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Behind the Scenes at the Washington International Horse Show

My media credentials for WIHS

My media credentials for WIHS

Laura Cardon worked in the media office at the Washington Horse Show and sent us this “behind the scenes report”.

Behind the Scenes at the Washington International Horse Show

My first Washington International Horse Show is in the books, and what a crazy week it was! The days were long (I found myself thinking I had a short day when I worked only 13 hours) but the week flew by!

I grew up right outside of DC in the suburbs of Maryland, so I went to WIHS several times as a kid. Once I went away to college, and then started working once I came home after graduation, I missed a lot of years of WIHS. My boss used to always joke that I needed to get out of the barn and go work for the show. I would laugh at her and roll my eyes but secretly I always thought that would be my dream job. I am still in disbelief sometimes that this really is my job now!

I flew in to DC (I live in Denver now) on Monday morning and checked into the hotel. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the brief 15 minutes I took to change and freshen up would be the most of the hotel room I would see for the entire week!

WIHS may only last one week, but the work starts many months before that. Since June, I’d been responsible for coordinating and processing all of the contracts we have with equestrian media partners (like Horse Junkies!). It may sound boring, but I have a little bit of an OCD streak, so I really enjoyed being in charge of keeping everything organized.

As with all of the shows I’ve worked at since I started this job in January, there was definitely a learning curve. Fortunately, my always wonderful boss and co-workers were there to help me. Everyone at WIHS, all the way up to the Executive Director of the show, was immensely helpful and not even remotely phased by the (millions of) questions I asked.

The biggest test of WIHS (besides functioning on very little sleep) was finding my way around the Verizon Center. The concourse is easy enough, because if you keep walking long enough, you’ll just go in a circle. That is not the case on the “event level” aka basement, which is where most of the offices are located as well as access to the stabling and rings. Passing by the locker rooms for the Wizards and Capitals is cool, but only once you’ve figured out the labyrinth of hallways!

The first two days of the show were fairly quiet, which gave me some time to get lots of fun pictures for the WIHS Instagram. I tried to capture as many behind the scenes moments as I could, especially ones that are unique to WIHS—like horses in the streets, 4 am schooling (ok that one’s more just unique to indoors), and funny photo ops with the horses!

Things really kicked into high gear once Thursday came around. It was Barn Night, when barns from throughout the DC metropolitan area come to WIHS for lots of fun and prizes. Since the entire night is supposed to be very fun and light-hearted, the Gambler’s Choice Costume Class is a great fit! Seeing all the rider’s dress up in costume was hilarious and a nice glimpse of their less serious side, which is all we usually see in competition.

Katie Dinan looking devilish with her trainer, “Doctor” McLain Ward

Katie Dinan looking devilish with her trainer, “Doctor” McLain Ward

Grooms got into the spirit for the Gambler's Choice, too! Candice King's mount Antigone Quality and his groom kept the clown theme going.

Grooms got into the spirit for the Gambler’s Choice, too! Candice King’s mount Antigone Quality and his groom kept the clown theme going.

Earlier in the day, my mom, who is responsible for me becoming a horse junkie, came by the show. It was great to see her, plus I had a break later in the afternoon so I took her on a quick tour of the stabling area. I realized once we sat down to watch a few rounds that Beezie and John Madden were eating lunch right behind us, and when I pointed them out to my mom, I thought she was going to pass out from excitement!

It got better, because when we swung by the schooling area later on, all the FEI horses were getting ready for their first class. I was so happy to be able to share the excitement with my mom, who got to watch McLain Ward, Todd Minikus, Beezie Madden, Laura Kraut, and a ton of other big names warm up for their class!

Sidenote: I said “bless you” to Beezie a few days later when she sneezed and she said thank you, so I’m pretty sure we’re best friends now. Just because I see big name riders more often now doesn’t mean I’m not a little starstruck still!

Barn Night was a blast, with the highlight of the night being when winner Shane Sweetnam tossed his blue ribbon to a little girl in the stands. I thought she was going to pass out from excitement!

The little girl lucky enough to catch Shane Sweetnam's blue ribbon

The little girl lucky enough to catch Shane Sweetnam’s blue ribbon

The stands were packed for Barn Night, and the enthusiasm kept going throughout the weekend. Military Night was Friday night, which HJU blogger Sue van der Linden got great coverage of (link here).

Saturday was a marathon day, with Kid’s Day getting things started in the morning. I couldn’t believe how many kids and families there were. I went up to the concourse and it was completely packed! Saturday was also a big day for some mainstream media to come out and see what the show was all about. I spent the morning escorting DCTV around the show. They got a ton of great footage of all the Kid’s Day festivities, but I was most excited that I finally got the timing right to get footage of a shipment of horses.

Despite horses being shipped in and out of the show 24 hours a day, every time I took a TV crew to the outdoor stabling, I had just missed the horses coming on or off. Saturday, I finally got it just right, and to top it all off the extremely generous guys from Johnson Horse Transportation let the cameraman get up into the trailer with the horses to get some up close and personal footage!

Everyone at the show—competitors, grooms, show staff—was so accommodating all week. I brought people by day after day to video them interacting with the horses, and I know how tired and rushed everyone is. Every single person I asked to let us videotape them was more than happy to oblige, and it helped the show get a lot of great coverage! I know the last thing people want is to be bothered by random people with video cameras that aren’t horse savvy, but I have to give a huge thanks to everyone who let us invade their personal space!

Cameraman gets up close and personal with a horse from Ashland Farms. The horses were hams and the grooms were all so accommodating!

Cameraman gets up close and personal with a horse from Ashland Farms. The horses were hams and the grooms were all so accommodating!

As we geared up for the Grand Prix, I took another TV crew around that wanted to interview a former Olympian. Originally, I was supposed to meet one of my co-workers to have the reporter talk to Margie Engle. When she scratched from the class, that plan got thrown out the window and it was up to me to track her down. This was easily the most nerve-wracking moment of my life because I was expected to just casually walk up to Margie Engle and ask her for an interview.

I finally found her in the stands, sitting with Todd Minikus (why have to chat up only one world renowned grand prix rider when you can have two?!). While a scheduling conflict for both of them meant they couldn’t do the interview, they were extremely nice about it and I managed to spit out what I needed to say without making a fool of myself. Aaron Vale eventually saved the day and rocked some fantastic helmet hair throughout the interview.

I headed back to the hotel at 1 a.m. (and I was the FIRST person to leave…everyone at the show works ridiculously hard!). As I walked into the hotel, I ran into one of the kids I used to groom for on her way OUT to go school her pony. Her dad told me it was either ride then, or come back at 4 a.m.! Ahh, indoors.

I had to dig deep the final morning of the show to get up at 5:30 a.m. again. Despite the long hours and intense workload, it had been an amazing week and I can’t wait to do it all again next year. One of our clients, BarnManager.com, had also been at the show all week and it was great to see her have so much success! From autograph signings and great giveaways to meeting plenty of new clients, she had a great time and I was so happy to be a part of that.

There aren’t any other shows like WIHS, and while stabling in the city may be a logistical nightmare, the (huge) staff does an amazing job making it all look effortless. Everyone has long hours and a ton of work, but it’s all worth it in the end to put on such a great show. Now I start the countdown to WEF—only 2 more months!

Laura

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