocks On
Last year, we noted that the new president, Dr. Sheila Johnson, had dedicated herself and her resources “into developing the shoe, an his put herself and her reputation forward as the face of the show. We tip our hat to her, because this takes a combination of confidence, guts, conviction and passion to do, to be willing to be the public “fall guy” if things don’t go well.”
The 2003 Washington International Horse Show definitely displayed the sure stamp of Dr. Johnson, and for all intents and purposes, not only was it well received, it was well done.
This year’s show had an undeniable energy to it. Undoubtedly, the music, the fireworks and the light display leading in to each night’s premiere jumping class helps show the riders that this is more than jumping the jumps, this is a show, a show for the spectators and the future of horse shows.
This years Washington organizers enjoyed, for the first time in two years, the absence of the shadow of attacks of 9/11 in 2001, and the sniper in 2002. For the first time in three years, WIHS did not get bumped off the morning shows, even enjoying a coveted appearance on NBC’s Today Show. This combined with an aggressive marketing campaign that included Metro buses and subway, radio, and more brought record crowds to the show Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and ticket sales were up an overall 33%. “This show has just been unbelievable. I’ve never seen so many spectators at a horse show. It’s great to ride out there and have so many people cheering,” commented Aaron Vale, who won the $100,000 President’s Cup for the second time in 3 years.
Organizers are still working on tweaking the package for spectators, although, by and large, they have an excellent package. Drawing on her BET contacts, Dr. Johnson was able to provide live entertainment Friday and Saturday evening while the courses were set up. Peobo Bryson’s smooth and melodic voice would have liked. Patti Austin, however, compensated; perhaps her voice is just incompatible with the format, but it was shrill and drove spectators out of their seats and into the arms of the vendors.
However, Dr. Johnson’s ability to attract showbiz stars helped provide the kind of glitter that lands photos of the event in the society pages, always a plus for the show.
Organizers will hopefully, however, keep massaging the schedule; starting the show jumping so late in the evening is a drain on the spectators, and also drains the spectators from their seats – particularly on Thursday night, as they rush to get their kids home from school. We don’t know what the answer is, we just know that it is the number one complaint of our readers and we know that it has to- somehow- be improved.
This year’s charity, The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, was more well received by Equiery readers than last year’s charity, and the treat of a rare personal appearance by Christopher Reeve moved out readers – more than any other attraction – made them glad that they attended. Before they allowed him to speak, spectators honored Reeve with a 6-minute standing ovation. For those that are recent to the horse world, Chris Reeve had a bad fall from a horse about 10 years ago in Virginia, as most people know. “There, but for the grace of God…” His eloquent speech halting, but slow and steady, engendered more emotion from Washington spectators than anything else in recent memory. Dr. Johnson presented the Foundation with a check $150,000.
The Equiery was proud to sponsor barn night, and even prouder to see so many Maryland stables in the stands. When you cheered you gave us goose bumps, and we loved all of the color and barn spirit! You helped make our favorite class, The Gambler’s choice, even more exciting. Thank you all for participating!
The program continues to enjoy fresh infusions of creative talent. Frequent Equiery writer and columnist Laurel Scott Duncan had a delightful piece written from the point of view of a show horse. Lots of color photos kept spectators turning the pages during the lulls in the show.
However, the bottom line us that Washington has a strong package for attracting both horse people and non horse people, and we hope that the management is now able to solidify base that will carry the show well into the next decade.
100% of the survey respondents have attended previous Washingtons. About 85% of the respondents consider themselves amateurs, and the rest consider themselves professionals in the industry.
TREND SPOTTER: Last year, only 20% attended the show 2 or more times, and that number stays the same this year. In 2001, this number was 36%.
Caveat: we give it every time – we know the survey is biased towards our readers, but 60% of our readers continue to report that equine publications are their primary sources of information, down a hair from last year at 68% (but see Raspberry below, which may explain the lower percentage this year). Interestingly, in stark contrast to Fair Hill (which reported 45%), only 20% cited the internet as their prime source, up from 16% last year. The remaining 20% was fairly evenly divided between newspaper, direct mail and other.
