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S O S - Save Our Shows


by Bob Funkhouser

It's been a while since I've picked up the pen, um, I mean keyboard, to toss around some ideas on industry topics but since it's a new year I thought, why not?

Last year certainly wasn't a bad one for the business of showing horses. With the ever-rising fuel and travel costs there was plenty of reason to worry about shows around the country dropping off, but for the most part those factors did not have a big impact.

The big dogs of the show horse world - Lexington, New England, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Kansas City - all enjoyed record shows with quality pretty much across the board also at an all-time high. It has been well-documented that horsemen cannot live on those shows alone, so how are the other levels doing? It depends on who you ask.

We've certainly seen a few of the grand ole traditions struggle and even die off and at the same time other relative newcomers have escalated to impressive levels, mostly due to modern indoor arenas. Is that a problem or just a part of the life cycle? My guess would be part of the life cycle.

One part of this topic I feel very strongly about is the need to support the shows with the highest exposure for our breeds. Unfortunately today most of those shows are pains in the saddle pad, however, it is vital that we have and take advantage of venues which supply us with an audience.

The industry gets an A + for its rescue of the Pennsylvania National this past year. It's one of those shows that is shared with hunters/jumpers and draft horses, has a small warm-up ring, limited hours for working horses, etc., however, it's a great facility and show ring packed with people cheering their hearts out, especially for those making spotlight victory passes to rocking music. I only hope last year was not a one-time wonder. This show needs and deserves the support.

Devon is another high-profile show on the endangered list and trainers and owners alike should be ashamed of themselves if they let this one die. Again, this has not been the easiest place to get into and work horses with it being a large hunter/jumper show, but the rewards are huge. A group of concerned citizens have recently formed a committee to save this great tradition. They have already worked with manager Peter Doubleday to revamp the schedule and provide a Saddlebred/Hackney-only work area at certain times in addition to many other improvements. On top of that, this group is planning on giving away $20,000 in added monies to trainers in various categories (i.e. High Point Trainer, Trainer Coming the Longest Distance, Local Trainer With The Most Wins).

Throughout the history of the Devon Horse Show, the likes of Dame Of Fortune, Venus In Gray, Wing Commander, Local Talent, One For The Road and Sky Watch have had thousands upon thousands of people on their feet in awe of the talent, beauty, and power of the American Saddlebred. Mrs. Alan R. Robson and Sallie Wheeler paraded down the grandstands to thunderous applause with some of the greatest ponies this industry has ever known. Now most are worried if those crowds will ever see a Saddlebred or Hackney again. There are many exhibitors who might not ever have a chance to hear a large ovation at Louisville, but could experience that same type thrill at Devon riding or driving in the famed Dixon Oval. It's up to trainers to get those riders and drivers there and make it a unique experience for them. That could be "Louisville" for many different calibers of horses and owners.

I know there are many shows around the country (Pin Oak, Germantown, Eastern States) worthy of support - and we need to create enough customers and horses to support them all - but Devon would be high on the list of those that do not need to vanish. Right alongside of it on the opposite coast is the Cow Palace. This San Francisco venue is one of the most unique places to show and the large cowboy audiences absolutely love the show horse. One of many great moments I've been privileged to witness in this business is that crowd and the rodeo cowboys themselves going completely nuts over Sky Watch.

You better believe the general public went home knowing what an American Saddlebred was!

Let's all do what we can to take full advantage of the opportunities that are already here for us. These types of shows aren't something that have to be created. We don't have to seek or generate an audience. We just have to show up, find a way to make the pains minimal, and then present enthusiastic audiences with absolutely the finest equine products available...our Saddlebreds, Hackneys, and Morgans.

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