I had a good Florida season this year: I had women crying in my office on only four occasions.
Am I a domestic-disputes lawyer? A psychotherapist? Nope. I’m assistant manager in charge of stabling (among other services) at the West Palm Beach horse shows run by Stadium Jumping, Inc.
That’s only one of the stops on the A circuit, where I work year-round, but it’s the biggest-getting bigger-and by far the toughest. This year it had 42 stabling tents and miles of water pipe to maintain. More than three thousand horses stayed on the showgrounds; another thousand or so came and went from surrounding farms.
The sheer numbers of exhibitors and horses would be a major challenge, but add Palm Beach’s mix of turnout paddocks and private riding areas, plus the chronic parking shortage, and you’ll understand why, once I’ve wrapped up Palm Beach for the winter, anything I come up against in the summer seems relatively easy.
But I said relatively easy. There’s no really easy answer when I arrive at a show somewhere on my schedule and learn that we have a hundred more horses entered than we have stalls to put them in. (With the horse-show industry’s rapid growth, this kind of overbooking has become commonplace.) Do I call a bunch of exhibitors and tell them they’re actually on a waiting list, or-assuming we have space on the grounds-call a tent company and beg for tent stabling at short notice?
And where tents are concerned, there’s also no easy solution to a problem like the one I faced when Hurricane Bertha was about to hit a South Carolina horse show five years ago. First we had to evacuate all the horses from the showgrounds to temporary stabling elsewhere. Then, because the tent company’s crew couldn’t come in time to take the stabling tents down before the hurricane was expected to hit, our horse-show crew pitched in and worked for seven hours to do it. Fortunately, Bertha bypassed us. The tent-company crew helped us put the tents back up-and I knew that, after helping them out in a jam, I’d get a better response the next time I called with a last-minute stabling shortage.
My present career wasn’t in the plan when I majored in business management at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But I’d been around horses all my life, showing hunters as a junior and qualifying for Indoors my final year; I liked the show environment. As soon as I got out of college, in 1991, I was back on the circuit: not riding, but working on jump crews. I enjoyed the “backstage” side of things and started working my way up. I became an assistant to Maury McGrath, then the stable manager at Devon and a number of other shows; he had considerable expertise with computers, and he taught me a lot in that area among others. When he moved on to oversee the Palm Beach facility full-time, he gave me the opportunity to assume the stable management at all the other shows he’d previously done.
This job works for me because I’m a people person. That’s important in getting along with all the different personalities who come together at a competition. The hardest thing I had to learn was to say no, because I always want to say, “Yes, I can do that for you.” But I sometimes need to be able to tell people-even those in tears!- that (for instance) it isn’t the end of the world if their stabling for this show isn’t where they want to be.
I think I’d like to manage horse shows someday, and I’ve added to my responsibilities recently with that plan in mind. I’ve been working with Alan Rheinheimer, who manages some new Southern A shows as well as traditional ones like Palm Beach and Old Salem Farm (North Salem, New York), and with David Distler, manager of some other major competitions and co-manager of Devon with Peter Doubleday. I’ve been assistant to David at events such as the Pony Finals and helped him at the USET Festival of Champions, one of the busiest shows because several different disciplines are going at the same time. He and I are among the developers of HorseSportsOnline.com, a company we think has great potential for transfer of horse-show information on the Internet.
Oh, yes, and there’s a big reason why, after starting out right with a good Florida circuit, this year keeps getting better. Around 1993, I met Holly Hays, then just finishing the juniors and turning professional in the hunters. Being at so many of the same shows enabled us to start a relationship and keep it going and growing. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have married right after Devon. From there we look forward to a busy summer, with me running things backstage while Holly, “onstage” in the ring, pursues her latest goal: getting to the grand prix jumper divisions.
This article first appeared in the July, 2001 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.