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Piper speaks with Alexandra Zulia about horse show management and the state of horse shows today. Jennifer Wood also joins to talk about public relations in the horse show world and the exciting events we have to look forward to this year. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!
GUESTS AND LINKS:
- Hosts: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine
- Guest: Alexandra Zulia currently represents Southern California’s Blenheim EquiSports as co-manager alongside Stephanie Lightner, and also manages the Kentucky National Horse Show and the Waterloo Hunt Club Annual Horse Show in Michigan. When not managing events, Alex helps out the National Horse Show, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and the Las Vegas National Horse Show with production & awards, and she is also a jumper judge and announcer at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. Alex also co-founded and produced Horse Shows by the Bay for 11 years in Traverse City, Michigan (now known as the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival).
- Guest: Originally from Chicago, Jennifer Wood is a lifelong horseperson who began competing in the hunter/jumper discipline at the age of seven. Jen then went on to represent the intercollegiate team at the University of South Carolina. Jen graduated from USC magna cum laude with a marketing degree in 2001 and then worked for Olympic show jumpers Anne Kursinski and Margie Engle before entering into the public relations field in 2004. Jen has covered many of the major international equestrian events, including FEI World Cup Finals, FEI World Equestrian Games, and the Olympic Games. Jen is known for her work promoting some of the best equestrian events and companies in North America through Jump Media, her PR and marketing agency with business partner Jennifer Ward.
- Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services, Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
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This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.
Piper Klemm [00:00:30] This is the Plaidcast. I am Piper Klemm, publisher of the Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up on today’s show, episode 325. I’m going to talk with two people who I always love the chance to chat with, Alex Julia about horse show management and the state of horse shows and Jennifer Wood of Jump Media about public relations and horse shows and some exciting new events we have to look forward to. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services.
Piper Klemm [00:03:02] Alex Zulia currently represents Southern California’s Barnum Aqua Sports as co-manager alongside Stephanie Leitner and also manages the Kentucky National Horse Show and the Waterloo Hunt Club annual Horse Show in Michigan. When not managing events, Alex helps out at the National Horse Show. The Pennsylvania National Horse Show and the Las Vegas National Horse Show with production and awards. And she is also a jumper judge and announcer at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. Alex also co-founded and produces horse shows by the Bay for 11 years in Traverse City, Michigan, now known as the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival. Welcome to the Plaidcast, Alex.
Alex Zulia [00:03:40] Thank you.
Piper Klemm [00:03:42] I think you go to about as many horse shows, as I do.
Alex Zulia [00:03:47] Yeah, no doubt.
Piper Klemm [00:03:49] Which. Which means that you’re. You’re a special, special brand of horse show fan. Can you talk a little bit about over the years of what roles you’ve had at the horse shows and how some of these big relationships have evolved?
Alex Zulia [00:04:07] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I started out, I think like most, you know, every horse crazy kid horse show, crazy kid, you know, wanting to just be in the barn. 24/7. So that was my background. I grew up in Maryland and I rode at Meadowbrook Stables, which is thankfully still doing its thing by cranking out a million lessons a week. But that’s how I grew up. And I transitioned basically into owning my horse when I was in college. That was the first time I was able to do that, rode for a team, and then I got into the horse show management side of things when I met my husband, Dean Rynheimer at the time in the late nineties, and I discovered a whole new world. Didn’t know at the time that you could make money, you know, being a horse show official, like it was just an anomaly at that point and I fell in love with it. So I’ve worn the hat of starting out as doing an ingate. I think one of my first shows was WEF, which was crazy. I took over the pony ring for Roxanne Rynheimer, she was the The Pony Queen at that point and I assumed her role and then I moved on from there. I did some horse show announcing and then we started running our own horse shows, to creating our own horse shows. Since then, you know, I’ve worked outside of the Midwest and out California, horse show manager, sponsorship, Marketing, awards, a little bit of everything. And it’s been it’s been an awesome ride for the past 20 years.
Piper Klemm [00:05:46] So you’re really involved in Blenheim right now as one of your big horse shows. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like kind of you live in Florida, so what it’s like going back and forth, you know, kind of what the travel is like and how you manage keeping things organized at home, you know, so that you’re ready when you get there. And and kind of the logistical side of all of this.
Alex Zulia [00:06:09] Well, I’ve definitely made friends with Delta Airlines, so I’ve enjoyed actually seeing my miles increase. But outside of that, it does take a lot of prep. I mean, I’m out in California now from like end of March, basically after Wellington’s finished with its major season until mid September. And I’m doing a lot of back and forth, back and forth. And, you know, I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. And I think, you know, you’ve obviously shared how you have several different suitcases for your several different circuits, and I’m kind of the same way I’ve started to leave actually clothing out in California. So then I know, okay, this is my Southern California gear. And then like if I go to Kentucky, I know I can anticipate rain. So I have that suitcase, you know, same thing. I’m going to Michigan and you’re going to get all sorts of weather. So it’s about, you know, basically trying to find that balance of not letting the travel overwhelm you. And that’s not easy. Being away from my husband, Jim, is a struggle even more as we get older. So I just try to embrace the time when I’m here as much as I can. I think it’s, you know, you have to find a balance, of course, and then understand the time change and how that affects people as well. I try to set an alarm so that I can call him before I find the day disappearing. Otherwise, I know I’ll never get him again because of the three hour difference.
Piper Klemm [00:07:47] Absolutely. I usually call in the morning on the way, on the way to the horseshow from the hotel to the horse show when I’m on the West Coast.
Alex Zulia [00:07:54] And I do the same thing, I’m like, okay, it’s 6:00. It’s nine his time. Even if he’s at the show, he knows to pick up the phone, you know? So yeah, but if you don’t get him in the morning, it’s hard. It’s hard. Yeah. Yeah.
