I spent last weekend at the Longines Global Champions Tour in Paris. The arena itself was located at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and it was absolutely stunning. They had all flags flying, brass bands playing and some of the best riders in the world. But it wasn’t the pomp and ceremony that struck me. Yes, it was dramatic and gripping. But what really struck me was the amount of people who were there who had no experience with horses. Whether it was families from the area or tourists who had seen it from high up the Eiffel Tower, there were a huge amount of people who were there for the novelty of going. I found myself thinking about how many people I know who have no interest in horses but have been to the Dublin Horse Show. Most of them thought it was really interesting… yet they hadn’t been back.
For most of the visitors in Paris, they decided to visit the Eiffel Tower or park or were walking down a nearby street and came across the flags or the signs. The location of the event piqued their curiosity, the free entry to the grounds allowed them to act on this curiosity, and the spectacle drew them in. For others, having already heard about it, the public transport links meant they were able to attend. The rural nature of the Irish equine industry means that there are very few, if any, venues that have good public transport links. This takes away some of the potential for people to stumble across it, or access it if they don’t drive. If we want to draw people in, we have to make it easy for them.
There seems to be an assumption within the equine industry that everyone has an idea of what is going on, or at least has someone to ask. If we want to encourage people to engage in equestrian sports, we have to start by assuming that they don’t know anything and give them opportunities to learn. This can be done by a commentator explaining the rules of a class or a program including class descriptions on the back page. These really small steps will mean that even an armchair commentator can tell the difference between a speed class and a Grand Prix – rather than them coming out of the woodwork for the puissance in Dublin, and then retreating again. It doesn’t take much for people within the equine industry to make these armchair enthusiasts feel more a part of proceedings. If nothing else, surely descriptions like these would make the sport more accessible for people who are late to the sport, or whose children have taken it on. We shouldn’t just assume people know how to find the results of a class…. We should show them.
People learn by repetition. They get excited by The Horse Show in August – but their attention would be lost by the time the next one rolls around. Show jumping is probably the easiest of our sports for armchair enthusiasts to follow. It requires the least amount of technical expertise to follow as the poles are either up or down. So why aren’t there more competitions in Dublin City? Surely a “Phoenix Series” could be organized in the Phoenix Park? The key to this would be ensuring that these shows were showcasing some of our best riders, with time taken to explain what is going on. This is how people will become accustomed to attending equestrian events.
People will always be willing to go watch when “a proper show” is put on. There should be food options, accessible seating and some form of children’s entertainment. It would need to be organized as more than “just show jumping”. The value adds would need to be a big enough pull to get people’s attention. Think of how many people go to Bloom in comparison to how many people are avid gardeners. The event would need to be organized as a full day out to grab people’s attention. It is then up to the horses to hold it.
As it stands, the equine industry markets to the equine industry and wonders why it doesn’t grow. The creation of urban events marketed to the masses, offering a great day out, will offer so much more to the general public than a show hidden in some corner that cars struggle to find. I’m not suggesting we move all competitions to the Phoenix Park – but a few weekends in a row wouldn’t hurt.
The crux of the matter is that we need to make it easier for people to engage with our sport. We need to take the time to explain and discuss what is going on. From the outside, I’m sure the idea of walking out to a field, bringing in a horse, putting fancy tack on it and making it jump over random things seems a bit bizarre. The onus is on us to make sure that we are making the sport accessible to all, sharing our knowledge about it and creating enough of a spectacle. Some good marketing would help too.