Tips for a Profitable Horse Show

Hosting a horse show is lots of work, but if done well can build a positive reputation for your stable or horse-related business, build community among local riders, and may even prove profitable in itself. Your best resource when planning a horse show is guidance from someone who’s organized a similar event in the past, but we’ve gathered a few tips to take your show from average to WOW.

Most importantly, remember to think of your riders and entrants as customers- a great show will generate great word of mouth, which ensures future shows will be even more successful!

1. Free Water or Hot Drinks

Make your riders feel appreciated and ensure riders stay hydrated on hot days by placing a clean trough or muck bucket near the entry gate filled with ice and bottled water. Make sure entrants know the water is free with a sign.

At your local discount club you can purchase 100 bottles of water for under $10, and generally it’s easy to find a sponsor to cover the cost of drinks and ice. Offer the opportunity to a local trainer or tack store to have a sign on the bucket that says “free water sponsored by [their business]” for a small advertising fee.

People are impressed by anything free, and keeping riders healthy and hydrated will help your show run smoothly.
2. Amp Up Your Ribbons

Whether it’s a rider’s first show or their 500th, everyone appreciates a ribbon that’s unique and distinctive. These days most horse shows are awarding increasingly cheaper and smaller ribbons, but if you want entrants to pay the premium entry fees needed to make a profit on your horse show, purchasing unique, elegant ribbons is a great way to send riders home happy.

While most horse show organizers purchase from one source, we’ve sourced ribbons from small business rosette manufacturers for up to 70% less than the prices charged by the major ribbon companies. Our favorite source is BKB Gold Stamp Co, which can be reached at (417) 845-6610. Although they have no website, their color selection and prices have enabled a few years worth of unique and impressive award ribbons for our shows.

Instead of standard blue, red, and yellow try these combos for a guaranteed wow:

standard color alternative colors
1st blue turquoise/black royal/navy turquoise
2nd red hot pink/black burgundy/grey hot pink
3rd yellow sunflower/black yellow/orange gold
4th white white/black white/grey grey
5th pink soft pink/black pink/burgundy soft pink
6th green lime/black green/navy lime green

(Based on feedback from my riders who were excited to display a lime green or hot pink ribbon, but weren’t so thrilled about them being 5th or 6th place, we decided to stop printing placings on the ribbon, adding instead only the show name)

3. Prizes!

One thing that excites even hard-to-impress riders is great prizes. Listing some of your prizes on your showbill may be an incentive to draw entries from a wider area.

Lots of show organizers ask their local trainers and tack stores for donations and consider their job done- others may ask a few manufacturers and give up after a few rejections.

Having a good cause helps, such as donating a portion of proceeds to a non-profit organization, or even just using the event to promote a rare breed or discipline but in my experience as both a tack store owner and a horse show organizer, the secret to reeling in great donations is making inquiries to manufacturers THROUGH retailers.

Most local tack shops will have their advertising/sponsorship budget claimed in the first few weeks of the year and are limited in further support they can provide. Manufacturers, however, are often willing to donate products but don’t generally deal directly with the public. Ask a tack store owner with whom you have done at least semi-regular business with previously, to contact a few of their popular vendors on your behalf.

Through industry connections, we have always been able to award prizes, give thank-you gifts to volunteers, and still have items left to give away as door prizes at our shows. If you develop a buying history with local tack stores and lesser-known tack websites like our own, you can call on the help of these professionals to help procure donations from manufacturers.

4. Focus on Fun!

It’s impossible to guarantee every rider will have a good experience, but as an organizer you can do your part to encourage a less competitive and more enjoyable atmosphere, while still challenging riders to do their best and challenge themselves and their horses. Some simple ways to encourage a fun environment include finding an announcer who is a bit of a ham, adding some classes to your showbill that are just a bit silly, and hiring a judge who is invested in horsemanship and encouraging riders. Encourage your judge to, as they feel comfortable, speak with riders between classes and provide some feedback to riders who ask.

5. Market to VIP’s

Often, the support of professional trainers or boarding stable owners can heavily influence riders they work with to attend or skip your shows. Show these VIP’s your appreciation by treating them like VIP’s. That may mean help uploading, offering to do some of their entry paperwork for them, or adding simple perks like a free tack stall or free advertising.

Sale horses – often your VIP’s will have horses entered who are for sale. It costs nothing to have your announcer announce a horse is for sale when it enters the arena, but can be an appreciated perk (or even a service you can charge for).

6. Encourage Community

If a horse show is scheduled tightly and highly competitive, it can be difficult for riders to develop friendships that lead to long-term enjoyment of horse shows. Here are a few tips to encourage more community:

a. Set an example, though you’ll be really busy on show day, make a note to congratulate winners and encourage riders to have an off day. Make sure your volunteers running the gate and awarding ribbons understand that’s an important part of their job.

b. Start a little later. Often horse shows start at the crack of dawn But starting your show at 9:30- or just starting with less popular classes- is a good way to give riders a chance to warm up with a little less stress.

c. Take a lunch break and provide food and seating. Hardworking riders and horse show moms appreciate a mid-day break. Make sure food is close/accessible and more than just processed chips/pop/etc. Consider a caterer to bring in barbeque or sandwiches and fruit.

7. Get a Photographer

Though you might not think your show is pro-photographer worthy, even a small show has entrants who would appreciate a great photo of their horse and themselves showing. For some riders, or owners with horses for sale, getting a great photo of their horse with a reasonably nice backdrop could be a huge motivation for attending your show.

Check out local sport or animal photographers in your area. Many may attend your event and take photos at no cost to you- in exchange for you letting entrants know their photos can be purchased online.

Do make sure your photographer is familiar with horses, safe shooting around horses, and what the “ideal shot” is for your discipline.

8. Tips on Overnight Shows

If you are hosting a 2-day show, or a show with some entries coming in from a distance that requires overnight stabling, treat these riders with some bonuses-

  • Stall Decorating Contest– A stall decorating contest is a fun way to make your stabling area fun and interesting to walk through. Award prizes in categories or age groups (i.e. 16& Under – Most Informative, 16 & Under – Most Creative, etc).
  • Unofficial Dinner – Publish in your showbill that anyone coming in the night before can meet for dinner at a local restaurant at a certain time, once their horses are settled at the stables. This is a great opportunity for you as a show organizer to greet and get to know entrants, as on show day you’ll likely be too busy to chat much.
  • Farthest Traveled Reward, if doing a show with a significant number of entries traveling in from elsewhere, a Gas Gift Card awarded to the entrant traveling the farthest can be a much-appreciated prize.

With these 8 tips plus a prepared and courteous show staff, your show is sure to be a success and get your entrants talking! Don’t be discouraged if your first event is not as profitable as you’d hoped- word of mouth will drive increased entries and ensure long-term success.

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