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Sharpening up the SHOWS

From hunters in L.A. to cow horses in Red Bluff, California associations innovate like no where else

From Horsetrader staff reports - January 19th, 2012 - Cover Story, Show & Event News

Economic forecasts may call for slow, slight improvement this year, but show organizations in California aren’t waiting around. As they have the past three years, groups that create horse events in our state are innovating more than ever — not just to keep activity levels steady, but to grow them.

As Melissa Braunstein, Marketing Director for Blenheim EquiSports, puts it, the tougher times are the times that make you better.

“It’s definitely been a couple of years of having to get extremely creative to stay strong through a tough economy,” she says. “When you have to train for the really hard marathon — that’s when you get serious. And at the end of it, you are better than when you started. It’s in the lean times that you say ‘OK, we don’t want to cut back and lower our quality’, and then you find a way to do that.”

What are some 2012 innovations that have associations and event groups eager for the new season? Here is a sampling –

Marnye Langer, LEG Hunter-Jumper shows

The LAEC Opener show this weekend kicks off the 40th year for the Langer Equestrian Group, which will give away $40,000 in both hunter and jumper divisions in a new respective “$40,000 Series” for each division in 2012 at its Los Angeles shows. The 13-show hunter program builds on the rising popularity of the National Hunter Derby Classes in recent years, and it will culminate in the $10,000 Class at the L.A. National in November.

“We are doing more classes at all of our shows instead of just at a couple of our big shows,” says Langer. “These hunter classes are USJHA-sanctioned events, so people will get multiple benefits from one class. They get to go into that 3-foot to 3’3″ National Hunter Derby that’s so popular with hunter riders, and we’ve increased the prize money.”

“And, these are USHJA-approved classes,” she adds. “Those who care about points will get their points, and for those who don’t care about points, they can still go into the classes and have fun.”

Langer and the LEG team, which conducts show series at Los Angeles venues in Burbank and Hansen Dam as well as in Woodside in Northern California and in Colorado, listen carefully to their clientele — long-standing show groups have always heard their exhibitors, trainers and owners. A new class that LEG experimented with last November, short stirrup jumping, was derived in part from a trainer’s feedback.

“We recognized that more riders are moving into the jumper ring earlier for a variety of reasons,” Langer says. “Often when a boy starts riding, his interest in hunters tends to be less enthusiastic than that of the girls and he’ll be off looking at the jumper ring, hungrily. They want to do jumpers, but they are little and they are beginners and they are just not ready to step into the Equidome.”

LEG launched short-stirrup jumpers at the L.A. Preview with 11 entries in the inaugural class. Held under Optimum Time scoring, riders had to negotiate a 2’0″ jumper course and ride as close as possible to the ideal time — not too fast and not too slow. In one class, four riders were all within one second of the optimum time.

“Feedback from our competitors is an oportunity to do something new and different,” she says. “We said, ‘why don’t we give it a try?’ Wildly popular — we’ll have that class at the majority of our shows.”

LEG has several other new things in store this year, too, including new Olympic-style footing in the Equidome and a revamped line-up later in the year that could reflect a new coordination between the state’s hunter-jumper show groups like LEG, Blenheim EquiSports and others, to reduce schedule conflicts.

“If we work hard as horse show organizers to make the horse sport better, we all benefit,” says Langer. “We are on the brink of working out something really cool for end-of-year. The exhibitors are going to get the benefit of a schedule where there will be great shows to go to, and they won’t have to pick.”

All told, LEG is geared up for a solid year of competition — and fun.

“People go to horse shows for many reasons,” she says. “The people who are competing for the top prize money and qualifying for the big championships and really a small minority. The vast majority of people are at the horse show because they want to have fun with the horse, they want to challenge themselves, and they want some reward at their skill level — whatever that level is. We want to provide that to them, and we want to be sure we are providing that to them.”

Tom Foran, California Reining Horse Association

Incoming California Reining Horse Association President Tom Foran takes the reins from outgoing president Amy Walden, and he says the parts are in place for a breakthrough show season. He’s excited, and it can be expected Southern California’s reiners are, too.

“The CRHA is trying to give them cool programs to really get excited again — really get back in it and get involved,” says Foran, who served as the club’s president a decade ago and can remember when CRHA was the largest NRHA affiliate in the world.

The CRHA has revamped its year-end program, added a couple shows in different locations, and increased and changed up its prizes. In fact, entire point-keeping system related to it will be different, and there is a new “Reiner Of The Year Award that competitors of all levels can aspire to.

“I think we’re going to stir up a lot more interest in our jackpot series,” Foran says. “The Reiner of the Year Award is tied to the year-end eight-circuit jackpot series, and I think it’s going to be really fun and exciting.”

In the series, reiners who have competed through the year at club shows are eligible to compete with a clean slate in a Reiner Of The Year finals at the CRHA Challenge in October, the CRHA’s showcase event.

