Red Hills Horse Trail bring in global crowd but lacks local attendance

Riders compete in the cross country event at the Red Hills International Horse Trials on Saturday, March 9th. 
Photo Submittes by Joshua Bonsell.

From Friday, March 8th through Sunday, March 10th, locals and people from outside of the country migrated to Tallahassee’s Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park for the annual Red Hills Horse Trail. However, many believe this gargantuan area hosting the event could have drawn a higher rate of spectators rather than participants.

For the past twenty-one years, the Red Hills Horse Trail has hosted a three days equestrian sport competition with participants reaching across the United States, Central and South America, Europe and events parts of Asia.

National Coach for the USA Equestrian Team, Erik Duvander, expressed his team was at the event to enhance their skill.

“Team riders are here as practice and competition to further themselves,” Duvander said.

To residents, it may be considered local but Red Hills serves as a qualifying competition for competitors seeking placement on their respective countries’ Olympic or World Equestrian Games teams.

Tik Maynard, horse trainer and author of book, “In the Middle Are the Horsemen” explained there is extensive preparation that goes into events like these. Preparation included the dressage, cross country, the show jumping event, and to simply work on a horse’s fitness.

“[My goal] is to prepare [this] horse for the Pan American Games, and this event is kind of one of the stepping stones you have to take to get there,” Maynard said. “We ride our horses generally six days a week in order to prepare for the upcoming event.”

According to the City of Tallahassee, Elion Klapp-Phipps Park 670 acres of land stretch for four miles, which is roughly 15 football fields. For every football field, an average of 10,000 people would fit on the field; that's nearly 150,000 attendees. In a perfect world, the reality of Red Hills attendance would reflect these numbers; but it does not.

Over the course of the three day event, attendees were likely to come across one, of few kinds of participants; horse riders or trainers, sponsors who were identified with a green badge that read “sponsor” around their necks, individuals walking around with an orange “media” badges, yellow vested volunteers and then actual spectators who payed $15 to attend Red Hills.

To the common eye, it seemed like a majority of the individuals at the park were somehow associated with production of the Red Hills event. Nikole Souder-Shale, was mistaken for Red Hills bystander until she explained that she was part of the Dynamic Syndicate. According to Souder-Shale, “they basically sell shares in horses,” and a part of her share was invested into Maynard’s steed.

Hypothetically omit every individual directly involved with the production and event; How many people actually paid the $15 standard entry fee to attend?

According to research done by Downs & St. Germain Research and Visit Tallahassee, an attendance figure of 12,336 was reported by Red Hills International Horse Trials organizers. However according to the same report, 5,920 of the attendees were not from the Leon County area; with non-residents at a 48 percent attendance, which is nearly half of events population.

The low local turnout sparks the question; why does the city of Tallahassee continue to house this event? For a world class competitive event of this high caliber to happen in a vast local space, one would assume a higher attendance rate among locals.

However, it is the large revenue the city produced from the affiliated participant themselves that assist in the continuation of these competitions.

With roughly 80 riders, a $1500 dollar flat horse entry fee brings in $120,000 to the city itself. According to the same research report, when including indirect and induced effects of direct spending, the total economic impact of people attending Red Hills International Horse Trials who live outside of Leon County was $3,336,7003.

Based off the economic power of this competition alone, the event participants and the affiliated brought in enough revenue regardless of the local participants rate. The local event is only three days, but Red Hills is an annual event which means anyone remotely interested has nearly a year ahead to plan and attend the next one.

For more information about Red Hills Horse Trails visit them at their website: