This is not a complaint about one horse show. This is not a whining because it rains a lot at your horse shows. Or the footing is an issue. (Which it is). This letter is about the decades long feeling there is a lack of empathy for your customers which continues to resonate through our little horse community. I am now totally confused as to where we stand with you. Where do your clients (exhibitors) stand with you? Where do our horses stand with you? Where does horse welfare stand with you? It would be comforting to hear some honest answers for once.
I have to admire your ambition for growth, we all have been impressed at one time or another about your remarkable ability to build some sort of business out of horses, purchase show dates, erect show grounds out of nothing, and throw huge prize money into a few classes, generate hype, and we all fell for it. We all wanted to be a part of the essence of the Million Dollar classes, gravitate to big money, big sales, big dreams, big business, and cool perks. I know I did. I spent years showing at Culpeper, Ocala, Indio, and even Saugerties.
There are reviews on your FB page which give you five stars and include all sorts of wonderful positive comments. To find them, you have to sort through some painfully familiar negative ones
So this in many ways is a great well run show. My specific complaint is the way they treated my division. 2’6″ hunters. First classes were cancelled as the ring was too busy. Not rescheduled- which could have been an option. Second the last day of the show they could not be bothered to water and drag the ring. My poor horse has a respiratory problem and almost choked on all the dust. She was coughing and sneezing constantly. If you are going to take my money I deserve the same quality experience as folks showing over bigger fences !!
Jamie ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 starJanuary 18 ·
Balmoral is for harness racing, not jumping horses.
Eric ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 2 star March 24, 2014 ·
Decent footing in the rings with cool trees. But, the place is basically a dump, the temporary tents have inadequate electrical power, the pathways are rutted, office staff is hostile, and too few restroom facilities. Not going back.
Ann ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 star March 24, 2014 ·
After having to stand in line since 330 this afternoon for our tables in the VIP tent……got stampeded as we tried to get a table when they opened the doors at 5. Very poorly organized for the $ 1 million class
Margaret ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 star March 24, 2014 ·
HORRIBLE management at the VIP tent! Extremely disappointed in how the seating is being managed.
Marge ****** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 5 star March 26 at 11:26pm ·
Very good attendance , great competition and the weather was about as good as it gets. Ocala, Florida March 26, 2017
Donna ****** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 5 star September 12, 2016 ·
What a great place, hope some day my daughter rides there!
In Ocala one year I stood stoically as I was berated for holding up the children’s pony division because of the children’s jumper classic. Jerry Dougherty sped around me as I was wearily heading back to my barn, slammed on the brakes of his golf cart with one leg dangling out to the side, sunglasses on, and said if I didn’t manage my days better, I would have to find somewhere else to show in the winter. He didn’t want to hear my excuse of the shoe being pulled in the deplorable schooling area and that I chose to have it repaired by the farrier before continuing to allow the horse to compete. Meanwhile the long line at the children’s pony ring had dwindled and they had to wait 20 minutes for me to finish with the jumper. I didn’t argue. He didn’t offer me a ride back to the barn. I didn’t cry. When I look back on that episode now (which obviously had an impact) I cannot imagine that happening to me in Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont. or ANYWHERE.
I spent a summer in 2009 sloshing around in the mud and rain, watching the trailers disappear under several feet of water, helping stranded golf carts push through unpaved gravel roads, adorned with potholes so deep fish were spotted swimming in them. I trekked for what seemed miles to the show rings, telling my students they would be so tough and resilient after surviving Saugerties. I think they just ended up tired.
When I came back that fall for the special classes I qualified for, I had to leave two horses home, one sold, one was lame. I decided I probably wouldn’t need the extra grooming stall. Knowing you were sold out and had a waiting list I called you immediately and said I would be happy to sell the three stalls back or to someone else. When I got there, your secretaries refused to acknowledge such actions, forcing me into paying for three extra stalls which had already been promptly sold to someone else on the wait list. I tried not to be bitter about how much money you just made over selling those three stalls twice, but I couldn’t get past it.