Piper Klemm [00:08:09] See, you’ve kind of presided over this shift of a lot of historic horse shows, and, you know, we’ll say, like, one off community horse shows through what we have now, which is a lot of mega horse shows and mega circuits where people have their homes there and really establish themselves as part of that circuit. Can you talk a little bit about that transition and those shows that are that are left from from kind of the good old days? You still managed the Waterloo Hunt Club annual Horse show, which is one of these very historic horse shows and a very big part of that community, and also have been part of growing circuits and growing places where where people do buy homes and live four months of the year at this point.
Alex Zulia [00:09:02] Yeah, I’m I’m very fortunate to still be involved with some of these more boutique shows. Like you mentioned Waterloo. It’s now, I think, going into its 77th year. We celebrated after COVID the 75th year, and to see the people coming out of the woodwork with all of their old photos, we did like a whole poster board in front of the show office and, you know, people coming just to come chat, you know, with other horse show exhibitors who were there, you know, back in the day and share memories with them was an amazing experience for me. And I think those kind of horse shows are very, very critical still to support because, you know, now it’s like a summer camp. It used to be, you know, at the top of the sport in the Midwest, you know, it was part of a tour that included Detroit Motor City, which unfortunately is not around any longer. It used to be a part of the tour with traders Point again, not around anymore. You know, it’s it’s still hanging in there, you know, but it’s now more of a summer camp. But we have generations now that have been there, like they’re working on their third generation who continues to choose to go to Waterloo in the summer. And I love that. I mean, and obviously these bigger circuits like look at how Traverse City started. You know, we were the little engine that could at that point. And, you know, we really didn’t have that kind of grand plan of having an entire summer of horse shows there. You know, we wanted it more like it was a boutique horse show. So it felt really special. Not that it’s not special now, but, you know, that’s really my focus. I feel like going week after week after week after week, even though. Yes, it’s convenient. I mean, I surely take advantage of it. I live here, you know, in Wellington, and I love the fact that I can be home, you know, in my own bed for 12 straight, you know, straight weeks or more. But there’s something to be said, you know, for going to a place for two weeks at a time, you know, or even just a week at a time that really takes that horse show to heart and wants to make it feel special. So I hope that, you know, we don’t lose those. We’ve lost a lot of them, but I hope that the Federation will still continue to respect and support these smaller events like Menlo, you know, taking some time off again, like I hope Menlo comes back in California, even though I’ve never been there, but I know how special of a horse show it is, and we need to protect those for sure.
Piper Klemm [00:11:41] And I think the service that so many of these horse shows do is that they bring horse shows into communities that don’t have many horse shows. And so it’s really exposing a whole new group of people to to not only horses, but but hunter jumpers specifically, and what we do and how we do. And and that aspirational aspect, that fan aspect, I think is so important. And if we’re in one place all the time, you know, even if it’s a great place, Wellington is great, Ocala is great. But like those communities know about horses and they know about Hunter Jumper stuff, these smaller communities. Engaging with fans. And one of the things I say all the time is when I interview people on the podcast and how they started riding, so many people of the older generation answer that they started riding because, you know, the ones from Non horse families started riding because they drove by a barn on their way home, or there was a barn down the street from their house. And that’s just not the reality for many Americans right now. Geographically.
Alex Zulia [00:12:42] Oh, absolutely. I mean, I when I first started riding, it was because my mom wanted me to get involved in some kind of hobby. And, I don’t know, we were on our 30th one at the time and I passed by a trail barn. We lived in New York State at the time and I was like six. And I was like, Oh my God, you know, I want to ride. Like, I think I found it, you know, I want to ride. That’s all I wanted to do. But you know, how many trail barns are you driving about by anymore? Like, how does that interest get piqued? You know, and I think, you know, you’re right. It’s it’s maybe it’s the fostering of these competitions and non horsey areas. You know, that that can help generate that spark. You know, certainly we need media involvement. You know, we need obviously a horse show organizer to try to make an effort, you know, to connect the non equestrian, you know, with the horse world, hunter/jumper world, you know, specifically, you know, So it’s a partnership amongst everybody of the Federation, of course, USHJA. But yeah, the you know, as our world shrinks by having, you know, these larger dominant areas, taking all the sport, you know, I feel like the sport’s going to shrink. You know, there’s only so many people again, that can be in one area at one time.
Piper Klemm [00:14:08] And how do we look down the line? You know, I think these are all really interesting questions of, you know, our sport is thriving and healthy. I think the numbers are like they’re like 5000 horses showing in the state of Florida this week. That’s so many horses. But but where are we going to be in 20 years and how do we foster the community and raise the humans and the horse people you know, that we want to spend our time with?
Alex Zulia [00:14:33] Yeah, definitely. We’re in an interesting time. I mean, even ten years ago, things were totally different, you know, even ten years prior to that. I mean, the sport has changed, you know? Like, you know, just so rapid. It’s mind boggling when you look at the number of FEI shows. You know, when I was doing Traverse City, I didn’t even think about doing FEI because I just felt like, you know, it was a recognition worthy of like a Wellington. You know, that’s kind of what I was used to, you know, FEI international competition and what I really wanted to focus on regional and national and really give, you know, our Midwest community, you know, something of that quality. So look at where that’s gone. You know, now we have a bazillion five stars even. You know, and, you know, you just go like, wow, you know, is this helping the sport or is it hindering it, you know? You know, again, there’s only so many venues that are going to be able to keep up at this capacity. And I’m afraid, you know, that all the smaller fish are going to fall by the wayside or go unrecognized and stay, you know, completely under the radar because, you know, we’ve either priced them out or the choice to take the FEI level type horse is greater than wanting to include somebody at the short stirrup, you know, So it’s definitely an interesting time. I do like the fact that the other shows in Florida have popped up, like the facility at Terra Nova is getting some recognition, you know, that Foxlea is still getting. You know, again, it’s time, you know, in the sun to flourish. So, you know, even HITS and Ocala at WEC, you know, happening side by side. I think that’s great. But I’m fearful for some of the shows like, you know, maybe a Gulfport or. You know what what goes on in Virginia in the winter, you know, the Carolinas, especially like I’ve looked at Aiken now, you know, and their winter shows have really taken a turn for not having that many people is that everybody now can go to Florida. So everybody’s going to go to Florida? And then, you know, you’re left with some of these other circuits suffering. You know, I don’t know. It’s it’s it’s big picture stuff. It’s interesting. But, you know, like you had mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved in the boutique shows and I love them and I want them to to stay intact.
