The 3-Foot Goal: Affordable, Achievable, and Fun

What has made the southeast regional Progressive Show Jumping Association (PSJA) such a success? The secret is in recognizing, and fulfilling, the needs and desires of amateur riders. By Rick Cram, with the editors of Practical Horseman magazine.
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What has made the southeast regional Progressive Show Jumping Association (PSJA) such a success? The secret is in recognizing, and fulfilling, the needs and desires of amateur riders. By Rick Cram, with the editors of Practical Horseman magazine.
Rick Cram |

Rick Cram |

When I organized my first little show--in Aiken, South Carolina in 1989--I was just another young manager trying to make a living by offering amateurs an enjoyable afternoon. Over 10 years or so, that first show grew into the Progressive Show Jumping Association (PSJA): more than 500 members, a circuit of 22 regularly sold-out shows sanctioned by several other regional hunter/jumper associations--and still growing.

Why this explosion? It's about a huge family-based market of riders--amateurs and juniors and children--who want to enjoy their sport without the stress and expense of USA Equestrian-recognized showing, who want a sense of achievement in doing well over 3-foot fences without feeling pressure to move up to 3-foot-6--and who find those opportunities at PSJ.

As I've come to know my market better, I've tried to cater to yet more of these riders' needs, attracting even more members--from three-year-old children in lead line to older amateurs in their 60s and 70s. I'm offering ...

Quality: Starting with that little one-ring show in Aiken, I've helped competitors feel wanted and valued by providing quality in jumps(we make them; they're freshly painted and in good repair), courses (I design them to be challenging for more advanced riders and horses without eliminating the person who's just there for fun), judging (by "name" judges who also work at big recognized shows), footing (even if that means I'm out prepping it at midnight after a big rain), and staff who share my high standards and work ethic. (Tom Blankenship and Steve Carroll, who work my in-gates, have been with me for nine years; announcer Lewis Pack has been with me for 10.)

Affordability: A weekend of PSJ showing (actually two one-day shows back-to-back: two opportunities to earn year-end award points for PSJ or other sanctioning organizations) costs the average amateur $105 in entry fees. Entries in my hunter divisions are $10 a class or $25 for a three-class division; by contrast, one hunter class at an 'A' show costs $30. I put jumper classes in the schedule three years ago; response has been huge, especially since since I initiated the "add-back" formula that's become a PSJ trademark: Jumper-class entries are $30, but half of the fees go back to the riders in first through sixth places as prize money, with thirty percent to the winner.

At a winter series I've had in Florida for six years, prize money for each of the three weeks of the series has come to exceed $18,500. That's more than USA Eq requires A3hunter/jumper shows to offer. How can I afford to give so much money to competitors when I charge only $10 for a hunter class? Volume. I'm making less money from each entry--but because I'm providing what amateurs need, I have 220 horses on the same weekend that a competing show has only 80.

"Inclusivity": You don't need a fancy horse to do well (or feel at home) at PSJ shows. There are plenty of riders on plain solid-citizen mounts. Professionals love the shows because they can give green young horses show-ring mileage (or school their students' horses in the ring) without breaking the bank.

Encouragement: Adults just starting in the sport can feel comfortable over 2-foot fences in PSJ's Long-Stirrup division. When they're ready, they can move up to the 2-foot-5 division, then to the 3-foot. And instead of getting to the show and just sitting around waiting for their division, lots of adult amateurs in the 3-foot need a chance to go in the ring over lower fences as a way to warm up and work off nervousness. At PSJ shows, they can use the 2-foot-6 Limit Hunter class (held in the same ring as the later 3-foot classes) or the very popular 2-foot-6 Hopeful Hunter schooling class (open to professionals, amateurs, and juniors) as steppingstones. And when they do well, I promote their success every way I can, posting results on a website (www.psj.qpg.com) and in our newsletter.

Family-Friendliness: I also give "14 and under" kids a comfortable place to show, with walk-trot, walk-trot-canter, and crossrail classes. I start them off in their own ring at noon, so those riders (and their families) know when they're going to compete, instead of having to wait around all day getting tired (which happens at many A shows).

Fun! Although many members have the year-end awards of PSJ or our other sanctioning associations as a goal, plenty of others come and show just for fun. My goal is to make every time someone comes to PSJ, whether a few times a year or all 22 shows, a good experience. My wife, Cathy, has done a wonderful job of coming up with attractive championship ribbons and fun prizes, like cameras, that keep exhibitors coming back for more. The weather was cold at this year's first show, especially on Sunday morning. I couldn't do much about the weather, but I could give competitors something else to remember about the weekend. I went to the food stand, put down $200, and said, "Please give everyone free hot chocolate until you run out." For the rest of the day, I was getting compliments about that hot chocolate, which turned a cold morning into another good PSJ experience.

This article originally appeared in the June 2000 issue of Practical Horseman magazine. See "Regional Showing Is Where's It's Going" in the June 2003 issue for the latest PSJ developments, including Rick's new 'A' shows.