(first appeared in The Equiery May 2012 issue)
Given everything with which Gary Baker is involved, from running horse shows to breeding show dogs, there is little time to be idle. After spending years on the road showing with legendary horsewoman Sallie Sexton, Baker changed paths, becoming a judge and then a show manager, a career path he has maintained to this day. It has been a long trip from riding his grandfather’s workhorses in Port Deposit to managing his own successful business out of Middleburg, Virginia.
Baker continues to be heavily involved with the horse show world. He is a lifetime honorary director of the Maryland Horse Show Association, serves on the board of the Virginia Horse Shows Association, is vice-president of the National Hunter/Jumper Association and is a former member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation National Hunter Committee.
In 2007, Baker was awarded the USEF Pegasus Medal of Honor for all his hard work and contributions to the horse show world. The award is given annually to individuals who have exhibited outstanding service to horses and horse sports. Baker was inducted into the Virginia Horse Shows Association Hall of Fame in 2010 and the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame last year during a grand ceremony at the Devon Horse Show.
His interest in horses extends past the show world as he breeds and races Thoroughbreds, mainly as steeplechasers. He also breeds Section B Welsh ponies and Welsh Thoroughbred crosses who have won on the line and as show hunters at the national level.
Baker’s extensive career in the show world has made him a much sought-after show manager. At age 70, Baker may be managing fewer shows, but continues to place the emphasis on the quality of each show. While his daily calendar is still as busy as ever, Baker carved out a few hours to chat with The Equiery, to offer his thoughts on what goes into putting on a horse show, the state of the horse show industry in Maryland and his own career highlights.
Equiery Question: How long have you been managing horse shows?
Gary Baker: I honestly don’t remember what year it was, but my first show as manager was for the Loudoun Horse and Pony Show in Virginia. I was a judge there and they asked if I had any suggestions on how to improve the show and the next year they asked me to manage it.
EQ: What goes into managing a show?
GB: It all starts with applying for dates. That could be to the USEF if at the national level or to local statewide organizations. Then you need to plan your prize list and hire your judges and send all of that information to the USEF for approval. Once you have your date and prize list, you need to hire all your officials, stewards, ring crew, etc. and get them all their contracts. There are a lot of people involved with a horse show.
EQ: How much does a horse show cost to run?
GB: People just don’t understand the cost of running a show. For example, you have to pay the judges, stewards, course designer, show secretaries, association fees, jump crew, EMTs, provide food… and then you have motel costs for everyone, jumps to rent, the filler for those jumps, horse show liability insurance, as well as the facility fees.
Editor’s note: Mr. Baker listed out the various costs for a recent show he ran, we stopped counting when the cost reached $35,000; the list was still going.
EQ: So why be a show manager?
GB: Well, it is a means of income for me as well as many others. Horse shows create all kinds of jobs, even if for just a weekend here and there. Plus it helps bring money into the various organizations and clubs that host the shows. The bottom line is that I’ve spent my whole life at horse shows and I just enjoy it.
EQ: How many horse shows a year do you now manage?
GB: Six this year, all are in Maryland.
EQ: What advice would you give to other show managers?
GB: You must be an organized person. Make a checklist and pay attention to the details. Have a thorough knowledge of all the rules.
EQ: Why all in Maryland?
GB: Morven Park just became too expensive to hold some shows at. PGEC is much more affordable so I moved two more shows there.
EQ: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing horse shows in Maryland?
GB: Footing in the ring is a hot topic right now. People don’t agree on what is good footing and what is acceptable footing. And you need to make sure there is enough water for the horses and to keep the rings and paths to and from the rings dust free.
EQ: Do you think the heyday of the horse show world is over?
GB: There have been a lot of changes over the years. The professional divisions have been declining but the state-sponsored equitation divisions are very popular right now. So are the children’s hunter divisions. The cost of going to horse shows is expensive and keeping people away from the big good shows. The small local shows will continue to thrive because people can afford to go to them.
EQ: What do you think of the show venues here in Maryland?
GB: The Prince George’s Equestrian Center is a wonderful facility but it has its faults. Mainly the location keeps some people away. And they have only one small schooling area that can get very crowded. The new covered arena is magnificent and the stabling is excellent. McDonogh is a great facility too and Caves Farm is becoming very popular.
EQ: Does Maryland need another big show facility?
GB: No, because there are no extra dates available on the recognized calendar to apply for, anyway.
EQ: What is your best memory from showing in Maryland?
GB: The old Maryland Horse and Pony Show. It used to be held on the infield of the Timonium racetrack. There would be 600-700 entries with sometimes 40-50 people in a class. We mostly rode foxhunters, so the show season didn’t start until mid-April. The judges would actually stand all day in the middle of the ring, we all jogged our horses in the ring, stayed all day at the show and had formal catered lunch breaks.
EQ: What happens to your shows should you ever retire?
GB: You can actually sell your show dates. I have added some names to my dates, such as Streett Moore, so should I ever stop managing those shows, the dates would go to him and stay on the calendar.
EQ: What do you hope your legacy is to the Maryland horse show world?
GB: I know it is unrealistic that every person will leave one of my shows happy, but I want them all to go away happy and know that I’m trying really hard to meet everyone’s needs. I hope people see me as fair and understanding.