Piper Klemm [00:17:15] Yeah. And I think even in the last ten years, like people are just very much more comfort driven. And, you know, Gulfport and Aiken, can be stunningly beautiful and amazing days, but they can also be cold and rainy in the winter. And I actually I think like WEC Ohio started pulling from them before even the latest Florida explosion, because, you know, it’s always that that’s our joke at Ledges. It’s always sunny at 60 inside it ledges. And you know, I think our our demands and what we want out of a horse show has changed so much. But again, how does that impact these local communities? So you took a little bit of a break from riding and showing and we’re working the horse shows the whole time. And then you recently came back into the show ring. What did you appreciate as a competitor being on the management side for so long? You know, how how was how did that kind of open your eyes to your job yet again, I always find when you go back to something that you had done prior, like with a new lens, which you know, you must have had, like it’s super interesting what you see.
Alex Zulia [00:18:28] Oh, absolutely. I am like the timid two foot sixer again when I grew up. I honestly, you know, now that I look back, I didn’t have a clue what that meant. And I transitioned into jumpers and equitation, but still clearly didn’t have a clue. Now that I am this much older, I go back like I love the experience of actually being on the ground and having watched as much as I have over the last 20 years to now actually going back and riding and showing. I feel like all of that knowledge has truly helped me get it like a million times faster than if I had been riding for those 20 years. I mean, that’s, you know, I really feel like watching is, you know, it’s such an education. But yeah, now that I’m riding and I’m picking shows to go to, I’m trying to juggle a schedule, schedule and juggle a budget and have my horse here in Wellington. I can’t afford it. My sister has her, she’s up in Charleston and she moonlights as a as a college horse. And, you know, it’s interesting trying to make it all work, right? You know, get on a plane, go ride, you know, Is that a possibility? But absolutely. Now that I have a show schedule to pick and choose from, you know, after my sister puts it out, I go, okay, like, what do I want out of my horse show experience? And I look at the schedule, you know, I look at the judges. I look again specifically at the schedule, like, how does that my how does that fit into my “I got to get out of there Sunday afternoon” experience, you know, or whether or not like I’m in Aiken I have a house there now. I fell in love with it during COVID and. You know, when’s the best time for us to go to Aiken? You know, there’s so many different experiences there now, which is wonderful. So, yeah, I. I love being an exhibitor now. I wish I could do it more often. But it does give me now, you know, when I look at our own schedules, our own class offerings, you know, what what excites, you know, exhibitors and I have taken my own personal experience, and I’m much better for it. You know, I can tell you, I’m a two foot six advocator. We added a little derby at two foot six for Waterloo, and it was so well received. And people love it, you know, And I honestly want to show in a two foot six derby one day, that’s a goal. So I don’t think I ever would have thought that if I didn’t start riding again, you know, that, you know, putting on that different perspective. So I’m very thankful that I’m I’m, you know, I’m considering myself now a horse owner and an exhibitor, hopefully for years to come.
Piper Klemm [00:21:24] I think it’s so interesting how much you can learn out of the saddle and how much of. You know, you can be in a better exhibitor and about our competitors by understanding how the horse show works. You know, and even like so many things that I’ve learned just by watching and, you know, Carleton always recommends like if it’s a day off from the horse show and you can, like, go sit in the judge’s booth, sit where the judge sees you and know where you know where you can show off your horse the best. And like all of these little things, because, you know, it’s if the judge can’t see you and the under saddle, they can’t do anything with that. You know they can’t. If they can’t find you. And it’s all these minor things, but they have such an, you know, they all aggregate to such an all these details, aggregate to to such a big part of our sport. And and I think it’s so you know how the rings ride like if you’re sitting there all day you you really start to really understand the slant and the grade and like everything as a drain and like all these minor things that I didn’t think about, you know, ten years ago, 20 years ago, I feel like it wasn’t really part of the conversation, but just by engaged, paying attention, watching. Up to a certain level, you can make yourself a much better rider.
Alex Zulia [00:22:46] Oh, there’s no doubt. I mean, every winter, by the time we’re done, each one of us I know as a jumper judge or an announcer, you know, whatever you’re doing there, you’re sitting all day, you are collecting information from like 10,000 plus rounds, whether that’s, you know, again, from the hunter ring, you know, watching an under saddle or, you know, in the jumper ring or as an announcer like you’re being exposed, you know, that’s like the average number of rounds that we’re all seeing, you know, watching, experiencing. And I can’t tell you how much that has influenced my life, you know, about learning all the aspects because, yeah, now that I’m back in the saddle, you know, and my horse, you know, is has a better gait at the canter than the trot. And immediately, you know, what am I going to do when I go in the ring? Where am I going to show her off? Where am I going to hide? You know, I look at who’s already the hack winner in there, and I stay away from that person, you know. And these are all things that, you know, I don’t think you can be taught overnight. You know, you have to experience it. And, um, you know, again, I took 20 years plus off and I probably didn’t know half if not a fraction of the information prior to that as a rider as I do now. And I wasn’t riding. So, you know, I wholeheartedly agree. You know, if you have any time off and you can go and sit at a horse show, it doesn’t matter what caliber it is. You will learn so much just by being there and absorbing it all and then, you know, asking the questions and then hopefully being there to see the results, you know, and figuring out how that how that actually took place.
Piper Klemm [00:24:34] Absolutely. And I will advocate, if you have a local horse show series near you and can volunteer as jump crew or something while you’re watching. I fully I fully endorse getting engaged and and being part of your community. So on that note, kind of like what do exhibitors not realize about horse show management? Like it’s so easy to arrive at the show and be like, I’m sending all this money. I want it to be perfect. It’s not good enough. We’ve heard this and many forums at many horse shows over the years. I mean, the days are long, people are exhausted. Complaining comes a little naturally, I would say, when? When we’re all tired. What? What do you wish more exhibitors understood or realized about horse show management or things you didn’t realize until you were on the management side?
