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To Host the Show, or Not To Host the Show… That is Not the Question

Filed under: Blog Post,Featured,The Buzz |     

EC Blog by: Kory Kumar

There are critical differences between equestrian event planners and equestrian event coordinators. The group engaged in the planning of a competitive equestrian horse show is responsible for making critical decisions regarding what, when, who, and how. In my experience, this level of event organization is generally done by the regional club, organizations, and/or show committee groups. The horse show event coordinator, or show manager, on the other hand, is responsible for making sure all the details of the show or event are executed. The critical difference between these groups is that, most often, the event planning is done on the backs of volunteers, while the event coordinator is paid to fulfill a role with identified responsibilities written into a contract.

So, why is it important to understand this difference? The answer to that question is very simple! Volunteers are responsible for engaging in and fulfilling pivotal roles with high levels of responsibility in any equestrian organization. “Volunteers are not paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless,” (unknown author).

Regional clubs are the backbone of any type or level of equestrian organization. Within the American Paint Horse Association, 58% of published horse shows, or other types of competitive events, are hosted by regional clubs. That means that hundreds of unpaid, hardworking people are spending countless hours, organizing, planning, and hiring staff for over half of the total number of available events that exhibitors attend! Also within APHA, 31% of competitive events are hosted by other types of volunteer base groups, who are not affiliated regional clubs within the APHA family. My fellow APHA members, exhibitors and enthusiasts, that means that 89% of events listed for the 2020 show year are organized and hosted by people who VOLUNTEERED for the job! (Disclaimer: I calculated these statistics myself based on what was published in the June 2020 Paint Hose Journal).

These statistics say two things to me.

1. Regional clubs deserve our support and respect. The organization would be nothing without them. For those of us who love to go down the road with our horses trailering behind us in our quest to earn national points, standings, and/or money, the options would be few and far between without the support of our regional clubs, both those within the breed association we belong to and those who graciously include additional breeds of horses outside of the association.

2. Volunteers are essential. They are essential to the day-to-day work going on within the horse community, and they are essential in planning events for the horse community to engage in. In short, volunteers are essentially essential, and WE ALL NEED THEM!

I feel that most equestrian competitors understand the importance of volunteers. The fact that volunteers are important is not my focus today. Instead, my focus is providing insight, and, I hope, increasing empathy and understanding among those frustrated and angered by the cancellation of events this year. My goal is not to discuss COVID-19, or make any attempts to challenge your personal thinking or opinions of it. My goal is simply to share with you the thoughts, conversations, and stressors that weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of the countless volunteers who invest so much of themselves into the industry they love, and who contribute so selflessly to the sport you engage in.

I have been a volunteer and worked with regional clubs across multiple breed organizations for the last 15 years, or maybe more, but who keeps track? Planning competitive horse show events is something I dearly love doing; however, it is difficult under the best of circumstances. Horse show planning and coordination in 2020 has been thrown more curve balls than ever before. COVID-19 has created large scale issues, which, in my lifetime, have never posed barriers to the hosting or participation of people in horse shows. In addition to that, recent national events and riots have created additional concerns.

Every single, horse show planner, organizer, and/or coordinator that I know and talk to understands that people want to go to horse shows. We do too! Many jobs and roles within the equestrian industry rely on the income received from going to and being at those shows. No one is disputing that fact or unsympathetic to those wants or needs. The base of horse show event volunteer workers has, in most cases, spent the better part of a year working toward the next year’s event with only one goal in mind: to host a bigger and better event than the year before. As things have begun to unravel, to host the show, or not to host the show, is not the actual question we are the most concerned with.

