Show Time

Discover the ins and outs of show management.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

You pack your bags, load up the trailer and hit the road -- destination, horse show. You roll into the grounds, and a small country centering on all things equine seems to have popped up overnight.

Reality check: While all these panels, poles and people seem to effortlessly come together out of nowhere, planning for the show likely began as much as a year in advance.

What makes a horse show tick? Who is that man behind the curtain?

The great and powerful wizard of the horse show world is actually a group of hardworking horse enthusiasts armed with knowledge, organization and the desire to give the exhibitor the best experience possible.

Foot in the Door: The Application Process

Here’s how the AQHA show application process works:

    • The application process for a new show begins with a letter of request explaining the where, when and why of the proposed show.


    • AQHA shows must be approved, and approval for new shows can be difficult to obtain. New shows won’t be approved if they occur on the same day as another show within 150 miles or if there are already three or more shows within six days of the requested dates.


    • After the show receives tentative approval, the application process begins, and approval is not complete until the results and points have been accepted as official by AQHA records.


    • While approved shows maintain priority for their dates for the following year, approval doesn’t carry over from year to year. Shows must reapply, through a shorter process, each year.


    • If an event is not held one year, the following year, it loses its status, and show managers must reapply as a new show.


    • The same policy applies for any show that changes sponsorship, name, state or location more than 150 miles.

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The Facility

Mark Harrell of Mark Harrell Horse Shows knows a thing or two about running a show. In a typical year, Harrell and his team manage 95 shows across the United States.

"We used to have our shows outdoors," Mark says. "You would tie your horse to the trailer. Everything has evolved."

That evolution comes at a cost.

"Your rental fee can be $50,000 to $100,000 for a four-day horse show," he says. "Everybody wants great facilities. It costs money. Great stalls -- they cost money."

It's important to plan for the future when contracting, because while there are many nice facilities, they can be hard to reserve.

"If you establish a show, you want to make sure that you keep it there for that date next year," Mark says. "You try to do a three- to five-year contract and to do a buy-down on the cost, meaning the bigger the show, the cheaper the rent gets. You're really hoping for that show to grow each year."

Mark says many of the details get ironed out during the contracting process, such as:

    • Insurance policies: Protect against liability and bad weather.


    • Manure disposal: Usually requires front-end loaders, Dumpsters and daily Dumpster removal.


    • Clean-up: Some facilities charge upward of $25 per stall.


    • Equipment: Mark supplies his own, but some facilities will rent equipment, such as logs, poles and jumps.

Before the Show

Like any public event, a horse show requires extensive planning. Preparing for a show demands many hours of work and can be a nerve-wracking process, but the reward is in seeing all the planning come together on show day.

To arrive at that reward, show organizers work a checklist that includes:

    • Marketing and advertising



    • Cattle


    • Stalls


    • Ribbons and prizes


    • Preparing the show bill

Preparing the show bill is perhaps one of the biggest pre-show tasks and requires looking at past successes and failures.

Mark and his staff meet after each show to review the good and the bad while it's still fresh on their minds.

"You try to learn from your mistakes this year on your show bill and try to correct them for next year," Mark says.

Rules, Rules, Rules

When show management is educated on and follows AQHA rules, the result is less confusion and a better experience for exhibitors.

In order to aid today's show staff, AQHA provides special resources for show management, such as posting announcers' scripts, judge lists, forms, score sheets and publicity forms online here. AQHA also publishes the Q-Ribbon Newsletter, a digital publication intended to help show staff keep abreast of show rule changes and other information.

According to the 2012 AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, any reputable person may act in the capacity of show manager or show secretary as long as they hold a current AQHA membership and can furnish proof of their ability and experience. However, either the show manager or the show secretary for any given show must have attended an AQHA show management seminar within five years preceding the date of the scheduled show.

The next AQHA Show Management Workshop will be held after the AQHA Youth World Cup in Rieden-Kreuth, Germany, July 30-31, 2012. Patti Carter-Pratt, AQHA’s executive director of shows, and Melynda Ackley, AQHA’s director of competition administration, will teach this workshop, which will take a deeper look into marketing, promoting, organizing and managing AQHA shows.

But ultimately, the burden for knowing the rules falls on the exhibitor as much as AQHA, its affiliates and the show staff.

“It’s a lot up to the exhibitor, and I don’t know where else to put it,” AQHA Senior Director of Shows Charlie Hemphill says. “The affiliates aren’t going to know what you know and what you don’t know. They can supply the information, we can supply it, but we don’t know what you don’t know until you ask us. Everyone needs to read the rulebook, even the exhibitors. And if you don’t understand it, call.”

To help shows run more smoothly and efficiently, Charlie advises exhibitors to always bring a current membership card and a copy of their horses’ papers and make certain that those papers reflect recent changes.

If you need a refresher course on AQHA show rules and regulations, check out the online AQHA Handbook.

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