Time to Ride Celebrates 2017 Challenge Winners

The 2017 Time to Ride Challenge concluded Sept. 30 and, after results tabulation, the organization has announced this year’s winning stables, clubs, and businesses.

The grass-roots contest distributes thousands in cash and prize rewards to horse professionals who introduce new enthusiasts to horse activities, expanding access to horses while growing their own businesses. First launched in 2014, the 2017 Challenge resulted in over 22,000 new horse-human interactions, bringing the four-year total to over 117,000 new equine interactions.

“Our amazing hosts created a record number of events—1,008—throughout the summer period,” said Time to Ride Marketing Manager Christie Schulte. “Their tireless outreach efforts are promoting and growing equestrian sports, and expanding access to the wonderful benefits of being around horses.”

Phase I rewards the top 10 hosts in three divisions—small, medium, and large—while Phase II rewards the top 10 hosts in two individual categories. Wild Card and 100 for 100 winners also take home cash and prizes.

Rolling Hills Ranch, in Port Deposit, Maryland, took top honors in the large division. As a full-service equine facility, they offer riding lessons in dressage, jumping, and eventing; boardings and birthday parties. Also housed at Rolling Hills is their Freedom Hills Therapeutic Riding Program, a Premier Program with the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). As first place winners of Phase I, having introduced 2,866 new horse enthusiasts to equines, they will receive $5,000, as well as an additional $3,000 for placing third for most experiences in Phase II.

Renee Dixon, owner of Rolling Hills Ranch, said the Time to Ride Challenge made her “think outside the box.” This year Rolling Hills held events at their local Chick-Fil-A which, she says, “helped to push the envelope. Chick-Fil-A wants us to come back at least twice next year. [They are] going to advertise on their tables for us and put a quarter-page ad on every tray advertising Christmas with the Ponies and Family Day on the Farm.”

The medium division champion, based in Wilburton, Oklahoma, is Robbers Cave Stables. A full-service dude ranch offering rides, camping trips, and a petting zoo, Robbers Cave connected 1,073 new people with horses this summer and will receive $5,000 in cash for its win. Misty Cook, the facility’s owner and operator, said, “We learned there are people who have no (horse) experience whatsoever. We take [horse experience] for granted. It’s humbling because we get to do what we love to do every day. There’s always someone out there that doesn’t know about horses.”

Atop the small division, Equine LEAD, owned and operated by Debi O’Brien of Olney, Illinois, will receive $5,000, as well as an additional $500 for placing eighth in the most experiences category of Phase II. Equine LEAD introduced 949 new people to horses this summer. O’Brien says she’s has learned all she knows regarding marketing and public relations from her Challenge experience.

“The Challenge has helped me to learn how to market myself and my business better,” she said. “It’s helped me to actually build a brand. I went from handing out flyers and posting them everywhere around town to paying for Facebook ads. It’s been a way better use of time and money and provided a better return.”

Phase II, new for 2017, rewards competing hosts for inviting new enthusiasts back for lengthier hands-on horse experiences, with the goal of helping new riders become regularly involved in horse activities.

“The goal of the Challenge has always been to introduce new people to horses, and start them on a path to becoming regularly involved,” said Schulte. “Phase II is our way of rewarding hosts who are successfully creating meaningful, repeated horse experiences for newcomers.”

Phase II awards money in two ways: hosts who have the highest total number of follow-up experiences and hosts who have the highest conversion rate of returning Phase I newcomers, allowing stables of all sizes to compete on a level playing field. In total, 1,844 lessons were given over the course of the summer by Time to Ride Challenge hosts.

Oak Crest Farm, of Harwood, Maryland, took top honors in total number of Phase II follow-up experiences with 213 people from Phase I returning for a riding lesson, trail ride, or ground work with a horse.

“You have to put yourself out there and be inventive in ways to encourage people to come back,” said riding instructor Tina Emmerich. “For the people that came back, we offered a discounted rate for lessons.” These discounts were in addition to the free riding opportunity they received at the first event they attended.

“Most of our advertising is word of mouth,” she added. “We encouraged a lot of people to bring their friends.”

Ringside Equestrian Center LLC, of New Hudson, Michigan, had the highest conversion rate in the Challenge’s Phase II by providing more in-depth riding experiences to over 92% of their Phase I newcomers. Ringside’s Andrea Karp and David Silver are in the business of “providing opportunities for individuals who wouldn’t have ordinarily had the chance ... and breaking down the barriers of getting kids from the city out to horses,” said Silver. “Working with Detroit-based schools and nonprofits was key into tapping into the pool of horse camp participants. Those partnerships were key to scaling our programs. It takes a lot of time to nurture the partnerships and find the right fit.”

Schulte said Time to Ride was pleased with the 2017 Challenge results. “Beyond the numbers, the true impact is in the stories we hear of thriving businesses and people who develop a new love for horses,” she said. “Increasing access to horses and expanding participation in our industry is the overarching mission of Time to Ride, and the Challenge continues to be an impactful way to move the needle.”

A complete table of winners can be found at timetoride.com/news. Photos from 2017 Challenge events are available in a Facebook album on Time to Ride’s page. For more information, contact info@timetoride.com or 512/591-7811.

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