May 2020 - Pandemic Perspectives: Show Organizer Dale Harvey
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 00:36
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What will the “new normal” look like?

While uncertainly surrounds some aspects of how the coronavirus crisis will affect the equine industry, there’s no doubt about the far-reaching impact of competition cancellations that began throughout the country in early March. As the organizer of 17 hunter/jumper competitions in California, West Palms Events’ year came to an abrupt halt just as its season was to start with the Flintridge Horse Show.


Set for April 23-26, it would have been the 99th staging of Flintridge, a much-loved tradition by exhibitors and by the Huntington Memorial Hospital, its longtime beneficiary.


West Palms chief Dale Harvey spoke with editor Kim F Miller on the immediate and long-term impacts.

Kim: There was so much uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic. What was West Palms’ approach early on?
Dale: From the very beginning, our approach was to cancel at the very last minute, with the hope that, somehow, things would turn around. The Flintridge Horse Show was the first to be cancelled, then the Woodside Spring Preview and Classic the last two weeks of April.
As of April 20, the Sacramento Memorial Day Classic and Sacramento Spring Classic, set for late May, are still on, as are shows at The Horse Park at Woodside and the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center in June, July and August.
However, as every week goes by, we lose a bit of hope that these dates will be realistic.

Kim: How do you describe the impact to West Palms Event?
Dale: The pandemic has completely shut us down. There is nothing happening. Competitions aren’t allowed and, for the most part, sponsors are not interested in shows that are not happening.   
Kim: How big is your team?
Dale: We normally have five people full time, but the shows employ probably 100 people: office staff, ring crew, back gate people, judges, photographers, etc., are unemployed indefinitely. That’s one of the things that worries me most, how this is affecting the base of our sport.
I am working with the CARES Act program in hopes of getting some help to most of our team members. We are keeping in touch with our ring crew guys, doing our best to make sure everybody is OK.
Kim: What do you see going forward?
Dale: We are thinking ahead. We have our two weeks of FEI competition in the Fall in the Sacramento International and the Del Mar International (in late September and mid-October.) God willing, those will happen, but even if they do, I think some aspects of them will be very different.
At the Sacramento International, on World Cup night, the grandstands and VIP areas are sold-out: they’re packed. People are shoulder-to-shoulder. I question whether people will ever be comfortable going back to that. No matter what or when, we will land on our feet, but I think there will be a lot of changes in the way people do things. How long will it be until people are comfortable again, travelling on airplanes and staying in hotels again?
Kim: How does the virus impact compare to the impact of the 2008 Great Recession?
Dale: Horse show attendance definitely took a cut then, and I’m not sure we have fully recovered from that.
What scares me the most for our industry is looking at declining numbers for shows everywhere, even before this. The FEI and USEF A level of shows reflect a very narrow band of the show world. At lower levels and among entry level riders participating, the numbers are declining, reflecting fewer new people coming into the sport. That makes me concerned about the horse business in general, and especially in this new economic downturn.
Kim: What’s the hardest part of all this?
Dale: The hardest part is having no answers: not knowing when we can resume business. I think the amount of damage to our business, the industry and the whole economy depends on how long this goes on.