By Sarah E. Coleman
If you’re interested in running a local horse event, whether it’s a combined test, mini trial, dressage show, hunter pace, competitive trail ride or other endeavor, there are three key things you need: a deep volunteer list, a solid set of organizational skills and a good sense of humor.
So, you’ve attended local horse shows, hunter paces or trail rides for years, and you truly understand what works in your area and what doesn’t. Why not try your hand at equine event management and host your own show, pace, mini trial or other equine endeavor? While there’s a lot of planning that goes into hosting an event, there are some very specific strategies and timelines that can make organizing an event less stressful.
Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse
But before you start dreaming of the awesome prizes you’ll offer, there are a few other things you’ll need to consider. The first, and most important, is choosing a date. Before you get your heart set on a specific weekend, think long and hard about the time of year in which you want to host your event. Early spring and late fall can be iffy weather-wise in many locales across the country. If you don’t have an indoor arena or other covered space to utilize, it can be worthwhile to rule out the very early and very late dates, especially if you’re not expecting to ask riders to pre-register. It’s helpful to plan your event as far in the future as possible—a year in advance is not unheard of. The more time you can have to prepare and get the word out about the event, the better.
When deciding on an event date, also be sure to look at other local equine organization’s event calendars. Making sure you’re not running a hunter pace at the same time as an event or local jumper show can help make sure riders are not forced to choose between your new event and an already-established one.
If you’re not hosting your event on property you own, it’s a good idea to have an additional one or two dates in mind as back-ups as well. Then, when you approach the hosting venue, you already have a back-up date in mind if your first choice is taken.
Checking Your List
Once you have a date nailed down, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty details. While you might be able to manage without checklists in many areas of your life, hosting an event is most likely not one of them. Most event organizers live and die by checklists. Here are some of the particulars you may need to have in place well in advance of the event:
- ribbons and/or prizes
- secretary/check in location
- stall map (if neede)
- show/event programs or maps
- judges, announcers, ring crew, stewards (if needed)
- course/track design (if needed)
- jump/obstacle rental
- numbers or pinneys
- vet/farrier or on-call vet or farrier
Getting the Word Out
So, the date is set, the venue is booked and you’re diligently working away at your checklists. What next? Getting the word out! The biggest key to having a well-attended event is making sure that as many people as possible know when and where your event is, AND how to contact you should they have any questions.
If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on expensive show programs or color flyers, don’t fret! Social media is the least expensive way to get the word out about your event. Mock up some cute ads or silly social media posts, and start posting it in every equine group you can! Email all your horsey friends and ask them to share, as well. If you have any sponsors of classes, events or prizes, thank them as much as you can on social media and ask them to share their support of your event with their fans and followers.
Making Sure You're Covered: Liability Insurance
If the event you will be running will take place on your own farm, it’s important to contact your insurance agent to be sure you’re covered for the event on the farm. You will most likely be asked to provide details about what type of event it is, about how many people you expect and if medical personnel will be on site.
If you will be hosting your event at a location other than one you own, the entity that owns the facility will likely ask for proof of insurance and ask to be named on your policy for the date of the event. The owner of the facility will also ask that the insurance cover exhibitors, competitors and spectators with a minimum policy limit (normally $1 million). While this may sound like a lot of hassle and expense, it’s normally quite affordable to add on a one- or two-day event to an insurance policy that’s already in place. And, should anything happen, you’ll be glad you have insurance in place!
Rallying the Troops
So, you’ve laid the foundation for a successful event. You’ve chosen a good date with minimal conflicts, you’ve spread the word about what a great event this will be and you’ve gotten as many detail in place early as you can. Now you need more manpower.
Even the most seasoned event host knows that an event cannot run smoothly with only one person at the helm. So, contact everyone you can think of who might have a few hours to spare or who may need community service hours. While you will want the majority of people to come and attend your event, a lot of local schools, community groups, scout troops, pony clubs and 4-H groups needs volunteer hours each year. Reach out to them as early as you can to see if you can round up some volunteers from their member.
While you can have plan A, B, C and D in place, but some things will happen just before or the day of the event that you will be unable to control (like the weather!). Just remember: It will be OK. Many an event has been salvaged from a potentially harmful incident by the event manager being attentive, courteous and listening to those who are having issues. A little bit of kindness goes a long way, especially when stress levels run high. So don’t forget—the attendees have come to your event for a good time, so do your best to ensure that they want to come back next year!