ON THE SCENE: Keeping Lake Placid Horse Shows world-class

Lake Placid Horse Shows new manager Allen Rheinheimer (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Like international elite sports such as Formula One Motorsports, the horse show circuit is becoming more competitive. Lake Placid has evolved to be one of the top in the nation, exemplified by hosting the Olympic tryouts in 1984 and 1988.

Yet, Lake Placid’s standing is slipping, partly because other major events now overlap its time slot, and the best competitions have made substantial investments in their venues. The Lake Placid Horse Shows board has recognized that, just as the Olympic venues needed upgrading to enable the community to host World Cup and World Championships in a variety of disciplines, so too Lake Placid’s North Elba Show Grounds stadium has to be upgraded so they can continue to attract the best riders.

The goal of Lake Placid is to become an iconic track whose character attracts the best riders, as do Formula One sites such as Silverstone, UK, Monza, Italy and Circuit de Monaco, Monaco. Even without Zig Zag, Lake Placid’s sliding track is recognized as one of the world’s top three most iconic. The goal is to get our horse shows back into that standing. Lake Placid has several assets: the village and all the hospitality attractions it offers, the stunning setting, the wide variety of ages competing and the grass Grand Prix stadium.

With climate change, the grass Grand Prix stadium is both an asset and a challenge. Riders need a footing, a ground that water can pass through quickly so that all riders have an equal chance and to enhance rider and horse safety. Another challenge is increasing spectator attendance, sponsorships and media coverage.

The horse show board’s first step was recruiting one of the best managers in the country, Allen Rheinheimer, to take on Lake Placid. Rheinheimer has 35 years of producing and managing equestrian competitions that include the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the premier championship rodeo of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. This event attracts over 170,000 fans. Along with managing equestrian events, he has experience as a course designer, a judge and a footing consultant. Rheinheimer’s parents were professional horse trainers; he and his family own a horse training center in Lebanon, Indiana, and his daughter is a competitive rider and is participating in the Lake Placid Horse Shows this year.

Lake Placid Horse Shows board member Chloe Field and board chair Philip Richter (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“Allen is a known quantity in the high-end equestrian world,” said Philip Richter, LPHS board chair. “Allen has been the manager of many of the shows in the country, plus a lot of work out West with rodeos and other aspects of the business. He is an incredibly seasoned guy who knows what he is doing. Our prior manager, who had been with us for many seasons, took on a big project in Michigan. Thus, it’s a good time to make a change. Even though this is Allen’s first year and experience in Lake Placid, he’s already had a huge impact in prepping the rings properly and in the backstage things that go on that most people don’t see.”

Richter said that the LPHS needs to raise capital to stay competitive within the industry and in the top ranks. He said the industry is growing by leaps and bounds and changing in many ways. For example, many people are increasingly competing internationally, not unlike F1 being held in cities across the world, resulting in fierce competition amongst the venues. Richter said other leading shows have “dumped millions and millions of dollars” in upgrading their venues.

Competing in horse shows has gone from a fun thing to do on weekends to becoming a global business, a global sport with world rankings. Thus, Lake Placid has to adapt to stay relevant and retain market share, even in an expanding market. A big asset is that Lake Placid is a destination resort. Plus it’s known for hosting two Winter Olympics, the toughest Ironman outside of Hawaii and World Championships in several disciplines.

“Lake Placid is a magical place,” said Richter. “Everyone enjoys being here for the two weeks of the show, whether they are stuck at the grounds every day or get to go one of the many great restaurants, shopping in town, waterskiing on the lake, hiking Cobble or going up the top of the ski jumps. Still, working with the town, we need to re-imagine and re-invigorate the show to stay competitive for the next 55 years.”

Keeping the horse shows relevant is vital to the region’s economy, as they have, by far, the biggest economic impact of any sporting event in the town’s annual calendar. Equestrian events are the only sport where men and women compete against each other on an equal basis, thus being once again the site where the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Teams are selected would strengthen the region’s Olympic heritage.

Marty Bauman, Lake Placid Horse Shows communications manager, and board member Sara Stretton (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“Coming to Lake Placid has been on my bucket list forever,” said Rheinheimer, the new general manager. “Never had the opportunity to come here, but when you’re allowed to be at the helm, it’s one you don’t want to turn down. In the industry, you hear about Lake Placid all the time; it’s one of the big shows on the circuit. I was offered the job last November and hit the ground running.

“There are growth opportunities to make it a better event and better grounds, and, in cooperation with the town and horse show board, take it to the next level. The grounds need to be made a little more horse friendly. A lot of people don’t come because it’s a bit of an unknown if they can show on the grass depending on the weather, but there are ways of making grass an all-weather ring, and we’re looking into that.”

As part of his goals, Rheinheimer would like to see Equestrian FEI classes held in Lake Placid to help keep and expand its role as a top-level show. He said we must “keep up with the times and the industry.”

Chloe Field started young, having her first pony when she was just three and first competing in Lake Placid when she was 10, a time when her father was competing in Lake Placid. Still a very active competitor, Field also serves on the LPHS board, a position she accepted to help create a strong future for the show.

“We go to so many shows now that have no soul,” said Field. “There’s nothing special about them; it’s week in and week out the same event, and Lake Placid has all the charm in the world. I love this town. The show has a great atmosphere. So, we were looking for a manager who was creative and could help move the show forward, someone who would get two hands involved and want to work with us, the competitors, and the town and make this the best it can be. Allen has a can-do attitude. We’ve seen what he’s done for other shows. We’re excited to work with him.”

“Allen’s amazing,” said LPHS board member Sara Stretton. “His experience is just endless. He knows everybody in the industry and is highly respected. The biggest thing he brings us is a vision for the future. We’re very happy with him.”

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)

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