The mud has dried, and we’ve recovered from the 2017 Horse of the Year Show. Looking back, it was certainly an action-packed six days and we were treated to some great displays of horse riding and performances.
The villain of the show was the weather, and it was at its worst on Friday night. The grounds on Saturday morning were awful and there was no way that the cross-country could have been held.
On the decision to cancel the cross-country, Dave Mee, the Events Director of SMC Events, said that while it was a big call, it was also simple. “At the end of it, the safety of the riders and horses comes first. Once the feedback from the riders was that they didn’t think it was safe to jump, it was a straightforward call. We then looked at delaying it, so the initial decision was we wouldn’t do it on Saturday, but within a couple of hours of looking at all the options, there were none for Sunday.”
There were two events that had to be protected “no matter what”: Show Jumping Pony of the Year and Show Jumping Horse of the Year. That meant there was no room for Eventer of the Year. Dave was very complimentary about the effort that went in to reorganising things. “I have to say the jumping section were absolutely amazing the way they got out and looked at the schedule and looked at what they could fit in. We had to protect the main arena [for Sunday]. We only ended up cancelling three classes, so that was a good outcome.” We presume he means three “big” classes, as there were others cancelled – including in the show ring and in the minor rings.
The eventers apparently got half their entry fee refunded, which was some consolation, although we’re sure they would have preferred to have had a run if possible.
But what will happen to eventing next year? Will it stay on the programme as is, or will it end up being an express-eventing class, which was mooted about 12 months ago, with an outcry from eventing riders before confirmation of the standard CIC. Perhaps it will go back out to Flaxmere, where it was held for several years or, in an effort to cut costs, perhaps it will be canned altogether?
Costs are going to have to be a factor when planning next year’s show. Last year, the show made a loss of $170,000, with the Hawke’s Bay District Council making up that loss and also contributing towards the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society’s recent improvements to the showgrounds. It is estimated that the show injects over $12 million into the Hawke’s Bay economy, so good on the council for stepping up. Places like Havelock North were certainly pumping with people, spilling out of the restaurants into the streets on Saturday night especially. Accommodation was booked out in many areas.
The Horse of the Year is a company owned (one third each) by the district council, Equestrian Sport NZ and Show Jumping Hawke’s Bay. ESNZ’s Vicki Glynn is a director. ESNZ will not want the show to have run at a loss, especially given their own current financial pressure.
Dave Mee says that pre-sales were up about 30%, but with the disastrous weather on Saturday, gate sales were significantly down that day, though overall it might be okay. “I think we’re going to come out similar to last year, without knowing the exact numbers. Usually, if it’s raining in the morning, particularly between 6 and 9, that impacts on your gate with any event. We pretty much had rain every day between 6 and 9.”
So, if gate sales do come out about similar to last year, that will be a good result. Final figures are not yet available.
Of course, it is not just about gate sales. Competition entries are important, and these seemed about on par with the previous year, and up in many classes. There seemed to be just as many trade stands as usual, but what their turnover was like and whether they will come back next year remains to be seen.
Dave Mee was positive about the feedback from those in the trade stands although he or his staff didn’t visit them all. “Some of them had their best HOY ever. The equestrian stands had a good time, but the non-equestrian stands didn’t have such a good time. The equestrian people were on-site, they had nothing to do, they couldn’t compete, and they shopped.”
There didn’t seem to be a lot of people shopping early on in the show, especially on the Tuesday and Wednesday. In earlier years, these two days have been free entry to the public, which has certainly meant a brisker trade. On the busier days this year, there were some challenges getting around the trade stands due to muddy walkways. The mud seemed to be everywhere, and at times was treacherous for pedestrians. And, as it began to dry and get sticky, it was hard going accompanied by not-very pleasant aromas.
Dave Mee didn’t think there was a fix for the muddy conditions. “We had so many people say, ‘Well, just throw down some bark’. But if you did the calculations of how much bark we needed, and trucks getting in there, it was an impossible task. It’s about managing people’s expectations, and we wanted to do everything we could, but you can’t always do everything.”
As a suggestion, some of the ground protection mats used in the UK work well, and may be a useful investment.
But with the mud came one of the highlights. Well done to the Wilson sisters who organised the best mud-slide party we’ve ever seen.
How those who took part ever got clean again is a mystery!
When the eventing cross-country was under review, there was a lot of discussion about whether an event like Horse of the Year has insurance. We asked Dave Mee at the conclusion of the show what the situation was.
“We have two insurance policies. One is a weather, earthquake and equine disease insurance. That is for the entire show. It has to kick in at a certain period and it has to be a full cancellation of the show. We also had a rain cover and it is very narrowly defined. It was defined as a certain amount of rain at certain times and if you don’t define it, the premium is too high to make it workable. Unfortunately, our insurance didn’t quite kick in, because the rain fell at the wrong time. So unfortunately, there was no insurance cover [available to us this year] and we finished the event, so it’s hard to say what would have, could have, should have happened.”
No doubt the reviews will have already begun, with SMC, together with the shareholders, looking at what can be done better. SMC are two years into their five-year contract, subject to performance. SMC Events are answerable to the HOY board, who have set a range of key performance indicators. When asked about what he would do better next time, Dave admitted the biggest challenge is the stabling. “There are not enough good stables for the amount of people who want good stables. I know the showgrounds are looking at having a whole bunch of brand new stables, so there is a big fundraising drive. We are working closely with them.”
SMC also intends seeking feedback from riders, and will be doing lots of surveys in order to find out where other improvements need to be made. The dates for next year’s show are not yet set, but let’s hope they pick a time when the weather is conducive to the largest equestrian event in New Zealand.
Our magazine is about to hit the printers and then your letterboxes, and there will be more stories about HOY there.