We exhibitors and fans tend to take the infrastructure of our sport for granted. Since equestrian competitions first surfaced as purely social occasions, horse shows have been there to enjoy and participate in. Shows will always revolve around our passion for horses but these days they are, of course, a big business requiring the long term planning and vision, marketing outlays, client relations and community engagement needed in any successful commercial endeavor.
On the West Coast, our hunter/jumper circuit is in very good hands with a mix of managers that includes forward-thinking veterans like Dale Harvey. Like his California contemporaries, Robert Ridland of Blenheim EquiSports and Larry Langer of the Langer Equestrian Group, Dale entered the sport as a horseman first and many of his management decisions are made from that perspective.
As a rider, Dale twice represented his native Canada in World Cup Competition, in 1992 at Del Mar, and the next year in Gothenburg, Sweden. He operated Maple Leaf Farm for 17 years, helping two students follow in his World Cup footsteps, in their rookie years, no less.
Dale's West Palm Events manages a total of 11 hunter/jumper competitions throughout the year, but he has come under particular spotlight recently as the show manager for September's LA Masters Grand Slam. It's the latest in a string of competitions that are putting the "show" back in horse show, which has been a passion of Dale's for some time.
The September 25-28 event adds to an already impressive show management resume. Hunter/jumper week at the Del Mar National has been Dale's baby for 17 years and he owns and manages the two-week Del Mar International. The Sacramento International, plus Olympic and WEG selection trials are among many other feathers in his manager's cap.
California Riding Magazine editor Kim F Miller checked in with Dale for an update on his view of the West Coast show scene.
Dale with Helen Lund and Jenny Stern
from the La Canada Guild.
Kim: You have advocated for competitions that are not "just another horse show." Where are you in making that a reality?
Dale: That's really becoming more of our focus. We still do 11 shows a year, but in the long term, we are trying to focus on the specialty events. Potentially, we may do fewer shows overall, and put a bigger emphasis on those.
Kim: How is the economy impacting your business strategy?
Dale: It's getting better. The industry is very strong and I would say the shows are almost back to where they were before the crash, so that helps a tremendous amount. That's part of why it seems like the right time to focus on the higher end events.
Kim: The West Coast has hosted World Cup Finals and Olympic and WEG selection trials, but it sounds like the LA Masters Grand Slam is a much different deal than what we fans are familiar with.
Dale: Yes. We expect the Masters to have an appeal beyond horse people. The upscale presentation, the quality of the field and the fact that it's located in downtown Los Angeles, at the LA Convention Center, will really bring in a lot of people who would not otherwise be exposed to the sport.
In addition to the FEI and USEF Five Star jumping competition, for $1 million in prize money, the Masters is a high-end lifestyle event, with entertainment, luxury shopping and fine dining opportunities. This is a sister event to the Gucci Paris Masters and the Longines Hong Kong Masters and all three are staged by EEM World.
Ashlee Bond Clarke and Chela LS competing at one of Dale's shows in Huntingon Beach. Photo: McCool Photo
Kim: What is the format for the competition?
Dale: There will be two invitational classes for amateur riders, at 1.2 and 1.3 meters, but the main event is the CSI Five Star class. The top 25 riders from the FEI Longines global ranking list will be invited to compete, with horses and riders brought in at the organizer's expense, (like the World Cup Finals). There will also be a strong representation of our top local riders. A Speed Challenge and a Battle of the Sexes are popular features at EEM's sister events and likely to be on the schedule in Los Angeles.
There will just be one ring of competition and no hunters or equitation. The Masters will have well under 300 horses, which would be a disaster for a "regular" show. This model is very different. We'll measure success by the level of competition, the sale of VIP opportunities and tickets and sponsor support.
Kim: You have long said that there are simply too many shows on the calendar. Why is that a problem?
Dale: Unfortunately what happens is people "park" on show dates and run competitions to keep others from running shows, which creates an overflow of mediocre events. Because of the USEF's Mileage Rule (which prevents same-rated competitions from occurring on the same dates within a certain mileage radius), we can't really let the free market work in these circumstances because two shows don't directly compete against each other.
People are constantly looking at the Mileage Rule. I'm not sure it should disappear all together, but I feel there needs to be some adjustment toward creating avenues to develop new specialty shows. I don't think that what I would consider a schooling show should be able to block out a special event from being held on the same weekend in the same area. Having said that, however, it's a complicated issue with no easy solutions.
After I had begun talks with EEM, it turned out that the only workable date for the LA Masters was the same weekend as the Flintridge Autumn Classic and the Welcome Week of the Sacramento International, both of which are held on dates that I control. Even though the conflict will have a negative impact on Flintridge and Sacramento, I felt that an event of the Masters' caliber should happen, so I supported it anyway by agreeing to share the dates.
Dale at Flintridge.
Kim: You have increased the prize money and ratings for the two Grands Prix at the Del Mar International in October. The $40,000 GP of the Pacific during Welcome Week is now a CSI Two Star and the $125,000 Villas at Rancho Valencia, a World Cup qualifier, is now a Three Star. That's more money for you to lay out as a manager and tougher specs for competitors. Why is that valuable?
Dale: It's intended to raise the level of competition, which is good for the sport. My hope is that with more people coming out for the Masters, they may stay for Del Mar as well. A lot of East Coast riders have expressed interest in that.
Kim: It seems like there is a lot of cooperation between the major show managers on the West Coast. Is that unusual?
Dale: I think it is unusual. We have all been working together for some time to make a stronger fall circuit.
Kim: What do you see in the future for West Palm Events?
Dale: More jumping-only shows, focusing on the higher level of competitors and more FEI type events.
Kim: Thank you!
Dale: My pleasure.