By Juliet W. Reid, president of the Washington International Horse Show
My last three years have been consumed by the Washington International Horse Show and I have loved every minute of it. Let’s just say I like ‘complicated,’ and running a horse show in the middle of the nation’s capital is complicated. But the greatest challenges can often be the best opportunities.
Why is it so complicated? Probably at the top of the list is logistics. The move-in and move-out are an exact science and we are blessed to have show managers David Distler and Robert Ridland to make it work. They are responsible for building a first-class equestrian sport facility amid the many restaurants, museums, theaters and clubs around Verizon Center, our home base for eight days in October. This includes closing down city streets to build tent stabling and an area to load and unload horses being shuttled in day and night on our vans from nearby Maryland (which is a logistical challenge of its own).
Inside the arena, the hockey rink has to be transformed into a show jumping ring up to international standard. Of the hundreds of events held at the arena each year, the horse show is the only one that requires the ice to be completely melted. Then we bring in tons and tons of footing which takes a seemingly endless procession of dump trucks. And with the dirt comes dust, and all the seats have to be dusted and cleaned before spectators come in the door. The ring wall, indoor stabling, warm-up area and hospitality areas are then built and decorated. And, of course, this has to be done in about a 24-hour turnaround.
City permits …every year there seems to be some last-minute drama. Whether the insurance comes back with an athletic exclusion or the city asks for a bond for possible street damage, there’s always something. Penn Quarter has become incredibly popular since we moved there in 2000, so there’s a lot of pressure on the city to limit extraordinary impact on the area. We definitely create an extraordinary impact. Even with the challenge of street closures and traffic detours, the city has been very good to us. We are good to the city too. Last year the show resulted in a total economic impact of $8.1 million to D.C.
Equally complicated are our expenses. Rental alone for Verizon Center is close to half a million dollars. Add to that the cost of arena customization, hospitality, promotion, prize money, awards, insurance, staff and logistics, and you’ve got a three million dollar operating budget. Over the last three years our board of directors has been forced to take a hard look at whether staying in D.C. is really a viable option. Though the rental cost of Verizon Center, one of the top sports and entertainment arenas in the country, is very high, it’s worth it.
Our revenue comes from a variety of sources, including sponsorship, ticket sales, souvenir sales, boutique vendor fees, our silent auction and the entry fees. Our hunter classes cover their prize money with entry fees. Jumper classes sell tickets and attract corporate sponsorship but nominations come nowhere close to covering the prize money. To make the dollars work, it’s important to balance hunters and jumpers. Neither can support the venue on its own.
Attracting sponsors is critical and this is probably the most difficult part of my job. Introducing and engaging new sponsors in our sport is not easy and we’re always trying to find and partner with companies where there are strong benefits and value to both them and us. I think we are starting to get it right by aiming for a balance of equestrian brands, local area businesses and national companies with a strong presence here in the nation’s capital.
D.C. is a vibrant and amazing city with many other exciting events going on all the time. This is both good and a challenge for us. We have to work hard for media coverage and engage as many people as possible and ultimately to sell tickets and get ‘butts in seats’ each year.
Putting on a show in the nation’s capital is a complicated, nerve-wracking, expensive and often frustrating endeavor. So why do it? We do it for the sport. Equestrian sport has a rich history and an exciting future.
Why do I do it? I have three answers to that. First, it’s my way of giving back to a sport that brings my family together. Second, this sport has created many life-long friendships for me, and finally, I have learned an unbelievable amount about people, business and standing up for something you believe in.
We are honored to once again be named to the North American Riders Group Top 25 Horse Shows. I especially love the title of their review: OH GLORIOUS WASHINGTON. Amen.