Shanette Barth Cohen is in the home stretch of preparations for the 40th Hampton Classic Horse Show, a celebrity-studded, weeklong event that attracts about 50,000 attendees. As executive director of the Bridgehampton show, which kicks off Sunday, Cohen oversees several hundred short-term employees while crossing her fingers for good weather. The event's Hamptons location, combined with its price of $20 per carload and $25 per Grand Prix seat, means it draws both a general and high-end audience for its sponsors, she said.
Cohen, 45, competed in the horse show in her youth and had her own event planning company for several years before she was tapped to run the Hampton Classic in 2005.
What celebrities might be dropping in?
Well, I can tell you some of the usual suspects: Mary Kate Olsen is a rider, Jerry Seinfeld's daughter rides, Georgina Bloomberg rides, so the mayor typically will come. The Lakers have a barn out here and they take a table. Madonna was here once. J. Lo was here last year.
How do you handle things differently with celebrities?
I try and respect everyone's privacy to a certain extent. We ask the celebrities to, if they would, participate in interviews or get their pictures taken. We don't solicit them to be here. Occasionally we'll hear from someone that wants to come and we'll find a board member who will let them be at their table and we'll send a photographer over. Some buy their own tables and fill them with their celebrity friends. We talk to the media and make clear to them, "Don't try and ask someone a question when they're warming up to go in to compete. Maybe wait until after they've competed and then go interview them." We just try and make sure everyone understands that, first and foremost, people are here to compete and they need to focus on that first.
You have such a short-term workforce: from August through mid-September. How do you rein them in and set the company code?
A lot of them come back year after year and there are teams of people that go from horse show to horse show. Different key managers are really good at paying close attention to what everyone's doing. And we're one of the shows that everyone wants to work at. They don't want to get out of line or they're not going to get their job back. There's too much to get done to goof off and get into trouble -- so everyone's pretty focused.
What are your biggest hurdles?
The thing that keeps me up at night the most is weather, because it's nothing we can control. Otherwise, our sponsorships and making sure our sponsors are happy and getting them on board.
What's different this year?
We're a week early, technically, because Labor Day's so late this year. Our dates are licensed by the [United States Equestrian Federation] and every six years we're one week early. It's actually something that gets very well received by everyone with almost no exception. The people don't have to worry about getting back to school right on top of the show or marketing people who don't want to work on Labor Day weekend now have that weekend off.
How does your purse compare with other competitions?
Our Grand Prix is $250,000, we have two $50,000 classes then we also have a $40,000 class and we have a $30,000 rider challenge. There are Grand Prix that are more -- a $500,000 class finishing the circuit in Florida. There's a $1 million class in Saugerties (New York) the week after our Grand Prix. We've been at $250,000 for at least five years and it's something that we talk about wanting to go up. We won't do it unless we have a sponsor on board that also wants it to go up, because we're nonprofit, so we can't take that risk without having it funded.
Tell me about the competitions.
The jumps are set differently for every competition. The riders get to walk the competition ground beforehand -- they can pace it out and decide where they need to speed up or slow down, where they should turn. But they don't get out there with their horses and practice over any of it beforehand.
Name: Shanette Barth Cohen, executive director, Hampton Classic Horse Show Inc., Bridgehampton
What it does: An equestrian competition combined with shopping, dining and family entertainment
Employees: 6 full time; 210 part time
Revenue: $4.3 million