Ontarians were shocked to hear that Ontario’s largest show organizers, Equestrian Management Group (EMG), had sold its assets to rival show organizers Angelstone Management. EMG hosts 14 gold shows at Caledon Equestrian Park (CEP), and the group has been the backbone of competition in Ontario for more than 30 years. Angelstone Tournaments first started hosting events at their Rockwood location in 2009 and now has six gold dates on the schedule. The two organizers have had a healthy rivalry from the outset which only added to the intrigue of the announcement.
Angelstone’s CEO, Keean White, is a serial entrepreneur who has continually created unique and entertaining events which feature show jumping in a fresh light. He was the mastermind behind the 2010 Akon concert in Wellington, Florida that was prefaced by a $25,000 Puissance which sold 7,000 tickets. At home, his shows offer Circuit Champions, Leading Trainer Awards, University Scholarships, and offer special classes that target kids and young horses. In addition, Angelstone’s famous Saturday Night Lights Grand Prixes attract large community crowds and have culminated in some epic after parties. Just last year he announced the launch of the Major League Show Jumping series, a 5* Show Jumping tour, with stops in Canada, USA and Mexico.
All this innovation, however, has come at a price.
Angelstone originally launched with the tagline “by horse people for horse people” and pledged to offer a more affordable alternative to the shows hosted at EMG. “I wanted to run a horse show, because the quality of shows in Ontario is very low,” he said a 2010 article published in Horse Sport. “They lack quality by means of poor footing, poor stabling and poor quality of jumps. On top of that, the shows are very expensive.”
At the outset, Angelstone events were a less expensive alternative and charged just $25 per class with no other fees. “Our show is financed by our corporate sponsors, not the exhibitors,” he insisted.
Fast forward 10 years, however, and the costs have changed dramatically with Angelstone similar to EMG. It is these rising costs that have some concerned about the new monopoly of southern-Ontario that Angelstone has created.
White is aware of this criticism and points to the affordable Silver Series that he has created. Introduced in 2019, the series has grown to six events in 2021 for which 600 season passes sold out in 36 hours last fall. For $949, the pass gives participants access to five shows and includes a stall at each event, all rings open for schooling, and the option to compete in any of the classes offered.
He also notes that the new structure with two venues offers savings that will be passed on to competitors at the gold level.
“There are a lot of synergies by running both venues. It actually lowers our costs to run each event and there is some significant staffing and supplier synergies,” he said. “We are also going to announce a Gold Pass which will create an opportunity where for one low monthly price you can show at any gold show between the two venues all year. Show in whatever you want, get your stall, the office fee is included, and the schooling fee is included. It works out that every 5th show is free – so we are lowering cost by about 20% by operating both venues. People are going to see a significant cost savings which is one of the benefits. We are going to create more opportunities for more riders to move up from silver to gold because of the cost savings from an operational stand point.”
To accommodate the new venture, some changes to the competition calendar will also be announced shortly.
“We are going to make a few subtle changes to the calendar that we’ve been working on for the last month, but, in general, it will be approximately the same dates,” said White. “We’ve reached out to Ten Sixty Stables about a date and they’ve moved around a little bit. We’ve also worked with Karen Sparks from Wesley Clover to solidify the calendar.”
White has other initiatives planned for competitors including introducing Ontario Championships which will be a season finale to be held indoors just before The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Held over two weeks, one week for hunters and one for jumpers, the top 20 competitors in all divisions from the gold shows based on OHJA points will be invited to attend along with the gold, silver, and bronze medalists from the Silver Series Playoffs.
“We can encourage the riders that excel at the silver level and to create that stepping stone opportunity for them to come up to the next level.”
In addition to the new options for competitors, White also plans on expanding the atmosphere and services offered at Caledon Equestrian Park.
“We are going to put an Angelstone touch in a few places,” commented White about his limited plans for changes in the first year. “After year one we want to stand back and learn and see what works and where we want to focus on improvements. A lot of the outdoor decisions will happen after the 2021 season and aim those towards 2022, whether that’s investing in the stabling or something else. There are a number of areas we want to address over the next couple of years. We’ll make those decisions following the 2021 outdoor season.”
One area of priority is to invest in the indoor area by adding heat and indoor stalls to increase the total capacity to 243. This will help facilitate the new winter series he plans to run February through April. “We want to operate year-round rather than just being a seasonal business,” said White.
Investing in these capital expenses, however, may depend on the fate of the lease of the facility. Currently, EMG has leased the facilities from the Town of Caledon which has not been transferred, as yet. EMG contributed $1.7 million as part of the investment in securing the 2015 Pan Am Games. This contribution represented the first 20 years of their rent payments of a 40-year lease which gives EMG the ability to host 18 equestrian events during the year.
“At the moment we are working together with Craig to put on the events this year,” said White. “The lease hasn’t been transferred yet but we would like to in the near future. For now, we want to keep continuity and traditions and we’ll look at the lease down the road.”
While White has succeeded in bringing back more fun to horse shows, he acknowledges that he has plenty to learn from the highly-regarded team at EMG.
“We hope to retain as many EMG employees as possible to maintain continuity at the park. I want our team to learn from them so everything will stay fairly status quo.”
Indeed EMG is well known for running a tight operation that runs as scheduled, and with staff that know which entries are qualified to enter various classes, neither of which have always been the case at Angelstone.
A few years ago the Angelstone team recognized that there were limitations with what they could do with a single venue. The launch of the Major League Show Jumping series, which is currently the subject of a lawsuit, brought the issue to a head and they determined that the only viable option was to acquire another venue so that they could expand their services.
“The same group that has owned and managed Angelstone for the last decade got together and looked to grow our company,” explained White. “We went to our bank, like every growing business, and showed some great progress and how we wanted to grow and put the deal together.”
“The Silver Series has been our stepping stone that has allowed us to make this acquisition,” said White adding that a similar series will be introduced at Caledon Equestrian Park in 2021.
“We are really trying to create a stepping stone in our industry that we haven’t really had. We haven’t had a big number of riders moving from the Trillium to A circuit. In most sports you have a feeder system and we’ve been missing that. The inception of the Silver Series in 2019 has really showed our group at Angelstone that there is an opportunity to get more than just the gold riders involved in what we are doing and it’s opened a ton of new opportunities and doors that I think our industry is going to thrive off of for the next two decades.”
EMG was contacted for comment but was unable to reply before this story was published.