“Whether they are a green-as-grass rider or an open rider or anything in-between, they’re all eligible to compete,” says Foran. “But to make it fair, we’ve staggered the scoring. We’ve basically handicapped the open riders and boosted the green-as-grass riders.”

For example, the green-as-grass rider would walk into the arena with a 74, and an open rider would walk in with 67 or a 66 — then go up or down from there to determine who wins the saddle, the title, the whole thing.

The new CRHA board also wants to build up the status of the Challenge show, held each fall at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank.

“It’s always been a great event and one with a lot of prestige assocated with it,” Foran said. “Now we’re trying to look at different ways to increase the purses and all the divisions and take it back up to a Top 10 reining horse show internationally.

The area’s reining landscape is unique, says Foran, and he is encouraged.

“Reining in Southern California has always been very amateur-driven,” explains the LAEC-based trainer. “It’s also been a region, though, where there has been a lot of very talented, capable horse trainers. It seems like the economy really hit the amateurs and forced a lot of people to take horses home. While the horse show numbers last year stayed up, most of the reining horse trainers that I know have really had to be creative to weather the storm.”

But things are changing for the better, he says.

“It seems like this past couple of months, things have really started to pick up,” he says. “In a period where traditionally it kind of slows, it seems like everybody is getting new horses in, and people are are now sending their horses back to get training for the season.”

“I think we’re going to have a great year,” he adds. “We’re doing a lot — we’ve definitely jumped in at full speed and people are really backing it. We’ve got a great board, too, that is pumped up to try to do things.
We want to make sure that we have a lot of stuff in place for people to really attack and go have fun at — meet their goals and win cool prizes and all those fun things.”

The first CRHA event is scheduled for March 3 at Rocking K Stables in Thousand Oaks, a new venue.

Gordon Jahr, Sierra Empire Arabian Horse Association

In 2009, the Sierra Empire Arabian Horse Association moved its show into the late January slot at the Los Angeles County Fairplex vacated by the venerable Whittier Lions Arabian event. In year two last year, the club enjoyed a 35 percent increase in the number of horses — to 190.

Club President Gordon Jahr says it’s too early to tell what this year will have in store with a still-slow economy.

“So far, it’s worked out very well for us,” he says of an event which traditionally has served some as a tune-up show for the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in each February. “So far, the exhibitors have been very positive, and our numbers keep going up for it. We’re getting a few more who are trying to get started in the year a little earlier. We’ll see what happens with the economy, but we’re hoping to be up around 200 horses this year.”

The Sierra Empire club’s other major event for the year is a springtime trail riding event coordinated with ACTHA. He says he sees trends of growth in activities like trail riding and ranch work.

“The pattern basically is staying pretty much the same, except they are doing more of the reining classes and the western events where the horses do more,” he says. “They are doing trail classes. Reining classes. Not so much our particular show, but they are getting into handling cows. This is a trend that seems to be going the way the industry seems to be going.”

Tanna Dilday, National Stock Horse Association

One of the most innovative associations in the state — if not the nation — the last few years has been the National Stock Horse Association. From the energetic aged horse events they produce to their popular educational programs for those entering their sport, the NSHA has made an impact.

This year, the NSHA has moved to a single entry fee for the Open and Non Pro riders — they will pay one entry and be automatically entered into every division they are eligible for.

“This will let the limited and intermediate riders show for the same entry as everyone else instead of paying more for their division,” says Tanna Dilday. “We are constantly striving to bring more people into our industry, and this seems like a step in the right direction. The reiners do it this way and Jake Telford told us they use it up in the northern states and it works very well for everyone.

“In this economy, we think it is important to do everything possible to make sure everyone gets the best chance to join our industry and keep showing!,” she adds.

In another economy-related move, the NSHA will relocate its February event from Tulare to Red Bluff.

“The overhead was just too high in Tulare, and we are thrilled to go to a new venue like Red Bluff,” says Dilday. “Hopefully, we will get some new faces joining us from up north. Also, Red Bluff is such a great western community. They’ve hosted the hugely successful Red Bluff Bull & Gelding Sale for 50 years. It’s an old school arena with a lot of local western heritage.”

As for the competition itself, it also will become a four-event.

“It should be a huge crowd-pleaser and be a wonderful Friday night performance,” says Dilday. “We’ve also brought back the calf branding on Saturday night up there — it’s going to be a great weekend.”

Dilday says the increased travel for Southern California and and Arizona competitors will hopefully be offset by some new benefits.

“Our venue options were limited because we need a covered show arena and a covered warm-up area in February,” she says. “But the accommodations, hotels and the rest in Red Bluff are cheaper than anywhere else, and the town is really behind us coming there. We also tweaked the schedule a bit, so the show is one day shorter and the horse show exhibitor can just come and join us on Friday, then show on the weekend!”

The NSHA Snaffle Bit Futurity returns to the Midstate Fairgrounds in Paso Robles in August.

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