I left your company for good right there and then, vowing I would never ever give you another dime. I would never, ever allow myself to be sucked into the HITS circuit again. But, you didn’t give a f**k. You didn’t even notice.
I missed nothing about not attending your shows, and instead made new loyalties, supported new venues. I raised my eyebrows when I heard you helped purchase Balmoral and renovate it. Same when I heard you were involved in a restaurant in NYC. A running festival. A marina. There were so many grumblings about your current facilities, I thought it was odd you were expanding. Again. and again. Since I personally wasn’t showing with HITS anymore, it didn’t directly affect me. I thought it curious you were quoted in an article about your dedication to making horse shows better, however.
“Every day we’re trying to make the horse shows better,” he said. “I want to make sure Diamond Mills is doing well. I want it to be humming along.”
During the 2015 USHJA annual meeting (which you sponsored), I watched you come totally unglued during about how the location for the International Derby Finals are chosen. It is a pretty clear bid process for all of the major USHJA/USEF Finals, but the process did not seem to suit you and there was an enormous amount of angst expressed in the room. Apologies were apparently made later and outside of our view, but it was a pretty shocking site to us sitting in the chairs.
During the 2016 USHJA Annual meeting (which you ALSO sponsored), I witnessed some improvements being made in Coachella. We were all escorted to your facility, fed copies amounts of food and drink, and entertained with a pony club demonstration in the Grand Prix ring. What great fun.
Are you sponsoring the Annual meeting for a reason? Are people like me who speak up the reason? Or is it another reason? The Annual Meeting needs to be more accessible to our members, less costly, so people will actually show up, and are you able to help with those efforts? I can’t help but feel there is a plot twist in this somehow.
The West Coast riders had been begging for years for improvements, and it looked as though you were answering them. New buildings, new rings, but what happened to getting each day started? No way to sign up for start times online led to lines at 7am similar to Los Angeles rush hour. A living nightmare of a way to start the day. The excitement over the improvements started to wane after dozens and dozens of riders, trainers, and grooms waited hours each morning to negotiate start times.
You also stung a few riders by lowering the height of the Million Dollar GP on the West Coast, claiming that the horses in Thermal would benefit from 1.50m height rather than 1.60. My first thought was maybe the horses are there, but the riders are hesitant to jump 1.60 on your footing. The reaction others had was way more tepid.
At what point do you sacrifice extraordinary prize money for actually just having top notch facilities?
Are you only making 1 Million dollar improvements to Ocala next year because of the threat of WEC setting up shop right next door? That’s what it took? After all these years? I know people who are so excited about that future facility, they are thinking of changing disciplines just to show there.
I don’t even blink about a $1 million dollar improvement happening in Ocala. Try 10. You could put in a $1 million dollar entrance for all we know, just re-grading the roads to the barns would eat up that $1 million quickly enough. My guess is every year the operating budget alone is $1 million to even get the first two weeks running and we are being distracted with a press release. If you are only addressing 6 of the 12 rings with pushing back the footing and installing drains, that means there are 6 satisfactory show rings in existence? And the schooling areas? http://www.ocala.com/news/20170413/hits-plans-1-million-in-improvements-before-2018
You own this little Show grounds in middle Virginia, which used to be an incredible mecca for show people. I grew up eventing there, I galloped the cross country fences, flew around stadium courses like it was the venue of a lifetime. It is where Superman had that career ending injury. We listened to older trainers tell remarkable stories about a previous owner of the Commonwealth Park facility dropping dollar bills out of a helicopter an hour before the Grand Prix to make sure people would attend the big class. For years, we watched it fall into a decline while you took on other ventures. You expanded in Ocala, New York, Thermal, Arizona, Chicago. I noticed my friends stopped wanting to show in the Virginia location. The barns were collapsing, the rings were struggling to be safe to ride in. The structures started to really rot.
