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PAT BOYLE: Managing Competitions with the Exhibitor in Mind

Some of the many prizes offered by Showplace Productions.

Recently I had a chance to speak with Showplace Productions' Pat Boyle about his management philosophy and new developments for the coming year. Skilled at developing mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors and at creating excitement at his events, Boyle approaches competition management from the perspective of all the players, trying to anticipate and address their different needs early in the game. His record of success and innovation makes him a hot commodity in the business and he enjoys being presented with new challenges. In this interview he discusses what gives him his valuable perspective and about his new assignment managing events at the Colorado Horse Park.


A show manager for the last 25 years, Pat got his introduction to the horse business early, working on his family's Spring Hill Farm as a teenager and participating at shows around North America as an exhibitor.


"Growing up and going to different shows I thought I had a pretty good idea what a Show Manager's job was," Boyle related. "Like most exhibitors I had seen the manager in action and interacted with them and horse show staff every day at events.  What most people don't realize is what goes on behind the scenes and how it's a year round position. A manager might be involved with everything from making decisions about long term investments like building permanent stabling, spending 6 or 7 figures on new footing, hiring officials and staff, obtaining licenses and dates from the USEF and then also develop a long range strategy for obtaining and retaining sponsorships and customers-and I by customers I mean the owners, riders, trainers, and horses who are ultimately our guests at events."


"All these different roles had to be learned on the job," Boyle continued, "but throughout the process of growing as a manager, going from small, winter series indoor shows to 6 ring mega shows like the Spring Spectacular, I always tried to maintain the viewpoint of an exhibitor. I think about what was important to me both when I was showing in the Junior Hunters and when I was riding in Grand Prix. I think this perspective is why my company, Showplace Productions, is known for both exhibitor friendly shows and for innovations like our Leading Rider Series and Challenge Cup."


When asked what makes for an exhibitor friendly show, Pat elaborated, "You need to provide for organization, information, accommodation, and recreation. The time schedule needs to be well thought out ahead of time, but then adjusted thoughtfully to account for variations in class size and outside developments like weather conditions. Staff should communicate with each other so that different trainers and rings are given priority so that everyone gets where they need to go when they need to show. Everyone should be aware of the schedule and the status of the rings and staff need to be friendly and helpful when people have questions about what's going on. It's a heck of a job staying on top of the prize list, schedule, in-gates, announcers, and Web site-but a well organized show is a friendly show."


Boyle continued by pointing out how important accommodation and recreation are to exhibitor friendliness. "There really isn't a lot of difference between a well managed horse show and a well managed hotel or resort. You are going to have horses and people arriving in large numbers that need to know where they can set up their stalls and tack rooms, order supplies, enter classes, and begin riding. Then later in the week they are going to be paying their accounts and moving out. Throughout their whole stay we want them to be comfortable, to feel valued, and to never be confused about where they should be or what they should be doing. Moreover, we want the facility to be clean, safe, and appealing. That means good footing, good stabling, and attention to details like landscaping and course building."


"But you have to allow for the opportunity to cut loose too", Pat went on, "a lot of thought goes into our exhibitor parties and amenities. We've organized everything from golf-cart races to dodge-ball tournaments to get people to play together. We have coffee and donuts in the office in the morning. At my bigger shows I even employ a concierge for exhibitors and serve mimosas to parents as they check out on Sunday morning. The parents are the ones ultimately writing a lot of the checks, they are the VIPs; at our shows we want them to feel like VIPs."


Innovations like the Showplace Leading Rider Series and Challenge Cup are rooted in Boyle's competitive background.  "As a teenager I liked being able to compare my results with those of the kids I was competing against. I liked the tradition and ceremony, the atmosphere that was present at events like Young Riders, and the Prix de States, and I liked the opportunity to win prize money! I want to encourage participation and ambition, especially in the younger riders," he explained. "If you're riding in a $20,000 class when you're 12 or 13, then you aren't going to be as nervous competing in a $100,000 Grand Prix 5 years later."


But it's not just the prize money that distinguishes Showplace Productions' events. It's the format of the classes and the courses themselves. "We were building Children's Hunter classics with an outside course before Hunter Derbies caught fire. And we routinely hold Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper Speed Derbies over many of the same obstacles as the Hunter Derby. We try to organize a variety of classes, a Gambler's Choice, a Match Race, a Four Bar, even an annual charity class called the Gentleman's Invitational."


Boyle went on to detail the crucial role sponsors play in supporting programs like the Leading Rider Series and the big money classics. "It would be impossible for a competition to stay revenue positive and still provide the prize money and amenities that both keep exhibitors in the Mid-west and make it a destination for horses from around the country.  I have corporate and farm sponsors that I know I can count on to underwrite the prize money in classics and the Leading Rider Series. I have product sponsors that do everything from providing saddles and Rolex watches to providing the landscaping in the rings. We have participation that ranges from an individual sponsoring the prize money in one hunter division all the way up to multi-national firms sponsoring a grand prix series. There are too many to mention in one sentence," Boyle stated, "but we value the contribution of each and every one!"


Pat Boyle went on to say that he hoped sponsors felt they were receiving something valuable in return. "We work hard to show a good return on the sponsors' investment. We cater to them year round rather than just during their title class, or show. And while I think that advertising plays an important role in marketing my competitions I think it plays a bigger role in helping my sponsors get national exposure and association with the show jumping brand. We spend a lot of money every year on placing ads in the national equestrian media even though a lot of our new business develops through direct people to people (word-of-mouth) contact. I feel like I owe it to our sponsors to get their names out there as much as possible."


Most Showplace Productions events have been held at Ledges Sporting Horses, in Roscoe, Illinois and at the Lamplight Equestrian in Wayne, Illinois, this year Showplace expands to the West, taking over management of the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Colorado. Pat confirmed that the six-week show series would exhibit the same flair that his Chicago base had become accustomed to. "We have a lot of fun ideas we're hoping to do, the same novel jumper classes plus maybe a ride & drive, hunter derbies, NAL, WIHS, and Marshall & Sterling qualifiers every week. We want to bring as much excitement as possible to go with the service that our current exhibitors have come to expect from us."


Asked if he predicted any problems with his busy schedule, particularly the overlap with his Illinois events in June and July, Boyle was quick to allay any concerns. "I have an absolutely great staff. I'm completely confident all our shows will run smoothly. I have total faith in the team that's been helping me at Lamplight and Ledges and I'm excited about the new staff in Parker. If I had any concern it would be only jet-lag as I'm planning to make sure it's never more than two days that I'm not personally at any of the venues while competitions are being held."


Pat closed the interview mentioning that he was heading to the USHJA Convention in San Antonio, Texas. When asked if he anticipated being involved in any debates during the event he concluded, "It's a challenge to keep up with all the proposed rule changes, and then the additions to the rule book-we have to do a lot of research and update our policies to make sure we are 100% compliant. But I love to interact with equestrians from all over the country and to encourage them to come visit us in Chicago and now Colorado. I know I'm going to put on great shows when I keep the exhibitor foremost in my mind."


Showplace Productions would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by its sponsors and supporters, including but not limited to - Taylor Harris Insurance Services,, Gruno's Diamonds - An Official Rolex Jeweler, Tapestry Farm, Nutrena, Pony Lane Farm, Turtle Rock Farm, Hinsdale Nurseries, Bill Kay Auto Group, John Deere, Vermeer Midwest, Woodrun Farm, Midwest Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, Roc USA, Our Day Farm, First Partners Inc., Blue Gate Farm, True North Farm, Messenger Hill Farm, Canterbury Farm, and The Scleroderma Foundation