BY CATIE STASZAK
Equestrian sports are riddled with acronyms. From the FEI to the USEA, USDF, WEF, WEC and many more—quiz a show organizer on what each series of letters stands for, and the result is more often than not, a perfect score.
SEO, on the other hand? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
The answer, by the way, is Search Engine Optimization, which involves a technological algorithm of key words that improves internet traffic to a particular website. It’s not written in the rule books of any national or international federation, prize list or the equestrian bible that is Hunter Seat Equitation.
But technology does have a place in the equestrian industry, and Strider has set out to bring the industry forward—in a user friendly manner. Led by Chief Executive Officer Tara Swersie, the company launched its popular Strider bookings platform in 2016, where today thousands each month find and enter an aggregate of equestrian opportunities, from clinics to horse shows, virtual master classes and more. Now the company has expanded to provide a range of digital tools and resources for riders, organizers and equestrian business owners.
“Riders are busy people. We want to make connections—whether it’s entering a popular horse show or signing up to buy a horse syndicate share—as fast and easy as Amazon 1-Click Checkout. We think it should be that simple,” Swersie said.
Strider is a tech lover’s dream, enhancing and streamlining data collection in the industry in a way that has not been done before. But what has made the platform successful is the way it connects equestrians beyond their local networks of barns, opening up more national and international opportunities for them. More than 90,000 riders and organizers across the dressage, hunter- jumper, equitation, eventing, and polo disciplines are now using Strider. For riders, Strider is a place to locate educational and competitive ventures and enter without having to set foot in a show office or sign any physical papers. For organizers, Strider is a place to receive greater visibility for their events and increase entries as well as improve data collection and organization. Everything is completely digital.
“The challenge that I see in the equestrian space is that everyone does their own thing or looks out for their own best interest. Part of the aim at Strider is to streamline that experience for riders,” explained Strider CTO, Heather Briggs. “From riding experiences to professional development opportunities, Strider is a more focused resource for all of your equestrian needs. As a rider, you’ll end up using Strider’s platform a bit like social media- checking the platform regularly lets you know what equestrian events are available in your area.”
Evolving to Meet Industry Needs
Strider began with the creation of StriderPay™, a way for show organizers to receive payment from exhibitors without any merchant fees, deposit fees or bounced check hassles. The digital revenue collection tool accepts credit card and PayPal payments with a mobile friendly checkout process and employs secure payment processing. Riders simply pay a small convenience fee with their entry.
“The past year was pretty revolutionary for the industry. We saw tech adoption and marketing innovation in equestrian sport that we hadn’t seen before,” Briggs said. “From a visibility perspective, we’re unique in the industry, because our platform is completely SEO optimized. Activities posted to Strider are among the first to pop up in Google searches by riders. That enables business growth for the organizers and means activities on Strider are easier to find, regardless of the organizers’ marketing capabilities or independent web presence. Everything from jumper shows to clinics and a local barn’s open house become instantly more accessible. We’re very proud to be able to streamline connections for riders to a diverse range of opportunities.”
The platform has grown with complementary developments in technology since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that StriderPay™ offers contactless transactions had made it a safe option for show organizers. The platform even took things one step further with the creation of its e-waiver system. Launched this fall at MARS Great Meadow International, Strider eWaivers allows organizers to submit waivers for digitization, from USEF’s COVID action plan to standard equine liability waivers.
“I’m proud of the team for pivoting so quickly and launching such a timely product during COVID. It’s a gamechanger for the industry,” said Swersie. “How many offices, how many barns have you been to with 30lb binders overflowing with outdated waivers.”
“Our e-waiver technology is patented and unique. It enables real-time, quick responses to any sort of emergency,” she added. “You can immediately access emergency contact info, or conduct contact tracing. The riders literally scan a QR code with their phone and pull up the venue’s liability release. Then they complete and sign. You don’t have to see anyone in person to get a waiver signature, and you know that your business risk is covered.”
The Digital Talent Scout
A conversation with Strider’s team quickly reveals the company’s entrepreneurship is as dynamic as its technology. To further connections, the entirely female-owned, run and operated company, launched StriderMatch in December 2020, on which top international riders can post their availability and connect with organizers for opportunities like clinic bookings.
“With the platform, we enable connections organically. But we were finding out many of our Organizers and venues were struggling first to book the talent,” stated Natasha Sprengers-Levine, Strider’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Organizers contacted us saying, ‘I don’t know how to find out a rider’s schedule.’ At the same time, multiple top riders got in touch and said, ‘I don’t know how to let everyone know that I have time to teach clinics.’”
Liz Halliday-Sharp, named USEA’s Rider of the Year for 2020—and the first woman to be honored as such in nearly four decades—was among the first riders to enroll in StriderMatch, along with fellow international event rider Lainey Ashker. They are among the many other elite athletes that have clinics listed on Strider, including Boyd Martin, Kasey Perry-Glass, Laura Graves, and Anne Kursinski.
All Rutledge Farm Sessions clinic registrations run through Strider; Morven Park and MARS Great Meadow International are also Strider members, while Dressage Today and Practical Horseman ran virtual horse shows through the platform this year. “The platform is positioned well for horse show entries having partnered with USEF to pull real time information directly from USEF database. “A Strider member who takes a few minutes to save their horse and rider profiles can complete their entries in under 30 seconds” Briggs said.
Benefits for All
Strider wants its users to know, the benefits aren’t just in the form of easy entry. Through StriderRewards, the platform has partnered with various companies to offer a special membership rewards program that has growth in its sights.
“Last year we saw tremendous growth to our membership. Partnering with industry retailers to reward community involvement seemed like a natural fit. We analyze the demographics data we have on our users to carefully curate our StriderRewards program,” Sprengers-Levine explained, “Our Strider Members receive a monthly email with exclusive offers from our partners for products and services that align with their needs.”
Strider has plans to expand the program in the coming year with a points system in which users can accumulate points for purchases and then convert those points into free gifts.
“Our overarching mission as a company is to enable connection. Part of that mission is to enable the whole industry to move forward together,” Swersie said. “That means the riders, the businesses, the boarding facilities, the show venues, the support teams. If we can be the platform in which or through which that happens, we’ve succeeded.”
As the platform continues its evolution, Strider’s mission remains the same: to foster community, build connection and build capacity within the industry. The technology might be advanced, but Strider is making sure every equestrian can connect—regardless of acronym.
To learn more about Strider, visit Striderpro.com or follow the company on Facebook and Instagram at @Striderworld
*This story was originally published in the February 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now, and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!