Alex Zulia [00:25:23] Well, I’d have to say that, you know, I don’t know one horse show manager out there who does not, you know, they really care about the end product. I think it’s easy to say like, well, management doesn’t care because I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t care. I mean, they’re there for a reason, right? You know, they’re they’re running a business or they’re running a nonprofit event. You know, they’re they’re doing something right. You know, they’re they’re putting out the shingle. And obviously, you know, everybody wants to make money, but that’s so relative. You know, I think the biggest misconception is that horse show managers go to the bank with bundles of money at the end of each week. I can tell you that the bottom line is ridiculously small. So, you know, in the puff, you know of you know, one one overnight positive test result of EHV okay can shut things down. Now when you look at how fragile our world is you know and I think nothing has demonstrated that more than COVID and then the recent EHV outbreak last year in California. It can all disappear overnight. However, horseshow management is still left holding the bag and bills have to be paid and millions of dollars have to be spent, you know, without even having a horse on the ground. And a lot of that time, that money is nonrefundable. So, you know, I would just implore that horse show exhibitors, you know, cut management a little bit more of a break, you know, in that respect and that we’re all human. You know, it’s really difficult to wear all the hats all the time and really try to think of everything and be super proactive. I mean, there are times when we have to be reactive and then obviously you hope you do it with grace, you know, and with everyone’s safety in mind. I think that’s the biggest thing too. We’re all horsemen and nothing makes me more worried, you know, than knowing that a horse or a rider could be put to jeopardy over a decision that we’ve made or haven’t made. But again, you know, we all care. I also think, too, you know, it’s obviously awesome to have an unlimited budget. I think we can all put on a fantastic horse show that is over the top. If we had unlimited funds. But the reality is that a lot of these horse shows don’t. You know, obviously different horse show managers take into consideration what they feel is important and prioritize, whether it’s a fantastic VIP that’s free or, you know, the awards are over the top or complimentary hospitality. You know, so on and so forth. You know, the the very best footing money can buy or the very best jumps money can buy. You know, everybody kind of ranks what’s most important. And it would be awesome, you know, to have that budget that would give you know, unlimited funds to every single one of the things that I mentioned. But, you know, the reality is, is that we don’t you know, there’s a lot of horse show organizers out there who don’t. And we have to obviously, you know, sometimes take away from one area to make sure that the other area stays intact. And, you know, that’s just the nature of doing business. I mean, with anything. Right. And and it’s the same thing like with scheduling. You know, I think everybody is so quick to say like, oh, my gosh, the scheduling sucks. I hate hearing that. I like to hear in particular, why does it not conform? You know, what are you finding problems with specifically? You know, give us specifics so that we can help make, you know, a better educated guess. You know, there’s nothing more frustrating with working on a schedule for months on end and then having it be blown apart because nobody entered in time. And you don’t know until the day before, you know, what your numbers are. But that’s, you know, nature of the beast. And we try to do our best. So, you know, I think we’re all human. So I just hope everybody remembers that.
Piper Klemm [00:29:47] Absolutely. And, you know, I think it’s on the scheduling thing. Like everyone has different needs and then respecting that, like in the amateur lounge, it comes up a fair amount, like should the amateur divisions go on the weekend or during the week? And it’s it’s a pretty even split of people who say, like, it would be better for me to go during the week with my schedule in my life and what I have going on. And then other people with more traditional 9 to 5 jobs are like a weekend only. Come on. And they’re just there’s so many factors in there So it’s it’s having empathy for for the horse show management putting on this experience for you. It’s having empathy for your other competitors. It’s, you know, trying not to hold up the rings or, you know, having your schedule be as organized as you can to to make the day as seamless as you can for everyone else. And sometimes we need to think about a larger picture of our shows functioning beyond ourselves.
Alex Zulia [00:30:52] Oh, I agree. 1,000%. I can tell you I’ve had this conversation where my with my sister and I’ve said, okay, Tash, we have to go first. In the low adults. I was like, I don’t care what else is going on, because the last thing I want to do is hold up a ring and hold up the judge there. And they think that I’m off, you know, having a latte and I refuse to go first. I have such respect for the officials in the box, for the ingate person trying to organize, you know, the announcer, everyone trying to keep the schedule that, you know, even when I’m with her and she’s checking in for other events like she is also just as cognizant. Cognizant because she’s she’s done all the jobs as well. So it’s very unusual to see that my sister hasn’t checked in first wherever she goes, and then she tries to juggle from there. So, yeah, it’s like keeping the ring going, right. And we all have a role in that, you know, no matter who you are. I agree with you. Like with the weekend thing, like I really appreciate how wealth schedules their adult amateurs and they’re low adults. They give them a section A and a section B, and it’s during the week and on the weekend. And I’m like, Wow, this is brilliant. You know, sometimes they have to split from there because the numbers, you know, are big. Maybe on the weekend, one week and the week, day one other, you know, But that goes to show you that at a size of her show like this, you know that providing the exhibitor with a choice has been well received. And I really applaud them for doing that. You know, I think that’s brilliant move. Right. But sometimes you just don’t have enough rings, you know, or you don’t have that amount of people, you know, to be able to actually offer two sections. You know, you’re hoping that a 3’6″ amateur division fills. Right, you know, with some of these horse shows. So when’s the best time to schedule it? It’s all like, you know, the big conundrum, you know, that we all go through. You know, you try to guess, you try to create, you try to rotate. You know, who’s wonderful? Like we hear from Traci a lot, you know, Traci Brooks about rotating out the juniors with the amateurs over the weekend and even with the, you know, the back rings with that short stirrup one week and the green rider the next week going first. And I’m always so grateful that she shares that information with us because it’s like, oh right, yeah, you know, we didn’t rotate this week and you try to do that, you know, So it’s also the exhibitor taking the trainer like Traci, you know, taking that initiative to reach out and say, hey, you know, and and we love that. I love it. I love feedback. So we all do a little bit, you know, play a part. I think obviously the overall product is even that much better.
