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What makes a horse show a success?

Our industry is constantly changing and growing, and show committees around the country are working their hardest to ensure their shows are well-attended, fun for exhibitors and spectators, as well as financially successful. This is no easy feat, and we’ve compiled a list with feedback, advice and suggestions via four of our community’s horse show best current leaders.

If Something’s not working – Pivot

Being able to adapt is something everyone I spoke with mentioned.  Our industry is constantly changing.  Factors like the economy and changes in qualifications have made it so that exhibitors are choosing the shows they attend differently.  Laurie Salmi, director and president of AHAF, turned around Region 12 by changing the location of their regional to the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, FL.

“I truly believe the number one factor for our success is the facility itself closely followed by dedicated, visionary and passionate committee members who create an exhibitor-friendly experience,” said Salmi. Cindy Clinton, who manages successful shows like the Buckeye, Region 14 and National Show Horse Finals shared similar sentiments saying, “Region 14 has definitely been up. We had the best show ever last year.  I have to admit moving the date to August at the World Equestrian Center (Ohio) has been the best thing we could have done.”

Draw in the Spectators

Bringing in spectators is pivotal in introducing the Arabian to newcomers as well as adding an exciting atmosphere to shows. Shelly Lehman, who is treasurer of the Wisconsin Desert Arabian Horse Association said utilizing the marketing toolkit provided by AHA has been a wonderful asset. Lehman says, “Our club took advantage (of the marketing toolkit) and held a “Meet an Arabian Horse Event” at our All-Breed Show. Attendees had the opportunity to receive AHA promotional material, color sheets of horses at the show, make no bake cookies, had a barn and show ring tour, and the highlight is that they had the chance to have direct contact with the loving Arabian horse!”

Cindy Clinton said it would be advantageous to host our horse shows at facilities where other events might be taking place, such as car shows. Laurie Salmi echoes this, reiterating it’s the show committee’s job to bring people in.

Salmi said, “Each organization needs to be actively researching ways to combine their events with other activities that will bring people within reach- fairs, expos, conventions, holidays etc.  The shows need to be public-friendly: offering tours, activities, knowledgeable guidance and referrals for lesson barns. 

Branding should be on the top of the list when it comes to promoting the show.”  Sharon Greif who is treasurer for the Iowa Arabian Horse Association said having online presence is important, it’s where people go to get their information, “We create an event page for each show we host, and posting lots of photos is a way to get people really engaged.”

Be Exhibitor Friendly 

Sharon Greif said she counts her shows as a success when exhibitors stop her after a show and tell her they had a great time.  She stresses hospitality and said, “We always have the coffee pot and donuts in the morning.  We’ve done Friday night exhibitor dinners, and try to offer fun prizes.”  Cindy Clinton shares her view and said, “These people are customers and need to be treated as such. We all need to be reminded of that at times.”

Clinton goes on to say it’s important to rework schedules to help as many people as possible. She also stressed the point of bringing back parties and opportunities for people to mingle.  Shelly Lehman said their hi-point program is another great way to celebrate exhibitors with a yearly gathering banquet.  

Turning a Profit

In order for shows to be the best they can be, they need to be financially successful.  Laurie Salmi stresses the importance of staffing her shows, saying, “It is imperative for any one in a leadership position to surround themselves with intelligent and talented people and trust those people to do their jobs.  Look for skills you don’t have, find those people and rally them to your cause!”

Salmi continues, “You have to work hard, long hours usually for free and always put others first. Each club and region have different needs- there is no cookie-cutter formula for success.  The only way to change things is to try something new- looking in the rear view mirror wishing for the past gets you nowhere.”  

All the staff I spoke with stated keeping shows affordable for exhibitors is a priority, Salmi said, “We strive to keep our fees as low as possible and thanks to our incredibly generous trainers and farms that are always offering to sponsor things we are able to do just that.” 

Collaborating for Success

When the numbers are down at shows, getting creative is key.  Sharon Greif said when their lowa labor day show was struggling they added Saddlebred classes and the combination proved to be a success.  She also touted the benefits of hosting shows that provide main ring and sport horse classes, saying  “It took us several tries to figure out how to put on a Sport Horse/Dressage show to attract enough horses to make a profit.

We finally settled on incorporating it with our fall show. Now we have Dressage exhibitors trying out Main Ring, and Main Ring people trying out Sport Horse & Dressage!” Shelly Lehman said it’s the open shows where numbers have stayed steadiest, so keeping the value shows an option has been important.

If you’d like to contribute articles on helpful conversations in the Arabian horse community, via the We LOVE Arabian Horses channels, please email us at We look forward to chatting and, we always welcome new contributors! 🙂

1 thought on “What makes a horse show a success?”

  1. Joyce Schroeder

    thank you for this, things we all need to try, think about, plan and not be afraid to try something new and different, and quit doing the same things we always did, it is a different era, different locations sometimes bring the best back to you….just do it!

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