BY TPH Staff
Life-long horsewoman and founder of RingSide Pro, Emma Fass, of Charlottesville, VA, had a major “ah-hah” moment when she was a high school student. She was always very supportive of her friends who were athletes and enjoyed going to their sporting events to cheer them on.
“They’d tell me the exact time their game or match would start,” says Fass. “I wanted to figure out a way to bring communication about event scheduling to the horse show world.”
While eventing is known for posted ride times for dressage, cross country and stadium jumping, the lack of being able to tell friends and family members exactly when she would be showing at area hunter shows perplexed Fass. She understood that there were a whole host of variables that played into the schedule of a typical horse show day.
“While it may not be possible to predict a hunter class’s start time down to the minute, I felt there had to at least be a way to improve how we relay horse show timing,” says Fass.
Clarity for how Fass could bring this idea to fruition grew when she was a computer science major at the University of Virginia.
“Every time I learned something new in school, I kept thinking, ‘How can I bring this to the show world?’,” says Fass.
Upon graduation in 2018, Fass was a software engineer at a consulting company. She wasn’t passionate about her work at the agency, and she couldn’t shake the nagging thoughts in the back of her head that kept bringing her back to her idea of creating a platform to help organize horse show managers, exhibitors, and spectators.
“My father is an entrepreneur. He is a huge advocate of people following their dreams and ideas,” says Fass. “He told me that while I was young and full of drive to create this platform – that it was time to strike while the iron was hot.”
Fass had intentions of building a digital full-service horse show suite that could accommodate entries, results and a variety of communication platforms. However, she felt that the most immediate need at shows was improved scheduling communication. Fass spent a lot of time building the aptly named “RingSide Pro” digital platform that would serve to send text message alerts to subscribers keeping them apprised of a show day’s schedule and expected start times.
At last, Fass was ready to launch RingSide Pro in early 2020…and then the world shut down due to the pandemic. Fass’s focus immediately shifted to “How do we keep the show community engaged during the period when we are not at shows?”
Fass was able to quickly design a space where for a small fee, riders could submit horse show videos, and have acclaimed judges provide an evaluation of the round. This was a way for professionals to obtain a bit of income while they weren’t at shows training, coaching or showing.
“I was overwhelmed by the response to this idea. We received so much participation from junior and amateur riders,” says Fass. “And I was so appreciative that well-known judges from the Virginia show community were eager to jump in and take part in the critiques. It was a win-win situation for all stakeholders!”
In summer of 2020, horse showing resumed – though the playing field looked and felt quite different. Fass was ready to blow the dust off her original RingSide Pro idea and modified its use to align with the restrictions that were in place at shows.
“I talked to local show managers about how RingSide Pro could align with the guidelines that USEF had in place,” says Fass. “Managers were worried about people convening at the ingate, and not practicing proper social distancing.”
Immediately Fass’s thought process pivoted to how to keep people safe. “Knowing that SMS text message technology was more reliable than email, social media or other internet-based solutions on showgrounds with mediocre or poor WiFi and cell service, Fass’s idea for having show attendees subscribe to a text alert system on RingSidePro.com came to fruition. Fass would work with show employees to send out alerts pertaining to class start times, scheduled ring maintenance, changes in schedules, schooling breaks, and could keep running updates on how many entries were remaining in specific classes before the division’s pinning or hack classes were to be held.
Fass launched the text message alert system in July 2020 at a local Virginia Beach-area show – Roseoldian Farm. Fass sat with the show secretary and announcer all day to learn what information was most important for exhibitors and spectators to receive throughout the day.
That day, Fass had 100 subscribers sign up for the text message alerts. As of April 2023, Fass now has over 10,000 subscribers across all the shows who use her services. After fine-tuning the platform’s coding and capabilities at some local shows, Fass landed her first multi-ring, large rated show in September 2020 with the Maryland Horse & Pony Show in Lexington, VA.
