Equestrian Entrepreneurs: Justin Prather

1513B_00617 5x7Interview by Irene Elise Powlick

Justin Prather is a 21-year-old senior at the University of British Columbia, where he studies computer engineering, with plans to graduate in December of 2016. While being away from the winter circuits, he created a website that allows people to search for results, class lists, and orders at all of the Horse Show in the Sun (HITS) winter circuits, called searchhitsshows.com. We caught up with him during week 6 of HITS Thermal.

Q: Introduce yourself and explain your riding background.

JP: I got into riding a longtime ago, when my parents didn’t want me playing hockey and instead bought me a pony, and it just sort of grew from there. I’ve ridden in the Henselwood program, with Jill and Bob (Juniper Farms) for close to ten years now. At the moment, I only ride during the summers because I am going to school at the University of British Columbia for computer engineering, but during the summer I have a grand prix horse named Beau Soleil that is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

Q: Are you showing at Thermal this winter?

JP: I’m actually here on a fluke. I flew down yesterday to help get the trucks packed, and I fly back to school tomorrow. In past years, my spring break has lined up with a show week down here and I’ll be able to jump the high amateurs, but this year, unfortunately, it lined up with the off-week, so I came down and flatted a lot.

Q: Are you showing at Thermal this winter?

JP: I’m actually here on a fluke. I flew down yesterday to help get the trucks packed, and I fly back to school tomorrow. In past years, my spring break has lined up with a show week down here and I’ll be able to jump the high amateurs, but this year, unfortunately, it lined up with the off-week, so I came down and flatted a lot.

Q: Tell me about your horses.

JP: My main horse right now is named Beau Soleil. She’s a 15-year-old, Dutch Warmblood mare. I was never really supposed to have her, but it worked out that way. She’s the horse that I jumped my first grand prix on, jumped my first FEI class on; I got my first FEI points on her. She’s my Special Ed, for those of you who follow the Canadian Olympic team. My family also has two 6-year-olds, and I have a 10-year-old who didn’t come down to California this year; a Grand Prix horse that Jill and I have ridden in the grand prixs. We also own a horse with the Henselwoods that Jill has been showing down here in the 1.40-meter and 1.45-meter classes.

Q: Explain your idea for creating this website.

JP: The idea came to me when I tried to make a similar program for Spruce Meadows, and failed pretty miserably. And then, this year, I was sitting at school, trying to figure out how everyone I know was doing, and found it frustrating. I decided that I was going to give it [the website] another shot. This was on a Tuesday, and I decided if I couldn’t do it by Sunday, I’d quit. On Friday I registered the domain and went live.

image1Q: How does the website work?

JP: Basically how the website works is that all of the HITS’ URLs for either a day at the show that lists all of the classes and results, follow a pattern. I’m able to guess the pattern for the day and compact a list of all the URLs of that day’s orders, results, and class lists. Then I pull all of those pages to my website, and just search them from there. It’s easier to organize that way.

Q: What are your future plans for the website?

Originally, I just wanted to track Thermal, but I noticed that the pattern was the same for all of the shows that use the Show Management system that HITS uses. I expanded to Ocala and Arizona , and I think, assuming there is enough interest, I’ll expand to Saugerties and Culpeper. As far as basic improvements, I would really like to go back through their archives, and make it so you can find a horse for the whole week, instead of searching day by day.

Q: Who is your audience base and how many people use your website?

JP: From my Google analytics numbers, it has stabilized to about 50-100 active users a day, and it peaked, I think, close to 1,500 or 2,000 unique users for the months of January and February, which was pretty cool. There’s a tool I use that estimates website traffic that I use on the HITS page. It found about 5,000, and I had about 2,000 so that’s pretty cool that I have about 40 percent of their traffic.

image2Q: What got you interested in computers and technology?

JP: I’ve always been curious, I guess, about technology. I’ve always been a bit of an inventive person. When I went to university, you have to take basic programming, and I just loved that. I thought that was so cool, and that’s what made me choose my degree and set me off on a path where I learned stuff on my own. It just sort of followed that, that I brought together horses and technology.

Q: Would you be interested in making other programs for horse show managements to use?

JP: Yes and no. Typically, all of the random little projects that I’ve done by myself, like the HITS Search one, I’ve done sort of on a whim. I’ve done them by myself, and those other programs are quite large scale and take a lot of time and a lot of people. It’s not something I wouldn’t be interested in, but it’s not in the scope of my capabilities at this time.

Q: You going out and making this program, how can it inspire other young riders?

JP: I think it sort of shows that if you have an idea, if you think it matters to someone, then why don’t try? Whether it’s technology or not. The big takeaway would be that not everyone, especially in the horse world, is interested in programming and computers, but that if you have something that you think could be useful or interesting to you, then chances are, there’s a hundred or two hundred or a thousand other people that think the same way. So, why not give it a shot and see what happens? Another example of that was when Dy’on came out with the blinkers, that you put on the side of the bridle, they were impossible to find in Canada, and by the time they got to Canada they were super expensive, so I made my own. I 3D printed my own blinders. That’s just another way to show that if you need something or want something, go for it, and try yourself!

Justin Prather can be found on his personal Facebook, his farm, Braddon Equestrian, or his YouTube channel, Bradon Equestrian Calgary.

Equestrian Entrepreneurs is a new series presented by The Plaid Horse. If you know of someone who is an active equestrian, but has created a brand or product, or founded their own unique business, we’d love to know about them. Email Editor Meghan Blackburn [email protected]