Piper Klemm [00:33:48] Alex Zulia, thank you for joining us on the plaidcast.
Alex Zulia [00:33:52] Thank you, Piper. It’s been awesome, and I can’t wait to see you at the next show.
Piper Klemm [00:35:00] Originally from Chicago, Jennifer Wood is a lifelong horse person who began competing in the Hunter/Jumper discipline at the age of seven. Jen went on to represent the intercollegiate team at the University of South Carolina, graduating cum laude with a marketing degree in 2001. She worked for Olympic show jumpers Anne Kursinski and Margie Engle before entering the public relations field in 2004. She has covered most of the major equestrian international events, including the FEI World Cup Finals, FEI World Equestrian Games and the Olympic Games. Jen is known for her work promoting some of the best equestrian events and companies in North America through Jump media, her PR and marketing agency with business partner Jennifer Ward. Welcome back to the plaidcast, Jen.
Jennifer Wood [00:35:43] Hey, it’s great to be back.
Piper Klemm [00:35:46] So we have a number of exciting things coming up in our and our sport. I would say the biggest thing coming up is a World Cup finals in Omaha. Can you tell us a little bit about why it’s so exciting to have that in the U.S. and what it is for listeners who don’t know really the difference between all the different showjumping leagues?
Jennifer Wood [00:36:06] Yeah. So the last time it was held in the U.S. was in Omaha for the first time in 2017. So it’s great to have a championship, this championship back in the U.S. and Omaha is a really great venue. You know, the whole downtown area is kind of purpose built for special events and sporting events. The arena where they have the horse show also holds the U.S. Swimming Olympic trials. So they, like build a huge pool in there for when the Olympic trials are there. And the also the College Baseball World Series is held there every year. So they’re really used to like hosting great big events and welcoming everybody to their city. So it’ll be a really fun event. New this year. You know, in 2017, they hosted showjumping and dressage, and this year they’re also hosting vaulting, which is really cool. So if you’ve never seen vaulting, it’s a really great chance to see the best in the world do it because it’s an incredibly fun and interesting sport to watch. And I just don’t know how they do it at all. It’s kind of amazing. Like the and a lot of them have to ride borrowed horses a lot of the time because they can’t ship their horses across the world. Like a lot of the show jumpers and dressage riders can do. So they’re going into a championship on a horse they don’t know and they have to learn pretty quickly. So that’s really it’s a really interesting sport to watch when you know the details to.
Piper Klemm [00:37:47] Yeah. I mean, we think our sport has barriers of entry, right? But vaultung, it’s even higher. I’m really excited to get to watch that and. Yeah, I saw a big vaulting competition in Kentucky a number of years ago now, and I it was so cool. Like, it. It just really defy defies logic how vaulters are able to to perform.
Jennifer Wood [00:38:13] Absolutely. And you know the U.S. has the number two female vaulter in the world. Her name is Kimmy Palmer. She was third in the World Cup finals last year in Leipzig. So she’s planning to be there as well. So it’ll be really cool to see her and be able to cheer her on. You know, they they don’t take very many vaulters from the standings like they they basically take the top in the world rankings and they have to qualify through certain CVI events throughout the year. And then they take the top eight. From male and female and then the top five pas-de-deaux pairs which is to vaulters together at the same time on the horse, which is cool too. And they do like, you know, it’s kind of like dressage where they have their first round, which is compulsory and then they have a freestyle where they get to, you know, make up their own routine with the music and the costumes. And it’s really cool to watch.
Piper Klemm [00:39:21] Last time we were in Omaha, we got to see McLain Ward win the World Cup. It’s not very common that that a U.S. rider wins. So that was really exciting and amazing to be part of that crowd. What what American riders are we excited about watching this year?
Jennifer Wood [00:39:38] Well, it is still to be determined who will go. You know, the top three riders in the North American League for jumping right now are all foreign riders that are based in the U.S. Daniel Coyle, Conor Swail and Daniel Blumen. But the definite entries for it, you know, won’t be until like March 23rd. So and there’s still one more qualifier at Live Oak in two weeks. So, you know, that could shake things up a little bit. I think one of the riders who should be going is Hunter Holloway, which is really cool, since she’s kind of from that Midwestern area of the United States. So I think she’ll have a little bit of a hometown crowd cheering her on. She’s there as well.
Piper Klemm [00:40:30] And then what are some of the other things that that Omaha is doing besides the competition in the arena? As you said, they’re very well prepared for for large crowds. And so they’re appealing to that hometown Midwestern base with a lot of their activities.
Jennifer Wood [00:40:46] Yeah. So one of the best things that they have there is their convention center, which is connected to the competition arena. So they’ll have a public warm up ring so anybody can watch, you know, all the jumpers and the dressage people warm up before they go in to compete. That’s always really cool. They’ll have the trade show area with all the vendors to shop from. They will have a demo arena, which the schedule is still being finalized, but they will have all sorts of different equine demonstrations there for people to watch and learn about. And they will have clinics. One of the ones that is confirmed is Melanie Smith Taylor, the showjumping Olympic gold medalist for the U.S.. She has a new book out as well. And she’ll be doing a book signing and doing a clinic. And on Friday, there’s no competition during the day. It’s just the dressage Grand Prix freestyle at night. So during the day, we’re going to have autograph signings with all the top riders in the trade show area so you can meet your favorite riders and get pictures and buy merchandise and have them sign it. So that’ll be really cool. And also one of the clinicians that will be there is Temple Grandin. I don’t know if you know her, but she’s really well known as, you know, being in animal husbandry and helping a lot of agricultural farmers learn how to better work with their animals and helping people, you know, connect with animals better. She’s really, really interesting. She’s written a ton of books. She has there’s a movie about her that Claire Danes starred in. So it’ll be really interesting to listen to her as well.
