Traverse City Horse Shows gallop forward

ACME — Traverse City Horse Shows has been galloping at full speed the last couple of years and now is a major force on the national equestrian scene.

“This has now become the third largest event in the country,” said Matt Morrissey, managing partner of Morrissey Management Group, owner of Traverse City Horse Shows.

The two largest equestrian events in the United States — in Florida and southern California — both are held in winter.

“We are the largest operating summer show in North America,” Morrissey said of Traverse City Horse Shows.

An economic impact report conducted by Sport Management Research Institute on behalf of Morrissey Management Group states that the horse shows pumped $120 million in direct participant spending into the local economy in 2021. That’s $112 million more than the $8 million mentioned in a similar 2017 study.

The event has grown immensely since the Morrissey Group acquired the show.

It expanded from six weeks to 12 weeks. Participant numbers blossomed. Flintfields Horse Park more than doubled in size: Since purchasing the property near Williamsburg, Traverse City Horse Shows bought another adjacent 31 acres, and recently purchased an additional 100 acres of hay field across the road to the east.

“Over the last four years since we purchased the property, every year, we have made some developments and improvements, and have spent about $20 million on the property, improving it and making it so it can withstand a longer season of shows,” Morrissey said.

Because of the pandemic, the show has not allowed spectators in either of the last two years. Still, there were between 4,500 and 5,000 people on site on any given day last summer, Morrissey said. Before the pandemic, spectators had represented the event’s biggest growth. Spectators will return in 2022.

The study stated that in 2021:

  • The average participant stayed 33 nights, up from 19 in 2017.
  • The average participant group included 8.9 people.
  • The average group spent $6,577 a day on visitor-related expenses, including $3,351 for lodging, $1,045 restaurants, $593 retail, $575 food, $541 entertainment and $472 on local transport.
  • 33.5 percent of attendees had a household income of more than $500,000.
  • 30.1 percent of respondents were ages 50-59, 22 percent 20-29 and 19.3 percent 40-49.
  • 78.4 percent of participants were female.
  • 44 percent graduated college, 33.3 percent graduate school.
  • Attendees lived in 46 states and 28 other nations.

The pandemic may actually have helped raise the show’s national profile, Morrissey said. Commerce limitations and the ability to work from home (or away from home) allowed many horse owners to spend more time enjoying equestrian events.

Traverse City Tourism President and CEO Trevor Tkach said restrictions related to the pandemic resulted in more traffic to Flintfields in 2021. The organization this week hosted a press conference to present economic data related to the equestrian shows.

“COVID allowed people to come here and see the property, see Traverse City,” said Morrissey.

Many equestrian shows, particularly on the West Coast, were shut down by COVID. So horse enthusiasts sought alternative participation venues that were open, including Traverse City Horse Shows.

“2021 was a great year for us,” Morrissey said.

The proximity of Flintfields to downtown Traverse City may have convinced attendees to stay longer.

“Very rarely do you have a horse show take a large tract of land close to a city. So they’re all in the country — nothing else to do,” said Morrissey. “That’s the big thing here — that’s the big difference. And you have great restaurants in Traverse City, watersports, golf, Families can come and bring even the kids who don’t ride.”

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