Traditionally, those of us engaged in horse show planning, as volunteers, follow policies and procedures to deliver or create an event. The policies and procedures are familiar to us, and creating the next event, while time consuming, is not all together difficult, because we can build from year’s past. 2020 competitive equestrian event planning started off like every other year; however, it changed dramatically in late winter/early spring. Now, we’re scrambling, worrying, meeting, and information seeking like we have never done before. This list of items are things that I, and others like me, have had to consider in recent months:

  • It’s no longer just enough to have an event liability insurance policy. Now, groups have/should investigate things like virus exclusions and the impact it can have if someone tests positive and a lawyer can prove it happened at your event.
  • It’s no longer just enough to have a generic liability statement that exhibitors sign upon entry. Now, you must consult with attorneys and ensure that the language used in your liability disclaimer statement meets all potential needs that may arise from something happening at your event. If your show is held out of the state from which the organizational group is incorporated in, that adds an additional level of need, because you now have to seek support from lawyers in both states and ensure that your liability statement and coverage meets the requirements for both places. No matter what you may think, people do seek damages against equestrian facilities and/or groups. It happens every year for a variety of reasons. In our current situation, however, there is no past case law that can help to create an understanding of how things could work or turn out. We have to investigate and critically examine what it means to potentially be found negligent versus grossly negligent.
  • It’s no longer just enough to hire your show staff and provide them with things like drinks, snacks and meals. Now, you must account for the cost of additional space for social distancing and the purchase of PPE.
  • It’s no longer just enough to create a show schedule and go forward. Now, you must consider the amount of people in a given space and the amount of rotations required to get through all the exhibitors, while also taking into account the cost and need to pay overtime to show staff.
  • It’s no longer just enough to take your working budget, make financially sound decisions to use the money you have, and give the exhibitor base back as much as possible. Now, you must consider the additional costs of PPE and staff pay due to overtime. Now, you must critically examine, more than you have in the past, the group’s financial position and account for a lack of participation on the bottom line. In short, you must have a plan for a worst case scenario and be able to reasonably assure that future events will be able to go forward if that worst case scenario comes to pass.
  • It’s no longer just enough to publish show rules in multiple locations, or have exhibitors sign that they have read and will abide by them. Now, there are legal questions about what happens if heath protocols are stated, but not enforced, and questions regarding how to go about enforcing protocols in a complex and highly socialized environment.
  • It’s no longer just enough to address issues as they arise at an event. Now, you must, in some cases, provide a written action plan for heath protocols to the facility being rented and indicate the party responsible for enforcing those protocols.
  • It’s no longer just enough to maintain exhibitor records with show entries. Now, in some states, you must be prepared to provide contact information for ALL people at the show facility to the State Health Department of each individual’s origin, and the state for which the show was held in the event of virus outbreak for contract tracing purposes, AND communicate this intent to exhibitors at the time of their entry.
  • It’s no longer just enough to build a stall chart and post it. Now, you must account for distancing between trainer barns or groups and provide additional space
  • It’s no longer enough to go forward in good faith with positive vibes that everything will work out in the end. Now, organization volunteers MUST understand fiduciary responsibility as you are assuming it when you join that board of volunteers, because in a worst case scenario, YOU, the elected or otherwise volunteered individual, may be required to provide financial assistance for a variety of reasons or needs.

So, once again, the question is not IF we want, or do not want, to host the event. The question is IF we CAN host the event. The question is IF we can SAFELY host the event. The question is IF we can AFFORD to host the event. The question is if WE can SURVIVE the event, and all the little things that make up the whole picture. The question is IF we have the VOLUNTEER base to meet the needs of the event. The question is IF we have the SUPPORT of our exhibitors at the event. The question is IF we are doing what is BEST for the group, club, or organization as a whole in this moment by hosting or not hosting the event.

I ask that you consider this information, while also granting that volunteer show organizers have only the best of intentions. We all approach things differently and have different opinions/ideas on the current situation and what the implications are for moving forward with shows. It’s not my intention to scare anyone away from volunteering, nor is it my intention to provide a framework of considerations for all planning committees or groups. That which is very concerning to some will be of no consideration to others.

Horse show planning is not for the faint of heart, and it’s a labor of love. Please consider these things as our year progresses. When you think of the people who were elected as volunteers, or who just volunteered, remember that they are nonetheless, VOLUNTEERS. Please understand that when the time came, we made the best decision we could with the information we had. Please recognize that we want these events to happen as much as you do. Please remember that our volunteers’ shoulders are not as broad as you may think, and, despite our best efforts, this is personal for us, because we have invested a lot of ourselves in the process and outcome.

Very Truly Yours,

Kory Kumar Horse Show Planner, Volunteer, Mother, Wife, Special Education Teacher, National Committee Member, Regional Club Member, Organization Executive Board Member

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