Piper Klemm [00:42:48] So switching gears a little bit, coming up in Wellington, you have an exciting back in person program for equestrian businesswomen. Before COVID, you had a number of wonderful networking events through that group, and you’ve been able to continue throughout. But I believe this is the first time you are getting everyone back together in person.
Jennifer Wood [00:43:12] Yeah, we had kind of a small we’ve had kind of small get togethers here and there in different parts of the country. We were part of the Saratoga Women in Business Spectacular Horse show last year where we had, you know, a couple clinics and panels, but really as an equestrian business women event, this is the first one and it’s a networking brunch at the Winter Equestrian Festival on March 26th. And we’re going to have a really awesome keynote speaker and another speaker who’s going to do like a networking and branding exercise with everyone. So it’ll be a really cool way to meet people, learn more about business from the speakers and the people that we have there and, you know, be able to get together and and meet in person again is really awesome.
Piper Klemm [00:44:06] And what are some of the resources that you provide across from businesswomen besides networking throughout the year?
Jennifer Wood [00:44:15] I think we’re working, you know, to try and do more of these events and really put people in touch with each other and throughout the country. I know a lot of people from the West Coast are asking when we’re going to do something out there, which is definitely something we want to do. And I also have a podcast, equestrian B, to B with my friend Jen Connor. And we do, you know, interviews with lots of different types of business women who give advice and information about, you know, how to run your business and how to, you know, be an entrepreneur, things like that. So it’s a really good resource, I think, for people who want to learn about four aspects of owning and running a business.
Piper Klemm [00:45:06] Let’s talk a little bit more about your business. You’ve gotten to watch so many changes in the industry, and I know we’ve had a lot of people on lately that have talked about how just how many big classes there are right now and how many big horse shows and how everything seems important. Can can you talk a little bit about how we’ve kind of moved there as a sport and like where you see things going and PR and media?
Jennifer Wood [00:45:35] Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I would say probably. 12. Yeah, 13, 14 years ago, the North American Riders Group, you know, came together and they were talking about how they needed more high profile FEI events specifically for showjumping. And I think, you know, that’s kind of the sport that’s grown the most in the U.S. in terms of the international level. And, you know, because a lot of people didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to go to Europe for the summer and they wanted to be able to get ranking points and they wanted to be able to show at the top level and have that experience in the United States. And it’s really boomed since then. The number of five star events is unbelievable that we have in the country now as compared to, you know, 15 years ago, where if we had one five star, it was an incredibly special event. And now there’s one, you know, probably every month somewhere in the country. So I think with that, you know. It’s really raise the level of the sport in the country, which is amazing to see. It’s giving Americans and other riders based in the U.S. a chance to really move up the rankings. You’ll see like Conor Swail was number five in the world, and I don’t think he ever went and showed in Europe last year. Maybe, you know, like Dublin or, you know, a couple of high profile events. But for the most part, he got all of his points in North America, U.S., Canada, Mexico. So I think it’s really awesome to see that, you know, athletes can be doing that while staying in the country. And, you know, we’re we’re. We’ve got so many amazing events now that people can go and watch the stars in our sport. And learn from them and see the best in the world. And there’s even events where, you know, all the top riders from Europe come over. So it’s great to have seen it grow. And I think public relations for the sport has had to grow and change with it. You know, it’s it’s gone from being, you know, kind of slow news where everyone read a magazine to find out the results, to basically instantaneous results because people are watching on streams. People are looking on social media as soon as it’s posted. So I think that’s kind of been the biggest change in PR, is having had to react to the speed in which we have to get things done. And that has, you know, really changed the way that we do business for sure.
Piper Klemm [00:48:47] And that, you know, that speed makes things like I think it makes people more prone to burning out. And, you know, sure, it changes a lot of dynamics of.
Jennifer Wood [00:48:56] It really does.
Piper Klemm [00:48:57] Of people who choose to work in this.
Jennifer Wood [00:49:00] Yeah. And I’ve felt that myself. And, you know, it’s stressful to try and be like the first one out with the news. And, you know, even if we’re, you know, I’m working for a horse show and we’re writing an email about the results and we’re pretty fast, I think, you know, for in terms of being able to write a press release and get the photos and set it up in an email and send it out. And, you know, it’s a little more detailed than you would get in a social media post, but we’re still far behind what you’re seeing and, you know, you’re seeing online. So that can be it was stressful until we realized, you know, we don’t need to be the very first thing out. We’re never going to be the first thing out because there’s people ringside posting. So why don’t we focus on the quality of what we’re sending out and the access that we have to the riders and the incredible photography that we get and be able to really put out something that people want to read and appreciate and know more about what happened in the class rather than little snippets of it that they see online. But, you know, in having to adapt to that speed, I think it’s also been a change of having to have more employees and have employees with different skill sets. You know, I myself can do social media, but I have found that the people that work for me that are younger and better at it are far more. Yeah, they’re much. They do a much better job than I could, really. So we’ve really had to. Change how we cover things and who we have on our team.
Piper Klemm [00:51:00] Absolutely. And it’s yeah, it’s moved from this like first one out to to a quality thing. And I still remember that first Grand Prix when I was trying to be the first one out and the rider who won in the victory, gallop posted a picture from the victory Gallop before. Right, exactly. Before the presentation even happened from the horse’s neck and the ribbon that she won. Yeah, you’re like, okay, I can’t compete with that. Yeah. So it becomes a thing where you go for quality. But then yeah, there’s, there’s so many different dynamics of this and I find it all fascinating and I was thinking about this the other day, this completely like random thought exercise, but I read Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair diaries from the eighties. Mhm. And she at one point mentions that she paid in the eighties, paid $10,000 for a feature article in Vanity Fair. Wow. Yeah. And paid the writers that. And I was thinking so of course the first thing I did was like, Google it for inflation. So it’s about 30 grand today.
Jennifer Wood [00:52:14] Wow.
