The United States Equestrian Federation® has welcomed a new audience of horse lovers thanks to the recent success of Animal Planet’s new six-week series, Horse Power: Road to the Maclay. More than six million unique viewers of all ages tuned in to Animal Planet to watch the series which began February 1 and is now being re-run on Friday evenings. More than 9 million unique viewers tuned into the three horse-themed programs on Animal Planet, Trail Mix, Horsepower and the Sporthorse Cup. Animal Planet is distributed in an estimated 87 million households and 160 countries.
Particular ratings strength for Horsepower was among women and showed substantial growth for Animal Planet versus the same time slot in the first quarter of 2005. Ratings for women 12-17 grew 77%, persons 18-24 gained 38% and women 18-34 grew 186%. The audience for the Animal Planet Sporthorse cup (March 8th) also saw a 21% ratings gains among women 12-17 compared to 2005.
“What we were really focused on, was a ‘co-viewing’ opportunity, as we call it – it’s programming that works for parents, for kids and for animal enthusiasts,” said Vicki Lowell, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Animal Planet. “So, we are looking for people who are really passionate towards animals, and also that audience of parents and their kids.”
At the advice of a good friend, Lowell met up with well-known trainer John Madden regarding some new ideas for horse programming on Animal Planet. Madden came up with the idea of what became the Animal Planet Sporthorse Cup, and coincidentally the Maclay was also being moved to Syracuse, Madden’s home turf, in 2005. Lowell and others at Animal Planet had been seriously considering a series that combined horses and young girls so the now successful Horse Power series was a perfect fit.
Horse Power delved inside the world of equitation and competition for those under 18, following the emotional highs and lows of several of America’s top teenage riders along with their families and trainers. The title competition of the series, the ASPCA Maclay Finals, is one of the three most prestigious Hunter Seat Equitation Finals that were followed in the show. The others are the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals and the USEF Talent Search Finals.
“We wanted to make sure this was about the teenagers and their bonds with their horses,” said Lowell, “and making sure that the broader audience could understand what the key points were and what they were being judged on, how the elements of training get the horse and rider prepared, the emotional aspects of the connection between the trainers and the riders as well as the horses and the riders.”
The ASPCA Maclay Finals has been held since 1933, and its past winners are some of the biggest names in international equestrian sports. It is a true showcase of future show jumping champions. This prestigious equitation final was held last year in Syracuse, NY for the first time. The event is hosted by the National Horse Show Association and was formerly held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It is named after Alfred B. Maclay, the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals, held in Harrisburg, PA since 1968, is one of the most respected medal finals in the country dating back to 1937 and represents the top level of competition for junior riders. The Medal and the accompanying Van Sinderen Trophy is a coveted USEF honor and has proven to be a significant stepping stone for young riders, as nearly a third of past winners have gone on to represent the United States internationally.
Perhaps the most challenging of the three competitions, the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Program celebrates its 50th year this year. The Finals are broken up into four varied and difficult phases in which the young riders are judged with regard to execution and technique as it relates to performance; riders must show that they understand and can successfully solve problems presented to them. In the first phase riders are judged on the flat. In phase two, riders are asked to translate the skills demonstrated on the flat to an intensive gymnastic course. Making quick turns, and shortening and lengthening their horses’ strides while maintaining rhythm and balance are common. The third phase consists of Show Jumping over grand prix style fences, which may include natural obstacles. Phase four consists of a ride-off among the top four competitors. First, each competitor rides their own horse and then each of the others’ mounts in turn over the same course.
More than 87,000 members strong, the USEF governs competition for 27 breeds and performance disciplines across the United States. No matter what the breed or discipline preference, all USEF members are bound together by the love of the horse and a spirit of fair play. Nearly every week of the year, one of more than 2,800 licensed USEF competitions is taking place somewhere in the country.