No matter who comes up with whatever whizbang promotional program to sell equestrian involvement, the ultimate point of contact for every potential convert is the workaday horse world, where he or she may receive a warm welcome and encouraging support or, conversely, a cold shoulder or shoddy treatment.
Yes, that means you and your fellow horse lovers there in your local area are responsible for keeping the equine industry alive and growing. How could you possibly help? Try some of the marketing tactics suggested below, or create your own approaches for building higher horse visibility in your community and enticing newcomers into horse sports. As Sherman Ivy, founder of the U.S. Equine Marketing Association, puts it, "P.R. is talking to your neighbor." Certainly, you can do that.
- Is a heartwarming or inspiring horse story unfolding in your community? Be sure the local newspaper(s) hears about it via a press release (a concise rundown of who, what, where and when) or a call to the editorial office. Or aim for even bigger coverage, and call the program director at your local television stations.
- Ditto for all upcoming equestrian events in which you're involved. Regular inclusion of show dates, club meetings and educational seminars in the newspaper's "what's happening" section may attract a few outsiders, but news stories and, better yet, full-length features emphasizing the events' most appealing highlights are a stronger draw to the uninitiated. Be sure to include a "for further information" phone number that's manned by knowledgeable people.
- Convince your local paper to run a weekly "Horse Doings" column to carry news and information from every facet of the regional equestrian community. Perhaps they'd be more receptive if you suggested that a collection of horse- and riding-related ads be run in conjunction with the column.
- Talk up the pleasures of riding while at work, school or social gatherings, and help your non-riding but newly interested acquaintances find riding stables or instructors that will give them good starts.
- If you run a lesson stable, place a coupon good for one free beginner's lesson in your local paper or community advertiser. Then be prepared to handle the crowd that may sign up. Even if it's free, an unsatisfactory experience (unruly school horses; poorly executed lesson; surly or standoffish stable help; unsafe surroundings or procedures) won't entice the recipient to try riding again.
- Treat the spectators at equestrian events to education, entertainment and consideration. Explain what the horse and rider must do to win a particular event (announcer; clear, jargon-free program notes; large, centrally located diagrams; live demonstrations). Schedule classes with spectator as well as competitor interest in mind, alternating entertaining demonstrations with the standard, serious fare. Don't forget the non-riding kids - keep them occupied with games and contests, a petting zoo and, best of all, free pony rides.
- Provide a free services guide, listing local horse clubs and organizations, instructors, boarding stables, trainers, horse breeders and dealers, feed and tack suppliers, veterinarians, farriers and haulers, at every horse event where non-riders gather. It may be no more than a single photocopied sheet, but the information is invaluable for a beginner looking for a toehold in a new world. Collect donations from fellow horsepeople or horse organizations to cover the cost of more elaborate printed productions.
- Get that free services guide out of the horse world and to the general public. Would your county office of tourism or recreation like copies? How about giving a bunch to realtors to distribute? Would veterinarians be willing to leave copies in their waiting rooms? Might feed and farm-supply businesses let you put copies on their counters?
- Welcome children to your horse world. Offer your farm for elementary school tours; volunteer to introduce horses and riding to scouts and other recreation programs; take on a youthful apprentice whose heart is already hooked but whose family circumstances have no room for horses.
- Show that horsepeople and horses make good neighbors. If you own a commercial stable, host an annual open house for the local residents. Encourage your riding club or horse-related organization to contribute to larger community causes (a parade drill team; a charity show or "ride-a-thon" for the child needing a heart transplant). Work with other groups in maintaining public show grounds and trails.This article originally appeared in the November 1992 issue of EQUUS Magazine.