HC: What is your title and what is the name of your company?
MM: I’m an independent contractor, I have an LLC called Oracle LLC, but that’s pretty much for tax purposes. In the real world I just trade on my name.
HC: How long have you owned your own company?
MM: I’ve been independent since 2010.
HC: What did you do before you stepped out on your own?
MM: After graduating from Centre College in 2005, I began working for a lawyer, then I interned for the Danville (KY) Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. In that job, I assisted in the organization of the Great American Brass Band Festival. I know nothing about music, much less brass bands, but I had so much fun it got me interested in event planning.
Then I became the Hunter Director for the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) for six years. That job involved working closely with horse show management and USHJA Hunter Equitation, USHJA Junior Hunter, USHJA Hunter Breeding Committee committees to produce Pony Finals, Junior Hunter Finals, USEF Medal Finals, the USEF Hunter Breeding Finals and the NCAA Equestrian Finals. I had always shown hunters and jumpers, and loved them, but managing those events really got me interested in horse show production specifically. After the first one I remember thinking, “I want to be a part of this.” I love the energy, I love the fact that no two days are the same and I really love the fact that I get paid to watch horses jump all day.
HC: Was it scary to start on your own?
MM: You know, it should have been, but I had so much support from friends, family and business associates, I never had that “what do I do now?” moment. I went directly from my job at USEF to my first as an independent contractor in which I helped as secretary of a show, I then went straight into assisting with staffing and found my niche.
HC: What do you think are key qualities for people who might want to go into show management?
MM: Don’t panic. I can melt down like Chernobyl if an Excel spreadsheet won’t open, but when it comes to actual crisis—like fire, wind, flooding, virus outbreak–you have to be able to remain calm and slow everything down.
You have to be able to make a decision, right or wrong, and sometimes you have to go back and own that you made a bad call, but it had to be made. Indecisiveness will end you. Also, tact will get you far. The ability to hear someone out, think through their position and then either succinctly and politely explain why that won’t work and why your plan will, or, succinctly and politely acknowledge that they are correct, they do have a better plan and thank them for it is extremely beneficial.
HC: What is your equestrian background?
MM: I’ve shown hunters and jumpers my entire life. When I was six, my trainer told my dad that some kids ride until high school, then some through college, then a few for life, and at age six, she could tell that I was going to be a lifer. On the rare occasion that I actually make it back in the show ring, I compete in the Adult Amateur hunters. Outside of the ring, I’m game to get on anything I can borrow. In the past year, I’ve ridden some exceptionally nice jumpers, hunters and reiners, as well as more than a few cow ponies.
HC: Do you have any specific training for this job? What was your degree in school – do you use that degree?
MM: I call USEF my grad school. It let me meet all of the players and learn all of the rules (key) and I did enough returning after-hours emails and calls that when I left, everyone knew who I was. My degree is from Centre College. I had a History/Government double major with a minor in Religion. Do I use these particular degrees daily? No. Do I use the analytical thinking, quick reading and quick assessment of mass amounts of information that I developed while getting these degrees? Every day. College also taught me how to prioritize, what projects can I do now, what can I do later, what can I delegate, what doesn’t need as much attention as I’d like to give it, how much sleep do I really need?
HC: Can you please briefly describe what you do before, during and after the show?
MM: Let’s see—no two days are the same, so I can use today as an example. Today I replaced a staff member who called in sick at 5:15 a.m., ordered 876 silk plants, Googled bed and breakfasts where horses can layover between British Columbia and Denver, ordered custom boxed lunches for 72 people, ran back-up timers for a jumper class, caught a loose Pygmy goat, confirmed travel plans for three judges, finalized a tractor order, replaced a course designer who needs a week off for family stuff, confirmed 684 nights of hotel bookings in 86 different names, proofed a draft of facility upgrades, and made a wardrobe guideline to send the interns. It’s 1:10 p.m.–who knows what else will happen today. There are very few things in my day that are “scheduled”–if you looked at my calendar, it looks pretty empty, but I know that the day will fill up quite quickly and that usually by 7 p.m. or so, I’ll have to talk myself into “OK, go home, you can do these things from home or tomorrow.”
HC: What shows do you currently work? What states are they in?
MM: I currently work the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Fl., Kentucky Spring and Summer in Lexington, Kentucky (with Pony Finals in the middle), Colorado Spring, Summer and Fall in the Rockies in Parker, Colo. (outside of Denver), the National Horse Show in Lexington, Ky., and the Chicago Hunter Derby in Antioch, Ill.
My job for each is different. In Kentucky I do staffing and random fill in, WEF is awards and some staffing and some random fill in, and Colorado I’m the manager, and also random fill in. For the most part, my job is do what needs to be done.
HC: How much do you travel and how much time do you spend in one place?
MM: I do three months in Palm Beach, about two months in Kentucky and most of the rest of the year in Denver.
HC: What is your favorite part of your job?
MM: I can’t even decide. I get to work with my closest friends and our dogs every day while watching horses jump around, and I love the energy of the horse shows. It’s hard to walk into a show and not feel some of the excitement.
HC: What is your favorite show to work?
MM: They are all different. I love Colorado because the people are fantastic and the scenery is just stunning. I love Pony Finals because the kids have such a great time. Horrible trip on the course? By the time they are at the bottom of the ramp, they have an ice cream cone and it’s all forgotten. Chicago Hunter Derby holds a special place in my heart because I’ve been there for every one since the beginning, and it’s really been fun to watch that event grow and develop into something that we can really be proud of. Then WEF has its own unique coolness in that it’s the “place to be” in the winter. In the coffee line you’re going to end up talking to at least three Olympians.
HC: What is a difficult part of your job?
MM: The hours are pretty rough. Horse shows start early and go late.
HC: What is one thing you learned or know now you never would have expected?
MM: I didn’t anticipate that I would know nearly as much about heavy machinery as I do. I thank my father every day for teaching me how to drive a tractor when I was young. I don’t need it often, but it’s nice to have in your back pocket. I also know way more about weather patterns than I ever wished to.
HC: What advice would you give people who are interested in horse show management?
MM: Hire the right people. If you have a staff who you believe in and who believes in you, you can literally get anything done. Also, horse shows are interesting–the person who works for you at one show signs your paychecks at another, so don’t say something you might regret.
HC: What do you think you would do if you didn’t have this job?
MM: I was torn between event planning (galas, weddings, that kind of stuff) or being a talent agent. A lot of my job is pretty agent oriented though. I spend a lot of time planning people’s schedules on where they should be working and trading with other venues if we need to swap some of the judges, course designers, etc.
Horse show judging not for you? Maybe
being a saddle fitter, equine lawyer, or something else
will capture your interest. Find out! See more Careers in the Horse Industry interviews >>
Sarah Coleman has a soft spot for chestnuts with chrome, including
her off-the-track Thoroughbred that she competes in the hunters.
Based in Lexington, Ky., she is the Director of Education and
Development for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.