80% reported the internet as their secondary source, up from 68% last year, and 20% cite the telephone, down from 24%. Ease of getting information, quality and accuracy received consistently good scores, averaging in the mid 7. Last year, those who reported using the telephone as their secondary source gave over all low scores ease and accuracy mostly 1s and 2s. This year, telephone users ticked up slightly, spreading between 1 and 6, with mostly 4s and 6s.
RASPBERRY: To The Equiery and WIHS PR – what were we thinking? We forgot to make sure that at least one of WIHS’s ads included a complete schedule- something we began doing about 7 years ago in response to our readers request! And they noticed! And they called us on it! To all of our loyal readers, we humbly apologize for the oversight.
KUDOS: To WIHS PR, Equiery and the Virginia Horse Journal, for partnering to sponsor Barn Night. Thank you to our readers for all the appreciative notes – we are glad that you enjoyed it, and we look forward to doing it again next year! (Many of you commented on the lateness of the evening, and we have addressed that for you).
Pre-purchases were down this year, with 80% pre-purchasing in 2002 and only 20% purchasing at the gate. This year almost 50% purchased their tickets at the gate; we saw a slight down tick in the internet purchases, sliding a bit down from 20%, with the remainder down via phone (or fax). We have not seen any complaints about ease of purchase in several years.
Dressage riders would like to have such score sheets, with plenty of 8s, 9s and 10s.The score for the view remained steady at 8.5; however, the score for the announcing did slip somewhat. The announcer received an average score of 7.9, with technical quality and quality of content dipping down to 7.77 and 7.70 respectively. Last year, 95% of the respondents felt that the announcer provided good background information on the horse and rider, this year that slipped to 85%. This year almost 35% felt that more information was needed on each class and the requirements, up from 15% last year. About 20% thought that the announcer needed to provide more information on how the horse and rider were ranking in the competition. However, only 10% didn’t understand how the competition was scored, and an improvement from last year’s 20%. However, about 13% found the announcer distracting, whereas only 5% did last year.
About 75% of the respondents came in contact with the show staff, and of those 79% found them helpful, friendly and polite.
Unfortunately, only about 63% think the demonstrations added to their enjoyment, down from 88% last year. Our readers still didn’t like the bull riding (although the Equiery staff finds it kind of interesting); they want the bulls and the Flying Frenchman gone. The Jacks and the trick riding are well received. Our readers keep demanding more dressage, more dressage, plead to have a dressage competition added. Suggestions for other exhibitions included bringing back the Mounties, Lipizzaners, reining, vaulting, and Pony Boy.
Unfortunately, fewer of our respondents purchased programs this year, with only 42% this year, as compared with almost 50% last year, and the biggest complaint continues to be its price. However, no longer are their any complaints about the content. Scores were down a bit on specific areas; competition information received an average score of 7.0, down from 7.6; background information received a 6.81, down from 7.8.
Shopping & Eats
100% of the survey respondents love the vendors! However, satisfaction with the selection of vendors decreased, only 15% complained about the selection in 2002; this year, almost 30% complained. Purchases were down as well: last year 85% purchased something, this year only about 60% did. Less than 5% purchased show souvenirs, down from 20% last year, and again in stark contrast to Fair Hill International.
Food continues to be Washingtons bugaboo, but there is nothing that they can do about it, as the MCI Center controls the food.
Parking received better scores for both location and price, and fewer respondents took the Metro. We don’t know why.
Spikes & Dips
If we charted the 5 years of percentages of respondents who said they would return, it would look like a roller coaster: 1999, 100% said they would return; 2000, only 50%; 2001 down to 48%; 2002 dramatic uptick to 95%; 2003 another downtick to 83%. Take it for whatever it’s worth to you.
Tell us what you really think!
“I miss the horse show environment. Since moving to the MCI Center, it’s more entertainment for kids and circus.”
“I was very happy with the show.”
“Sound horrible; too loud, distorted and unintelligible”
“Love the puissance.”
“Expensive with kids”
“Would like on-line ticket access improved”
“Have show in a less congested area”
“Enjoyed the show”
“Least favorite: the naked men”
“I understand the need to broaden the appeal to non-horseman, but don’t ignore the core audience to do so”
“We had to leave before the show ended because Metro closes at midnight”
And lastly from a well known industry curmudgeon who had not yet attended the show at the MCI Center, and whose family has contributed trophies to the show: “That was a lot of fun!”