Piper Klemm [00:52:15] And I was thinking even at $10,000, like. If I had $10,000 right now to pay someone to write a feature article, I was like, Who would I hire and who would I have that feature article on? And I yeah, like it. It took me a little bit and then I started thinking about the whole process of like, What are we selecting for? And, and we spent years there selecting for fast. And now I feel like we, we spent years selecting for slow and quality and then we spent years selecting for fast, and then we’re kind of coming back towards slow in quality again. But people we’ve been nurturing for the last ten, 15 years, we’ve like nurtured people for being fast, not nurtured for quality. And I think the repercussions of this are super interesting.
Jennifer Wood [00:53:03] Yes, I think so, too. And, you know. Lots of people could make a living being a writer 15, 20 years ago. I don’t know anyone who makes a living solely on just writing, especially writing for equestrian magazines unless, you know, on a freelance basis, you know, they they’re doing they’re doing lots of other things. It’s not just one small niche. And certainly, you know, equestrian magazines were never paying even $10,000 for an I don’t I wouldn’t think for articles. So, you know, it’s it’s also, you know, fast and slow and quality, but it’s also what else can you do? Where else can you make your money? How well, you know, what other skills do you have that can contribute to what you do. So, you know, like somebody who is good at social media. Before reels and Tik Toks really had to transition from, you know, having interesting posts and some good photos to being able to make videos and having the adjustability and adaptability to do that is something that is really necessary in the industry.
Piper Klemm [00:54:32] Absolutely. And I’m for sure one of those people that, you know, was good at the other thing and, you know, I’m just less video inclined of how I think.
Jennifer Wood [00:54:44] And me too.
Piper Klemm [00:54:46] Um, yeah. And how I. Almost like if I was interested in video, I almost wouldn’t have chosen the career path in the same way. So it’s kind of a really interesting place to be of like you have to be adaptable but then be true to your values and how you want to spend your time and it leads to all these interesting questions. I also think on the writing thing because. Again, you’re not going to just right. We have these people that do so many things and. And it kind of comes back to the $10,000 question a little bit. It’s like everyone is so good at so many things, myself included, but like, are we really great? What are we really great at? And being adaptable to video or the next thing? Then we’re not studying the basics in a lot of ways or writing and writing and writing and having the experience writing to to be a writer at that level. And is that a good thing or a bad thing or, you know, shouldn’t we all just be more diverse for the future so that we have more options? But that that specificity thing is really interesting to me as well.
Jennifer Wood [00:55:53] Yeah, I think if you’re doing any kind of writing, even if it’s just social media posts, you need to be a good writer, to really make an impact and to know and to understand. I mean, if you’re in the PR business, understanding how you’re presenting something, who you’re presenting it to, what are the implications of what you’re saying? You know, there are people on our team who do a lot of social media, but first and foremost, they have to be a good writer. We won’t hire anyone unless they’re a good writer because they have to be able to do that. And so, yes, I mean, other skills are great, but there’s still that foundation that’s really important.
Piper Klemm [00:56:43] And I think as we like. You know, as the last few years of COVID and kids schooling and stuff comes to bear over the next decade, like it is going to be fascinating. Of of the skills that that younger group has coming in.
Jennifer Wood [00:56:58] I think so, too. And with you know, I’m sure it’s been written about plenty but all of the technology that kids have access to now and all the information that they have. Making sure that they know the basics and they know the rules of writing and, you know, having unique ideas and being able to be creative is, I think, still going to be paramount. And yeah, I hope that the effects of the pandemic and, you know, the loss of some of that time and education isn’t a big hindrance to kids coming up.
Piper Klemm [00:57:50] Absolutely. And yeah, I think the way I would classify myself as I feel like I’m mechanically a good writer. I don’t think I’m a great writer, but I have good ideas and I have good mechanics. And I think, you know, even parsing out those three things as separate and improving different parts of your your skill set on your own as is so important. You know how if you want to be a writer or want to be part of this side of the equestrian community, like how are you improving your mechanics and your research ability and your paragraph structure and your sentence structure? How are you learning about new things and thinking about new ideas and and how are you improving that actual craft of writing? And, you know, I’ve I’ve had to put the most work honestly into improving my, my craft of writing because of those three things, that that’s what comes least naturally to me.
Jennifer Wood [00:58:46] Yeah, I agree. Me too. I’ve never been that natural of a writer either. And I don’t. I look at what others do, and I don’t think I’m up to that level, even though I you know, it’s it’s a lot of what I do, But it does take a lot of work and, you know. Where. Whereas. Some people think that all the technology is maybe not as good for creativity. I also think technology and what we have available at our fingertips today is really incredible for learning. There’s always opportunities to find a way to learn and you know, whether it’s online courses or being able to connect to community to bounce ideas off of. That’s what I love about. What the you know, the online world has given people and there’s always a place to put out ideas or to put out questions and get answers. So I think that’s really helped.
Piper Klemm [01:00:02] Absolutely. So, you know, if you if you looked into your your crystal ball of of horse shows and and where this stuff is going, I mean, I. As you said, you were you were very involved in the North American Riders Group meeting. I remember going to a meeting in WEF, probably about ten years ago when when a lot of this was discussed of of how. How showjumping was going to grow in the U.S. and it was done. And I do want to point that out, because so many people, it’s so easy to get in the weeds and think our sport can’t change and our sport is full of the same people as when we were kids and all these things that are also true. But it can. Small groups of people working hard have have always changed our sport and have always revolutionized things. And that was a group of people that that really focused on this goal and work together and made it happen. What do you see coming down for, you know, the next decade or where do you think we’re looking for the for the next period of things?
