Ask Andre: How do you coordinate a day of showing at WEF?

By Andre Dignelli

“If we take a lot of kids to a horse show, in a lot of different rings, I’m embarrassed if we ever hold up a ring or keep someone waiting- I don’t want to be that guy. The fact that I bring a lot of horses to the horse show should not be a problem for other people- that’s my own problem and if I can’t manage that correctly then I’m bringing too many…”

-Andre Dignelli on the Plaidcast

There are days during season in Wellington where we have every horse in the barn showing, and that can be upwards of 40-50 horses. The Friday of WEF 3 was one of those days.

It’s important to me that we don’t hold anyone up at the ring. When you bring that many to a horse show, it’s your obligation to run it smoothly. Otherwise, you shouldn’t bring that many. Likewise, when you’re taking your customers to the ring, it’s your obligation to give them your attention, effort and time when you’re there.

At Heritage, we take a team approach to all that we do, and organization is important. At WEF, logistics also come into play. The upside of the circuit is that with classes being so large [with regards to entries], the classes run for a long period of time.

It’s a big team at Heritage. I don’t pretend to be a one-man show. The other part of this is that at a show like WEF, there are skilled starters at the ingate. Having done this for 35 years, even if I don’t know the starter directly, someone has informed them who we are. I try to always introduce myself at the start of these shows, and they really try hard to work with us to make our day work.

We have a coordinator who kinds of acts like air traffic control—someone who goes ahead and goes ring to ring to check our riders in and make sure that our riders are on time and don’t miss course walks. It’s really just about planning. We spend 45 minutes to an hour each day, the night before, planning our strategy of attack: How are we going to implement this? Timing is very important, and we take into account the time it takes to go to and from the horse show; making it from our farm to the ring is a short walk. We’re also always using radios and texting.

You know you’re pulling it off when you don’t feel a sense of chaos. The people we’re trying to help are trying to compete. There has to be a sense of calm when doing all of this.

We also have to keep in mind, of course, that things do happen. Tack breaks, a horse will lose a shoe. There are wrenches thrown in the day. A horse is too fresh when the rider gets on, the weather has changed and it’s pouring down rain. I always carry a sun hat, a rain coat and a winter jacket—those are all always in my golf cart. That sort of encompasses the day: You have to be ready for everything. A lot of times, when I leave the farm on the golf cart at 7am to walk several courses, I might not come back until 5:30pm. You have to have the gamut of what could happen.

A glimpse of the Heritage Farm board.

Our board is written like a road map, hopefully to success. The staff member that has the best handwriting usually writes this; that’s usually Laena [Romond]. It’s very meticulous—mapped out from ride times, lessons, braiding and lunge times. We couldn’t do it without the board. I don’t go home or feel ready for the next day until I’ve stood in front of the board and reviewed it.

Some people’s concern often is how we can pull this off, size wise. Once they’re here, they’re amazed at the organizational skills that we’ve learned. We’ve really mastered that over the years.

We work backwards. We write on the board when we are showing and work backward from that. If a horse is showing at 2pm, does it need to get in the ring? What else is that rider showing in and on what horses? Which ring is likely to go first?

Our team has been together a long time, and we can do a lot of logistics of knowing where we all need to be without having to discuss it at this point. We have a good sense of our plan of attack, and we mention it quite a bit: We just kind of know, having done it for so many years together. It’s a bit unique.