The rumors were spreading: The west coasts of the U.S. and Canada would host renowned names in worldwide sport-horse competition. Then word was out that Charlotte Dujardin, the best of the best in dressage, was coming to share pearls of wisdom. She did, more than once, and each time the audiences grew. And now, Carl Hester is coming to add to the wealth of riches.
The source of these productions has been Scott Hayes, a British Columbia native who fell in love with equestrian sports and, at the start, envisioned providing his home province with the best in dressage and eventing, presented in an upscale style. His goal was to give audiences the best experience he could produce, utilizing his hospitality, marketing, retail and design background. Today, after growing with each event, SH Productions has stretched to two continents with a third on the horizon.
Hayes kicked off his production company in 2014 with nine-time Olympic dressage medalist Holland’s Anky van Grunsven, followed in 2015 with Britain’s three-time Olympic-medal eventer, William Fox-Pitt and reigning World and Olympic Champion Dujardin in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Portland, Oregon. In 2016, his SH Productions hosted Holland’s Olympic dressage silver medalist Adelinde Cornelissen in Langley, British Columbia, and again, Dujardin in Toronto, Ontario, and Los Angeles. This month he has on tap in Del Mar, California, Hester, winner of several Olympic medals, long time instructor to Dujardin and part owner of Valegro.
Actually, what put SH Productions on the map was the relationship Hayes built with Dujardin’s manager Abby Newell of Piaffe Limited, who gave him the green light to produce symposiums starring the queen of dressage. “From the beginning of communication, Abby and I really hit it off and I thank her very much for her guidance and support in myself and SH Productions,” says Hayes. “She always says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ That’s very true and what I feel the relationship with Charlotte’s team is based upon.”
Today, the events have grown in numbers to the extent that Hayes has opened a satellite office in Del Mar to back up his Vancouver-based operation, increased his staff of one to a total of four and has developed his relationship with Dujardin so that he will be opening a European leg of his production company.
“I am forever indebted to Charlotte and her management team for trusting SH Productions to help her spread her knowledge through these events,” says Hayes. “She wants to share her knowledge. Many in the industry keep training private, but she has nothing to hide and wants people to learn how to become the best riders they can be. Carl and Charlotte, they are a team, not each one on his or her own. They work together to support each other and all of those around them. It’s so refreshing and one of the main reasons I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with them.”
Hayes’s vision is to provide riders with live access to those experts they normally would not see beyond a video. “I hear people say they are choosing whether to come to our West Coast Dressage Convention with Hester or the World Cup in Omaha. I don’t take the comparison lightly,” he confirmed. “I want to be sure it’s special for them if they are choosing our event. Our main demographic is the amateur rider and most do not have access to the likes of the best in the world. Most can only afford to come to one of these events a year. We’re hoping to see 2,000 people there. Of course, it’s a business, but the majority of the money goes back into the experience. Can we get that many? If we want to continue to have these events, not only SH Productions’ events, even the clinics or shows in peoples’ own backyard, events in Florida, Tryon, North Carolina, and around the world, support is imperative from the community.”
Hayes, 30, grew up on Vancouver Island, in the beautiful 2,000-citizen town of Lake Cowichan with only the occasional cat or dog in his life. Recently, he and his partner of 10 years, dressage trainer Andrew Rommens, traveled to set up a winter office in Del Mar with two horses and two dogs in tow.
Having worked for a number of years in restaurant and hotel management and marketing in Vancouver, later in retail marketing on the east coast of Canada, Hayes returned to Vancouver to start up and market a furniture and design business for a friend. His focus has always centered on customer service.
“I wanted to make a change in careers because I got tired of Andrew and I working in totally different directions.” He saw an opportunity in the equestrian industry and took on the management of a private equestrian club in a South Langley subdivision where he also managed events. “People held clinics, and I thought, Why hasn’t anyone brought in really big names? Where are the best? I proposed to the club’s board of directors to bring in world-class clinicians to this beautiful world-class facility. They voted against the idea. They didn’t want to take the risk. So I asked if I put it on myself, in my spare time. The rest is history.”
Finding the time and opportunity to ride himself has not worked out yet. “I ride, a little. I watch so much dressage these days that I have been able to train my eye, but I get up there and I get frustrated. And I really don’t have the time right now. Eventually, I would like to ride on a regular basis.” Every time he meets up with Dujardin—even recently in Australia and New Zealand, where Hayes produced masterclass events with her—the dressage champion repeats that the “one person I would love to give a lesson to is Scott,”—“more for her own entertainment, I think,” he insisted.
The SH Productions staff works remotely from home offices and Hayes spends more time on the road both for events and to reach out and network in the equestrian community as his company takes on a more international flavor. He is also the one who reviews the event sites, works with the caterers and vendors and makes advance arrangements.
The future will likely focus on dressage with a smattering of other disciplines, including eventing. Dressage, however, fits best with his concept. “Dressage is about pursuing perfection, and everyone wants to invest in their education. The more you know, the better you can be in dressage and love the beauty of the sport.”