WORDS: APRIL BILODEAU PHOTOS: ESI PHOTOGRAPHY & REBECCA WALTON
RIDERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY have shown on HITS circuits for decades, but as the horse show management company nation grows, they are aiming for the top. Nearly one year ago, HITS announced their official partnership with Traub Capital Partners (TCP), an investment firm out of New York, NY. The goal of the partnership was to further enhance the multiple show loca-tions and continue building the legacy the horse shows have developed in their over 40 years of management. Since that announcement, TCP has delivered on their promise of improving the show grounds, starting in Ocala.
“We did not leave any stone unturned,” Joe Norick, Chief Client Officer at HITS, tells The Plaid Horse. “I could go on and on and on. We know what the clients are looking for in a show facility and we are working to deliver on that”
In fact, before beginning construction on any of the facilities, HITS conducted a survey among competitors asking what they could do to make the HITS experience better.
“Out of our top five answers, the first three were improving the footing,” says Peter Englehart, President and CEO of HITS. “So the footing was really the most important thing for us.”
HITS took the feedback seriously and immediately started in Ocala with the resurfacing of four rings with footing by Sharn Wordley and Craig Martin of Wordley Martin Premium Equine Surfaces. The resurfacing included the Grand Prix Ring and Main Hunter Ring, as well as their respective schooling rings.
“The dedication that Wordley Martin showed us was beyond expectation,” says Norick, who
adds that the same team is headed to each HITS location to provide improvements to the rings. This includes a significant portion of the major competition rings in Saugerties and all new rings in Del Mar.
“We’re creating a family environment here. This is a place where we are trying to welcome everyone.” —PETER ENGLEHART, HITS PRESIDENT AND CEO
NEAR LEFT, FROM TOP: Callan Solem competing under the historic Oak trees at HITS Ocala • HITS Ocala partnered with Kahwa Coffee to offer clients new options for the 2023 show season • Hunter Holloway showcasing some speed over the Wordley Martin fence
“The only two rings that will remain untouched in Del Mar are the grass rings,” says Norick with a laugh. “Those are some of the best rings!”
Additional improvements in Ocala include the repair and painting of all fencing, the planting of 350 trees throughout the property—not only for a unique flair, but to provide more shade for exhibitors— the renovation of the cafe and menu, and updated restrooms. The overall hospitality has also been a focus, resulting in the VIP tent now being open to all exhibitors and riders Wednesday through Saturday.
For the international competitor, the organization is bringing back FEI competition to both Saugerties and Del Mar.
“FEI is so important. We’ve decided to bring back FEI competition in Saugerties in 2023,” says Norick.
“Saugerties Week 8 will be a 4* competition, resulting in 4 weeks of FEI in 2023. We are unbelievably excited to offer international competition in the northeast and provide that option to competitors based in the area.”
HITS also will be bringing six weeks of FEI competition to Del Mar in 2024.
AMENITIES FOR ALL
In addition to all the improvements to the show grounds, the organization has been delivering new programs to benefit everyone, from riders with young horses to grooms, to the family and friends of competitors.
To encourage riders to continue developing horses in the sport, HITS offers an option for competitors with young horses in the 5, 6, and 7-year-old Young Jumper divisions to compete free of entry cost.
“One of the reasons not so many young jumpers get started here in America is because it’s so cost prohibitive,” says Norick, who previously operated a boutique hunter sale barn in Europe. “We are fully committed to helping people develop young horses.”
Additionally, HITS now offers insurance coverage for grooms working at the horse show. When checking in, trainers and exhibitors are encouraged to declare a groom to a horse. With that declaration, that groom will be covered with insurance for that entire week.
The HITS team is also working hard to create an all-encompassing positive experience for the entire family.
“We are approaching including the whole family on multiple fronts,” says Englehart, who listed a number of ways the horse show is adding experiences for everyone, including: bars with TVs for the parents waiting for their child to show, mascot miniature horses from The Peeps Foundation roaming the Ocala show grounds for young non-competitors to enjoy, and expanded WiFi throughout the property. The team is also working to add events and attractions to keep everyone engaged.
“We really want to nurture better, deep rooted connections with the local community. By having relationships with them and hosting events on the show grounds, people will have more access to equine sports,” says Englehart.
“We’re creating a family environment here. This is a place where we are trying to welcome everyone.”
CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT: HITS is focused on creating an amazing experience for the entire family at each venue • Chief Client Officer Joe Norick and President and CEO Peter Englehart discuss the various projects underway at HITS •
Dressage is an area where HITS looks to expand, including continuing to host the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions at HITS Chicago • HITS recognizes rising hunters through the annual Green Hunter Prix
ENTHUSIASM AND EXPERIENCE
Traub Capital Group focuses their invest- ments on established consumer businesses with strong culture and sense of self.
“The reason that TCP decided to make this investment in HITS is because we recognize the enthusiasm and experience the consumer has with their passion,” says Englehart. “There’s no bigger enthusiast than the equine enthusiast.”
With that in mind, HITS is working to provide an overall experience above the rest, creating a destination for the modern equestrian.
“For example, in Ocala we really want to showcase who we are—a beautiful place for equestrians and horsemen,” says Englehart. “From the fencing, to the rolling hills, to the big trees sprawled about the property.”
“The client has a choice. There are many venues and many places to horse show around the country,” says Norick. “We’ve identified who we want to attract and we welcome communication so we can continue to make all riders and horses, of all levels, feel welcome. We want to do things that have never been done before.”
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
As one of the few horse show series with a national footprint, HITS recognizes the importance of including something for every rider and horse.
“We need to develop future riders,” says Norick. “The 2'6" rider is just as important as the rider galloping around the Grand Prix ring. We want to have the top facilities where anyone can ride on great surfaces, whether in the ring or around the property. There is a place for everyone to show at HITS.” While a lot has been done in the year since the partnership began, both Englehart and Norick acknowledge that there is still plenty to be done to improve the experience.
“We have a lot of projects on the table. Everything is in phases, which is the correct way to do it, so we can perfect it for the client,” says Norick. “We’re moving the HITS family from state to state to maintain consistency among each show park.”
The legacy of the horse show is something that Englehart and Norick promise to keep in place and honor as they make the improvements across the six facilities across the country. With unique destinations and carefully selected dates, their ultimate goal is to provide a great experience both in the ring and outside the ring.
“HITS was a good horse show, a really good horse show,” says Norick. “With TCP as our partner, HITS is becoming a great horse show.”