Q&A with Alex Rheinheimer

Alex Rheinheimer and her husband Dean own and operate Horse Shows By The Bay, an annual equestrian festival based in Traverse City. The event continues

to grow in size and prominence. Rheinheimer met with TCBN Publisher Luke Haase in June.

BN: Your event is the best-kept secret in Traverse City! Tell our readers about the Horse Show.

AR: Our event is a three-week equestrian festival featuring the nation's best riders and their horses competing in the Olympic disciplines of show jumping and dressage. It's held at our new horse park called Flintfields and is located east of Traverse City off M-72. This year we anticipate 1,500 horses on-site, which has grown from 250 just four years ago.

BN: And what's impressive is the audience and what they spend while they're here. What are some of those numbers?

AR: Yes, the participants that frequent our show are affluent, well-traveled and at a minimum spend $200 a day on dining, lodging, shopping and more…all of which goes directly into the local economy. We've estimated that, to date, we've generated at least $20 million in tourism-based revenue for the region.

BN: A recent TCBN reader survey showed that folks – by an almost ten to one margin – believe the Cherry Festival and Film Festival do more for the local economy. How do you counter?

AR: I feel that our event is just as significant – we're just not as visible as the others. I bet that if we set up our five show rings and thousand-plus horse stalls on the Open Space we would get more attention. The beauty, however, is that we are of no burden to the town…meaning that we don't require any extra security, trash removal, or parking attendants.

BN: You manage and attend horse events around the country. I'd be curious to hear how you compare our region to other areas…are we friendly and welcoming? Is Traverse City an easy place in which to start and grow a business?

AR: The Grand Traverse region, in my opinion, is geographically equivalent to The Hamptons or Palm Beach or Palm Springs in that each location has some type of unique 'vibe,' whether it's the shopping, art, or a waterfront. Generally speaking, as a festival owner, I see a lot of competition for local support and dollars because of all the other high-profile events but I think we are well on our way to 'cracking' the local nut, so to speak, especially now that we have our own facility. We're creating roots here. That's important to the local community.

BN: What's your 'ceiling' here? I mean, how big and prominent could this event be in 10 or 15 years?

AR: We see only growth – the three weeks could easily expand to four, five, six weeks. What we are doing right now has been done many times over in other parts of the country. The Winter Equestrian Festival in Palm Beach every winter for four months started just like us – two weeks in a touristy town during the good weather. Now it's 14 weeks long, houses the Olympic team and 4,000 other horses, and is one of the largest tourism drivers in Palm Beach County. I like to think we are headed down the same path – but maybe in a more boutique way.