Last year, when I was injured, my horses came back to Culpeper. My best friend was stabling next door, and she really, really wanted to show my horses at your show, so I agreed to let her show one. I hated to do it, not because of her, but because I had to give HITS money. It killed me, but I got over it, she and the horse were terrific, and it was good publicity for him in the end. This year the same thing happened. I am injured again, and I agreed to have a client take the same horse down to show in the adults this time. I couldn’t sleep. I was riddled with worry. When I woke up on Friday morning and checked my news, my heart sunk. There were several complaints about the conditions in Culpeper, and it was escalating quickly. The weather was not helping, but even with good weather, conditions were far from ideal. The list was long and getting longer. by the minute. By Friday half of the few competitors scratched and went home. Only 10 competed in your Grand Prix. Not even the horse stabled next door coming off a win in Ohio would set foot in that ring.
Yes, I get the collapsing barns you replaced were supposed to make us feel better, but really, did you think about layout at all? Or, did you erect the barns simply to get us to shut up? These shows only take place in the summer months, so direct sunlight is actually an issue. There is literally no shade. And when it rains……It rained so much and so hard, water was pouring in from the roof into the actual ‘new’ barn aisles.
Why do so many of your show staff seem so unhappy? Why aren’t the rings seeing a tractor more often? Or, at all? Why does the simple act of retrieving a back number out of the show office intimidate so many people? Why ARE the stalls $300 a week this year? Why is there an extra fee if we choose to use straw? Why is there an extra fee to take deep breaths?
People come to this horse show because it is convenient. We live here. We are close to it. Like people live close to your show grounds in Ocala, bought property for themselves to be in the sunshine state, the same goes for Virginia. Zone 3 is pretty freaking healthy right now, we have a lot of hunters and jumpers. We have other shows in the same vicinity which sell out each year. We also are seeing other show managers think outside the box to help exhibitors.
I am just curious as to how you come to your conclusions with regards to exhibitors. You see, it seems as though you can get away with all of these mediocre to crippling facilities because you simply up the ante for special classes. 1 million for this, 1 million for that, $250k for the Jr/Am, 100k-500k here for hunters, 50k for the young ones. Do you think we won’t jump a Grand Prix for $750k? Or a Derby for less than $500k? Have you met us? Or, is this your way of suggesting we shouldn’t complain? Well, it is really hard not to complain when we can plainly see what’s happening around us.
We do love to compete, but we also really, really need our horses to stay sound to compete. Without the horses, we are nothing. I believe we would be more impressed with our horses LOVING the facility, just as much as that big paycheck, and I believe it is your job to find out exactly what the balance should be.
I don’t feel your blessing to push up the existing footing in three of the six rings and install drains will satisfy your customers. But apparently that will be happening in June. Is that really enough? Do the schooling areas count as being equally important to you since the horses jump more in the schooling areas than they do in the actual show rings? i can guess the answer.
In Virginia, the other event which suffers is our Zone championships. There are people who have no interest in being on our championship jumper teams specifically because the finals are being held at Culpeper. This is kind of irritating. With limited options to hold major events, we have depended on your facility to help us out, and it looks like we will not be able to experience the same competition we had envisioned for our (USHJA) members. I personally believe the priority of the USHJA SHOULD be for it’s members, and not for the show managers, but maybe I am wrong. I believe our members look to the Board of Directors and Zone Committee members for answers, not to you. Maybe the bidding process for these events needs to be re-evaluated? Maybe the mileage rule caused this, and the responsibility lies elsewhere? A monopoly on the market doesn’t usually mean competitions improve standards each year, after all, where lies the motivation? The dates are yours to keep, after all.
You may have permanently lost the last of your Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and even New Jersey customers last week, I am sorry to say. I think people finally have realized you aren’t here for them, all the patience and tolerance has been wiped out, and that is a sad situation. I loved that facility once. It even could be nice again one day, maybe for the next generation.