“Thinking back to one of the first big shows held during the pandemic, it was great to be able to keep the ingates clear and keep exhibitors and staff safely back at the barns until they knew it was time to come up to the ring,” says Pat Duncan, Maryland Horse & Pony Show technical coordinator. “Barns adapted to the RingSide Pro technology very quickly. The Virginia Horse Center is a large facility and this platform was a real time-saver for barn staff! Emma has created such a user-friendly platform.”
The subscription allows for users to sign up by show – and filter down to the specific day and ring that they are interested in receiving alerts about. Fass loves the feedback she receives about the platform – as she is always trying to fine tune it and make it better.
“At a local show recently, a parent let me know how much she valued the text message alerts. The parent said that her kid’s grandmother always wants to come watch – and now we can tell Grandma exactly when to be there!” laughs Fass. “This works great for local shows because now the grandmother doesn’t have to leave her house until she sees the alert that ‘Short Stirrup will be starting in 30 minutes.’”
Shows who engage in the RingSide Pro services have the option of having Fass come to the show to work with ring starters and send out the alerts – or the starters and show staff can send the alerts out themselves. Fass experienced a real-life “full circle moment” a few years ago when grooming for her trainer Peg Seals, of Freedom Farm.
“I was back at the barn early one morning and received a RingSide Pro alert that it was time to bring the 3’ Green Hunters up to the ring to show,” recalls Fass. “That brought a smile to my face. I felt that in a small way, I had finally been able to help the show industry bring a sense of organization to how they communicated their schedule throughout the day.”
The text message alerts are extremely beneficial in areas of the show grounds where PA announcements might be hard to hear, or if someone is out lunging or hacking and not in an area that the loudspeakers can reach.
RingSide Pro has flourished beyond Fass’s wildest dreams since 2020. Renowned shows such as Capital Challenge, USHJA Green Incentive Finals/International Derby Finals, IEA Nationals and the USHJA National Championships in Las Vegas have all enlisted Fass’s services.
The more Fass observes at shows – the more capabilities she is able to bring to the RingSide Pro platform. “We can now send out orders of go, cut offs, course maps and results,” says Fass.
She is also able to provide branded, trackable and measurable content for show organizers and sponsors. Fass has also created a manner for subscribers to text back directly to show organizers.
Fass credits good ole face to face communication as her most successful form of marketing. “Being able to understand exactly what each show’s needs has been the best way for me to offer optimal services to organizers and exhibitors,” says Fass. “Each show is different. Building relationships with show managers has been the most rewarding part of RingSide Pro. I love seeing my clients have successful and enjoyable events.”
While Fass is still largely a one-man band, she relies on outside support for social media and some of the behind-the-scenes coding work. Fass is extremely appreciative for the word-of-mouth marketing that has helped her business spread its wings since 2020.
“I can’t thank managers such as Oliver Kennedy and the folks at USHJA enough for all their kind words about RingSide Pro and their recommendations to other horse show organizers. I am thankful everyday to be a part of such a welcoming industry,” says Fass.
What’s next for RingSidePro? Fass is currently testing a barn management text alert system with some barns in Virginia to help them streamline communications with their staff, riders, and parents.
“Theoretically it will be the same premise as the horse show alerts,” says Fass. “Depending on what category someone falls into at a barn – student, parent, staff – they can sign up for the type of alerts they’d like to receive. I have high hopes for this new endeavor!”
RingSide Pro has potential plans for moving into other types of events such as ultimate frisbee tournaments and dog shows.
Fass knows that jumping head first into an unpredictable endeavor can be daunting.
“If the pandemic taught me anything – it was that you have to be flexible,” says Fass.
As for advice to budding entrepreneurs, Fass notes, “Pick mentors and listen to them. I couldn’t have done any of this without m trainer Peg Seals and my barn mates at Freedom Farm.”
“I suggest that anyone with an idea that they are passionate about create guidelines and expectations for themselves. Have a clear vision so people can fully grasp what you’re hoping to accomplish,” says Fass.
The soft-spoken and humble Fass is not one to toot her own horn, but survey anyone who has used the RingSide Pro services, and you’ll quickly find that her fandom is quite robust and stretches from shows coast to coast – big and small. She has served an integral role in improving the horse show industry.
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