Jennifer Wood [01:01:10] That is a good question. I mean, I wouldn’t profess to be a real expert on, you know. Running horse shows or, you know, I think my expertise lies in a different area and on the outside of the sport itself. But, you know, I would hope that we keep seeing really quality events keep going. And I think we’re still on that rise of trying to improve a lot of the horse shows that needed it. I think there is a general expectation from people showing their horses today, whether they’re at the schooling level, you know, the unrated level, all the way up to the biggest five star horse shows that there is an expectation that the footing will be good, the stabling will be safe. There are amenities for everyone and. So I think we’ll keep seeing hopefully a increase in the quality of horse shows across the board. It still boggles my mind that there are enough people with enough money to basically sell out all of WEF, all of World Equestrian Center. You’ve got Venice equestrian tour just south, you’ve got Terra Nova Horse shows, all of those and you’ve got HITS in Ocala. And they’re all going strong. And that’s just, you know, a small part of the industry as a whole. You know, over. In California, you have the desert horse park and the seaside equestrian tour in Del Mar. And you’ve also got, you know, the winter circuit in Gulfport.
Piper Klemm [01:03:20] And all the indoors ones, I mean, where are the questions? Yeah. Ohio is sold out.
Jennifer Wood [01:03:25] Yeah.
Piper Klemm [01:03:26] When I was at Ledges last, the jumpers were still going into the night.
Jennifer Wood [01:03:30] Exactly. Like I just it’s unbelievable how our sport continues to grow and the numbers that we have at, you know, and these are all hot, really high level horse shows. So, I mean, for me, working in the industry and being dependent on the industry, having being really healthy is fantastic. Like it’s it’s great to have that a little bit of that job security. So. I do wonder where the the tipping point is for it, because it’s only really continued to grow, I think, in the past 12 years. And, you know, everybody talks about the barrier to entry and, you know, where the grassroot level is going. And I think there are a lot of people who recognize that and are working on that. So I would hope that those competitions and the availability for people to compete at, you know, a local level. Continues as well on that. There are lots of opportunities. For people who who can’t go to all the horse shows that I just named, but that they still have quality places to compete. You know, I think it was like that when I was a kid outside Chicago. I showed at the B Circuit up until my last two junior years, and I don’t think there is it even is a B circuit anymore.
Piper Klemm [01:05:04] Oh there is there is. Good. Oh, yeah. Oh, it’s it’s actually thriving in Chicago.
Jennifer Wood [01:05:07] Oh, good. That’s great to hear.
Piper Klemm [01:05:09] Not all places, but. But Chicago, it is.
Jennifer Wood [01:05:13] It’s funny how regional it can be, but yeah, I hope that we, you know, continues to serve those. And I think there are a lot of smart people working on that and hopefully it. You know, gives those opportunities to people to come into the industry and to be with horses and and learn how to love the sport and and have that competition opportunity.
Piper Klemm [01:05:43] Yeah, it’s been really interesting. And again, the sport is is made great by by small groups of people who are really passionate and that’s why some local regions have incredible local circuits. That’s why, you know, that’s where all the big war shows even came from to a small groups of people who were incredibly diligent and passionate about making them happen. I think one of the things I’ve noticed that that’s I don’t know exactly what to make of it. And obviously jump height is not a reflection of ability in a lot of ways, but it used to be that. People just jumped basically just as big at local horse shows or almost as big, but maybe for whatever reason, weren’t weren’t going to bigger or rated horse shows. You know, what I see now going through local horse shows and going to a lot of them myself is that, you know, a lot of them are maxing out at two six, you know, some max out at three foot. But I will say that Chicago is an exception and you can still jump the meter twenties at an unrrated horse show and those classes fill. Memphis is another exception that have the 3’6″ junior hunters at the unrated horse shows. But yeah, I see a lot of this stuff getting wrapped up in other stuff. And and I think that there is. We are cruising for less general horse expertise. I think ee we moved just geographically in this country from a place where a lot of people could have horses in their yard or just the way the country was shaped a little bit. And now it’s very much like you’re you’re in a congested area or you’re not. Yeah. And there’s just kind of less diversity and homeownership and land which keep people more hands off from their horses. And I think we’re going to have some interesting consequences from that along the way, too. So I’m. I want to take this moment to just make sure that everyone, if you want to change something and want to be part of something in this sport, like step up and put the work in and be part of your community.
Jennifer Wood [01:07:57] Or. Sure. And I think. You know, every federation or association that we have is always looking for new people and always looking for people to join in and collaborate and volunteer and make their voice known. You know everyone. You can’t complain about the problem unless you’re willing to put in the time to help and change it or solve the problem. So I think that’s where I think it’s it steps in. You have to step in and say, you know, I want to fix this, okay. What’s the best way to do it? And finding out, you know, who to go to. And working with what’s in place either to improve it or change it. You know, I would say probably the vast majority of people who are running things in the U.S. each day are. You know, people have decades of experience and we need those people for sure. But I do think we need younger people coming along who can learn all the ins and outs of governance. It’s not easy. It’s not. I don’t. I mean, maybe some people find it fun. I wouldn’t find the the the act of governance and everything that you have to go through for writing rules and all of that. So. You know, it’s it takes people kind of stepping into those roles as well. And I think the earlier you can get into it and learn more about it, the more impact you can have.
Piper Klemm [01:09:48] Absolutely. Well, Jen, if people still want to go watch FEI World Cup finals, where do they find more information for that?
Jennifer Wood [01:09:56] Yeah, you can find information and buy tickets at Omaha 2023 dot fei dot org. It’ll be a really amazing event. So you have to come on out to Omaha, get a plane ticket and see the best in the world.
Piper Klemm [01:10:14] All right, I’m driving. I’m gonna do it.
Jennifer Wood [01:10:17] OH fun! A road trip.
Piper Klemm [01:10:20] So I will see you all there. And then if people want to learn more about equestrian businesswomen, where should they go for that?
Jennifer Wood [01:10:27] Yeah, the website is EQ businesswoman dot com. You can find out more about the podcast and buy tickets for the networking brunch on March 26 there.
Piper Klemm [01:10:39] Amazing. Jennifer Wood thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast.
Jennifer Wood [01:10:43] Thanks for having me. It was fun.
Piper Klemm [01:12:51] You can find show notes at the plaidhorse.com/ listen. Follow the plaid horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse Magazine at theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. Please write and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoyed this episode please share it with your friends, I will see you at the ring!