May 2015 - Equine Industry Symposium

Inaugural event was productive, constructive and fun.

by Kim F. Miller

Sports agent Leigh Steinberg had an inspiring talk for attendees at the first Equine Industry Symposium and organizer Liza Rogers, of First Time Events, had a surprise for Leigh in the form of a big birthday cake for him on March 27. Photo: Kim F Miller

The Rancho Santiago Obstacle Course in Norco is a “BYOS” establishment, as in “bring your own seating.” That’s because providing bleachers or other seating is, from an insurance perspective, a liability that adds roughly $1,000 to the facility’s annual premium. It was tidbits like this that inspired Rancho Santiago’s owner Liza Rogers to launch the Equine Industry Symposium, which debuted March 27 at the Nellie Weaver Hall in Norco, aka “Horsetown USA.”

Liza didn’t grow up with horses, but when adulthood allowed her the chance to join the equestrian world she jumped in, as a business owner and a volunteer. She realized along the way that networking with other equine business owners was vital to everybody’s success and a benefit to the industry as a whole.

The Symposium featured presentations and casual exchanges on marketing, insurance and event management. The highlight was a keynote speech from legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg. Liza chose him because she hopes to change the equine industry in the same radical ways he changed his industry: the representation of professional athletes. He shared enlightening and entertaining anecdotes from his many years as a sports agent, many of them also found in his recent autobiography, The Agent. Leigh encouraged the equine industry to broaden its fan base by making personalities of its riders and dramatizing the sport to every extent possible for mass appeal on TV.

A brief recounting of his key role in bringing concussion awareness and research to the National Football League was especially interesting because NFL-funded protective headgear research is drawn on extensively in the design of and regulations for riding helmets. In answer to the audience’s most pressing question, Leigh predicted that Los Angeles would wind up with both the Rams and the Raiders sharing a football stadium, most likely in Inglewood.

Good Business Basics

Starting off the Symposium, California Riding Magazine founder Cheryl Erpelding spoke on marketing and advertising. “Advertising is what you pay for and marketing is your whole strategy for how you are going to attract more business,” she explained. Noting that a consumer typically needs to see a business’ name five to eight times before they’ll buy its product or service, Cheryl emphasized that consistency and a broad and always evolving approach were critical. Spending three percent of gross revenue on marketing is a good guideline, she advised. And it can be spent in many ways, from a small print ad to updating a website, creating an e-mail newsletter, issuing coupons and contests, etc. Having a website that collects visitor contact information is a must because that’s a huge help in assembling a database of current and potential customers.

An “act now” incentive is critical. “There is so much information coming at us every day,” Cheryl continued. “Special offers, discounts and incentives help you gain attention in this overwhelming environment.” Sending press releases, writing blogs in an area of expertise and getting articles printed are additional avenues of exposure.

For horse people in particular, time for marketing is typically scarce and it’s easy to put it at the bottom of the to-do list. Businesses do so at their own peril, Cheryl cautioned.

Attendees were encouraged to network and swap successful strategies. “It’s part of our job to help each other,” she said. “The more money the industry generates, the more money we all make.” For retailers, Cheryl noted that vendors often have budgets for co-op advertising and trainers should consider asking clients to chip in on an advertisement or other marketing idea, instead of conventional holiday or thank-you gifts.

A social media presence was described as essential, with the note that Facebook is now mostly for the 40-plus set, while Snapchat, YouTube, Yelp! and newer mediums are popular for the 18-25 demographic. Reed Valley Ranch owners Don and Janet Moore were complemented for choosing a simple domain name,, for their working cattle ranch and equestrian retreat property in Hemet. “No artsy, fartsy website names,” Cheryl advised. Don reported that an eight-minute YouTube video explaining what the Ranch offers has been a great marketing tool, and Cheryl encouraged all to make sure their websites use current programming tactics to ensure full function on mobile devices.

Retailers including Thrifty Horse owners Bill and Fran Klovstad acknowledged that excellent, knowledgeable customer service and the “touch and feel” factor will help keep retail viable amidst stiff competition from online tack outlets. “If you are selling ducks, you should also offer classes on how to keep them in a row,” noted equine attorney and Symposium speaker B. Paul Husband, making the point that creativity and super serving customers are keys to success.

Be A Know-It-All

Liza started a wide-ranging talk on insurance by clarifying the four most relevant types: homeowners, ranch, event and general liability. The main takeaways included understanding that, even with an excellent insurance agent, it’s a buyer beware business. Knowing what a policy doesn’t cover is as important as knowing what it does. That knowledge enables choices like Liza made in not providing seating at her facility when she learned she could be liable if a bleacher gave way due to an undetected weakness and/or an usually heavy spectator. Given the unique nature of horse-related endeavors, it’s incumbent on the buyer to carefully explain what their business entails to be sure of being offered the most protective policy.

The content of property liability signage was a hot topic. owner Dominque Ferraro suggested that “Ride At Your Own Risk” verbiage is better than the red legal flags that can be raised by signs stating that horses may bite, kick or pose other dangers.

B. Paul Husband, Esq., gave an interesting presentation about taxes and audits for equine businesses. Careful record keeping is any business’ best protection in an audit, which can be triggered by several avoidable situations. Erroneous W2 or 1099 forms are one red flag, as is paying workers as independent contractors when they meet IRS criteria for employees subject to payroll taxes.  One key among many distinctions is that an employer can tell an employee how to do their job, whereas an independent contractor is typically responsible for delivering an agreed-upon finished product, rather than being told how to do it. Per the IRS, a stall cleaner, for example, is typically an employee, not an independent contractor. The IRS is particularly bullish on payroll taxes, Paul stressed. “Even if your company goes bankrupt, that will not relieve you of the so-called ‘trust fund’ tax responsibilities.”

Non-cash deductions need to be handled very carefully, Paul said. When donating a horse, “The recipient must be a 501c3 that will use the horse in its charitable purpose,” he said. “If you donate a $50,000 horse to the American Cancer Society, which sells the horse for $10, you’ll get a $10 deduction, but that’s it.” Getting a written statement from the recipient charity that they will use your donation in their mission is important.

Much more was covered during the inaugural Equine Industry Symposium and organizer Liza Rogers welcomes topics and suggestions for the next staging.

Liza is a special events coordinator with her First Time Events and she owns the Rancho Santiago Obstacle Course in Norco. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 951-582-0333.