Why is Marketing Equestrian Sports So Damn Hard?

Why don’t we see more equestrian sports on TV?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? It’s one that’s been on my lips since I was a teenager. I knew when Badminton was on, but it was never on TV. I knew that is was the sporting event that takes the highest number of spectators on the gate in the world (2nd is NASCAR in the states)- but it’s never on TV.

Showjumping used to be the sport of the choice for business people, celebrities and the place to be seen. Not any more. Polo the same. Showjumping at least used to be on TV regularly.

Equestrian sports are constantly under threat of removal from the Olympic program. One of the reasons touted for the substitution of the old long format 3DE to the new, short format 3DE is that it would be more TV friendly, and would bring in more media attention.

It didn’t. That was over a decade ago.

If you ask the average person on the street what they think of when they think of horse sports, they think of words like elitist, sport of kings, upper class, for the rich and wealthy.

Ask the average horse person who is out there competing and they will tell you they are nothing of the sort.

So why is the marketing of horse sports done so damn badly?

I think it’s because of a few different reasons, but largely, it’s because the people at the top- the boards, the committees, the organisers- actually like to feed the idea of it being an elitist sport. They don’t want the supposed riff raff and bogans coming along and spoiling the party.

An attitude like that though is slowly killing the industry.

Case in point, the recent social media shit storm that erupted with the publication of the EA annual report and financials for 2014/2015. Briefly, what caused the uproar was that in the accounts, it showed a horse was purchased for a high performance rider, to be sold to a syndicate. It was essentially a short term loan to invest in the sport. Awesome. Surely something we can all get behind as fans of the sport?

Where EA made their huge mistake was not publicizing this transaction.

The only statement they released about it was after social media exploded in protest.

It’s a bad situation for all concerned, not the least of all the rider at the center of it who now through no fault of her own, has enormous pressure and ill will directed to her. The only reason this happened at all is because EA made a decision to keep this transaction secret, instead of singing it to the country’s media and the EA members.

I have no idea why someone had this brain fart that meant that this incredible marketing opportunity, not only for the sport or the individual rider but also the governing body of the sport, was kept a massive secret.

Now angry members, who already didn’t trust the organization are shouting from the rooftops. There are unfounded allegations and a whole heap of misinformation being thrown around.

And at the centre of this is the rider, still aiming for Olympic glory amidst all this anger and confusion. It’s not her fault, not by a long shot.

Here’s what could have happened instead, and what could have been the outcome.

The EA Board allocates funds to purchase, as a short term loan, a horse suitable for a high performance rider with the aim to medal at Rio Olympics. Applications are taken from riders on high performance squads who are currently lacking in horse power (because, well, horses!) to select someone suitable, and who would best give EA the chance of a medal performance.

The application process is reduced to a short list, then a single rider. With the assistance of EA high performance coaches, the search begins for the horse of a lifetime.

Social media platforms are engaged to tell the story of that search. Members are encouraged to follow the rider’s blog, and view the photos and videos as they travel, and learn from their feedback. Members receive regular updates on the process.

A suitable horse is found, within the proposed budget and purchased. A Members Syndicate is floated to all EA members. 5000 places are available for members to become a part of this rider and their horse’s journey to the Olympics, for just $15 a year for 3 years. That’s $75K in revenue each year.

The horse sourced and bought for the high performance rider, with the view to compete and medal at the Olympics, the very pinnacle of achievement in the sport, is now owned by and supported 100% by EA members. Everyday riders, like you and me, could own a share in an Olympic horse.

We could be behind that rider with our hearts and souls. We could be cheering for them and sending messages of support. We could choose to participate in this journey as equals.

Instead, there is infighting, slinging matches, and mistrust, a board that no one seems to support, and a rider under enormous pressure all from the governing body of our beloved sport in the country keeping things a secret that they should be promoting and marketing the crap out of.

Winning medals is a business they say. So treat it like one.

From the EA’s stated strategic priorities:  (you can read the whole document here)

“Creating our Future” was developed from the concepts and ideals from the 2010 National Forum. These priorities set clear objectives and direction for EA. 

  1. Create a national, contemporary approach to membership which is attractive to clubs, spectators, supporters, fans and other Equestrian groups
  2. Develop a fully integrated National High Performance Pathway from talent identification through to elite competitor
  3. Introduce Equestrian as a curriculum option to all Australian schools
  4. Package and promote Equestrian Australia’s offering to raise awareness of the sport amongst corporate businesses, primary industry and the general public
  5. Stream live feeds of Equestrian Sporting events and results
  6. Propose hybrid versions of the sport to grow the spectator and participant base
  7. Develop a nationally synchronised multi-sport annual calendar of events which features an iconic event

Not communicating with your members is not a “contemporary approach”. Missing a marketing goldmine opportunity like this is not helping to promote EA to the wider community, or among corporates.

How about we stop trying to re-invent the wheel with “hybrid” events, and how about we engage the membership and the wider community with what we have now?

We don’t need to dumb down our sport.

We don’t need to continue to foster the elitist image.

What we need is a grown up conversation. What we need is the sport to be marketed in an engaging and enthralling way to adults- the one’s who ultimately have the cash to make the buying decisions with. What we need is to involve people at the grass roots in a more inclusive way.

Sure dressage might not be the most riveting viewing for the initiated public, but my completely non- horsey husband almost gets more excited than I do when we stream Badminton each year. And even the biggest “noob” to horses can understand that the person who jumps all the fences without knocking all of the big coloured sticks and does it the fastest is the winner.

C’mon guys. It’s not rocket science. It’s marketing. And you’re doing a really crap job at it.


(maybe there’s a legal reason, or a clause in the Olympic rules that doesn’t allow large scale syndication like I’m suggesting here, I’m not sure.  Anyone have any idea?  I know I would put in $45 over 3 years to be able to say I’m a part of that journey to Olympic glory.  I’m certainly not going to get there as a rider!!)

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Anita Marchesani

Anita is a bit of geek, a bit of a nerd, and the girl who never grew out of loving horses. She had to travel all the way from Sydney to the UK to learn how much she loved shoveling horse poo (go figure), and since returning to Australia has started one equine business that failed, another that's a raging success and internationally recognised brand, and is now helping others have the same success with getupandgallop.com.au. She lives with her hubby, her beagle, Bessie and Mojo the pony is nearby.


    1. Well executed with valid points. There are numerous other countries that have similar programs and they are transparent, and for the sport.

  1. I totally agree with all comments made. I seem to remember the only time there was some stirring of public interest was when Alan Bond shook things up. We had World Cup qualifier rounds, we had interest. But now …….

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