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Tue, 2017-11-21 08:28

Planning Your Event Calendar with Jennifer and Earl McFall

Jennifer and Earl McFall with the 2017 Future Event Horse West Coast 2-Year-Old Champion, Hallelujah DF. USEA Photo.

In this series, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is partnering with Athletux to bring you business tips from top eventing riders and coaches. Do you have a business question you’d like to see addressed by an eventing professional? Email us at [email protected].

As the 2017 show season comes to a close and the holidays loom on the minds of your friends and family, do you find yourself stressing out about the upcoming new year more than anything else? It’s perhaps something much more exciting to plan, but for a lot of us, it’s also daunting. The next year’s calendar for your business can involve some difficult decisions. What to focus on, where to send your customers, what events to host are all important questions you have to ask yourself when it comes time to publish your show schedule. Jennifer and Earl McFall of Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, California walked us through their method of managing an ever growing events calendar.

“For us, the first step is determining the biggest competition horses are going to and we work our way down from there,” Jennifer said. Picking major events can give you a basic skeleton for your calendar, too. It doesn’t just have to be the final weekend in April if you don’t have a four-star horse this year. Is there a schooling show championship that you can’t miss? A clinic that you attend every single year? Start there, and work your way back. If your horses don’t show much or your clients aren’t accustomed to you being gone a lot, avoid scheduling back to back weekends by crossing off the weeks before and after your main events. If you have a big program or a program with multiple disciplines, you might not be crossing events off, but it can still be helpful to know who is going to be where.

Earl, Jen, and their talented team at Dragonfire have a lot of balls in the air and that can create both challenges and benefits when it comes time to schedule. “We are lucky in that we have enough people here with their own areas of expertise and passion that we don’t really have to prioritize. Each team member at Dragonfire makes the whole, which makes it truly a full service facility,” Jen explained. “Full service facility” is no exaggeration; with a training program, sales horses, a successful riding academy, Pony Club, and a breeding program all operating together at Dragonfire, the calendar gets full, and Jen says that’s by design.

“Schedule more than you could possibly do. We are often slated to attend more than one event on any given weekend. We then let our customers give feedback and let ongoing needs and engagements whittle it down to a manageable number,” she added. “We listen to everyone’s ideas as the season goes and are always flexible. An exciting clinic might get scheduled the same day as a schooling show. We talk to our customers and look at what the program needs in that moment; it’s so important to be flexible as things go on.”

Attending events in general is a good business move for the McFalls. “Not only do you need to grow your own business, but you are responsible for being an admirable representative of your sport. We feel it is important to introduce eventing to our community to keep the sport growing in a positive trajectory,” they said.

Feeling a bit agoraphobic for 2018? Bring the party to you! Not only does Dragonfire attend 18 or so events per year, but they also host many at their facility. “Definitely plan to host events at your farm if at all possible,” Jen suggested. Hosting events is not only a way to make some money for your program, but it’s also a great way to bolster your reputation in the community and bring in new business. Just because you don’t have a huge cross-country course at your fingertips doesn’t mean you can’t host something fun and educational at your farm. “If you have an arena and quality jumps, host clinics. If you have a lesson program with horses and ponies, host beginner shows. If you have a big field, host hunter paces. If you have a lounge in your barn, host educational seminars with local experts like your vet or farrier. Be creative!”

For Jen and Earl, they don’t mind sacrificing time at home. “We love it, and we love seeing our clients feel passionate about the sport we adore. We also want to support the venues that provide our team with an appropriate place to compete, whether that is an FEI event, a local show that is perfect for the first timer, or a one-day that helps someone fit in a show without taking time off work. We appreciate all of these different venues and want them to succeed. It might mean spreading yourself too thin and becoming a good friends with Starbucks employees, but it’s worth it to build a business where your customers are engaged and excited about the sport. Overbooking is not something you should shy away from when it comes time to set your schedule every year.”

Are you inspired to break out the highlighters, show programs, and giant table-sized calendar? Setting a schedule can be intimidating, but follow the McFall’s lead and dive right in, 2018 is right around the corner!

Jennifer and Earl McFall are trainers and instructors at Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, California. They operate the full service program with the help of several other team members, including Jen’s parents. Statistically, if you’re anywhere on the West Coast, you’ll most likely run into someone representing Dragonfire sometime next season. You can learn all about their program (and look at their calendar) at the Dragonfire Sport Horses website.

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