Q&A with Kristi Schiller
The inaugural Diamonds & Dirt Barrel Horse Classic, sponsored by Schiller Ranch, raised more than $80,000 for K9s4COPs and awarded more than $250,000. Meet Kristi Schiller, the beauty and brains behind the Diamonds & Dirt Barrel Horse Classic and owner of the 2012 LG Pro Classic $100,000 Slot Race champion, Insane For Fame. Learn what captivates and motivates this successful businesswoman in the barrel racing industry.
Q&A by Tanya Randall
BHN: What's your background with horses? I know you had a horse when you were young and that you have cutting horses too. How did you get started and tell us about your introduction to the barrel futurity industry?
Kristi Schiller: I started riding at a very early age, probably about 3. I believe I got my first barrel horse when I was about 8 years old. Like most kids, I started in 4-H competing in all-around horsemanship then youth rodeos, high school rodeos, AQHA shows, etc. I eventually did all the events, but I always had a love of the glamour of the rodeo queens and a fondness for going fast. I started my career in broadcasting and was extremely fortunate to be able to fulfill my career dreams by working. In the early 1990's I was drawn to the to the innovation of the information superhighway. It was a natural transition for me to be involved in trying to combine the two. I must have had some success along the way — Forbes named me “Queen of the Internet.” During this time I did not have the luxury of time to have a career and horses, so I took an equine sabbatical for almost 20 years. I knew I would be involved in horses again one day. This level found me I like to say.
After marrying my husband, John a decade ago, we started looking for a ranch. We soon found the perfect place for us. Only an hour and 20 minutes from Houston, it is just 10 minutes from Texas A & M’s Kyle Field, where we spend most weekends in the fall during football season. Initially, we built a small shed row for my little girl’s ponies. Schiller Ranch has evolved at mach speed over the past three years, which led to many more barns, mare motels, futurity barns, an arena for ranch sorting (my husband's favorite) and an indoor arena. Now we laugh because we went from a little place in the country to “get away on weekends from the big city,” to residing on a full-blown resort for whatever your pleasure is: fishing, tennis or horses.
During Christmas of 2011, I went to go look at an open rodeo horse for sale in Abilene, Texas. The seller, who is now a dear friend, Tara Woodall, told me the original arena we were going to try had flooded so she called someone else and we were going to nearby Anson, Texas. Low and behold, it was home to futurity trainers, LaTricia and JO Duke. I did not know the Duke family, yet, but as the day progressed and the more I watched her I became very impressed at their work ethic and their ability to handle each young horse carefully and compassionately consider what that 3-year-old required. Their dedication to their craft, left me captivated, to say the least.
I started inquiring about what she did and told her about a 2-year-old I had purchased off the track. She explained to me in the futurity world your window is short to allow that horse to reach maximum potential. I kept reverting back to telling her about my 2.5-year-old Dash Ta Fame. The story has what legendary tales are made of: Tall Blonde walks into a renowned trainers barn by accident and asks them to “take my Dash Ta Fame because she is pretty, sweet and she came off the track.” Oh, and I used the southern gentle tone laced with the word “Please…” Anyone who knows LaTricia by now knows she is pacing nervously, trying to find the words to tell me this will not be happening. She cautiously inquired, “Who broke her?” I proudly reiterated, “This filly came off the track. She is so sweet my 3 year old daughter can ride her bareback in a halter,” at which point nervous laughing ensues and she says, “well, where did you buy this horse?” At my moment to shine, thinking she is about to think I am beyond brilliant, I boldly say “Craigslist...sight unseen. I sent the man money and he was nice enough to deliver her.” Well, she choked so hard I thought she swallowed her cigarette. Her famous reply was, “Let me know how THAT works out for you!” I was discouraged by her response for about 10 seconds. After a few months we stayed in touch, and as we became closer, I started buying embryos and we discussed a program that we could build upon. Every few days, I would occasionally bring up my filly, “J-Lo” [Insane For Fame].
LaTricia finally relented after five months and 1,000 email phone photos. I must have caught her at a weak moment and she said, “J-Lo has to be in my barn no later than May 1. But, do NOT expect any promises, this will NEVER work; this is a tough business not a Disney movie. Also, I want no tears when J-Lo does not make my travel team. Furthermore, do not call me asking about her progress every five minutes either.”
About a month later, she called me in California telling me J-Lo was leading her expectations in exhibitions and holding her own against the 1D times. That is officially the moment I became hooked on the excitement of futurity prospects. I laugh when I tell people I was more excited about that phone call of validation than I was when she won the $100,000 slot race. So, I asked her in Kinder, “Disney called...they want to know how that’s working for you?”
BHN: Rather than going after tradition sponsors, you got sponsors that are more likely to be seen at the Breeder’s Cup or Wellington. Tell me about your marketing plan for the event?
Schiller: Sponsorship is crucial to sporting events, and based on our research the sport of barrel horse racing, especially when it comes to women in sports, still has a long way to go. If these trainers and riders do not perform they do not win and have no one to carry the weight of mistakes. As a parent, if my child had to idolize an athlete would you not want them to be talented, hard workers that are dedicated to their craft? Many of the sponsors for DDBHC were sponsors whose products and services we use personally. NetJets, VLK Sport, Montesquieu Winery, Lone Star SportChassis, STRUT, Troy Flaharty, Rolex, RES boots, Baccarat are all products I was proud to associate my name with. Again, these are all things you can find on our ranch any given day.
My marketing background really started to kick in on this event. My 5-year-old daughter rides English and at some of these shows I see the big sponsors and it made perfect sense to bring some of the elite names recognized internationally to an event that attracts international owners.
The timeline in our marketing plan was important in order to draw elite riders to the event. The access to the Brazos County Expo was important because of the desirable central location and state-of-the-art facility. The sponsors we brought helped create a list of prizes and prize money unlike anything else. The established credibility of the Schiller Ranch was very important in creating a standard in this event. As our guest, everyone was made to feel welcomed and taken care of, which is a Schiller Ranch standard. I wanted the feel of a full concierge service from the moment you pulled up to the event. The office was open 24 hours a day, if you required a stall there was a valet there to bring you your shavings and spread them for you. If you needed help in unloading your trailer there was person available to bring your equipment to your stall on a mule for you.
BHN: Tell me about the response you received from the event.
Schiller: The response has been tremendously positive. I am humbled and overwhelmed how many gracious heartfelt emails I received from those involved. Many of the riders want to know the confirmed dates for 2013. To date, each and every vendor wishes to return, as do many of the sponsors. The city of Bryan/ College Station stepped up to work with us on next year’s event. I had many people ask me how did the inaugural year go so smoothly having such a large-scale event with a venue of hundreds of seasoned critics.
When I started creating a team of experts, the key was to have as few barrel racers involved as possible. We all bowed to LaTricia as our in-house hierarchy on all things barrel racing, and the world’s greatest secretary Ross Wright along with her husband Steve stepped up to immediately put everyone at ease. My ranch manager and closest friend, Shanna Brown headed logistics along with Susanne Gubert who orchestrated vendors with ease. Schiller Ranch CPA, Brenda Tuttle kept balance in our books and was our “voice of reason.” My daughter, Hailey Schiller is a professional party planner. She has put together soirees for the Bush family, Cowgirl Hall of Fame to the Governor’s Ball. It was only natural she was in charge of the VIP party, which was the highlight of the week. Liz Lara Carreno is the Executive Director of K9s4Cops and ran marketing for Continental Airlines for 25 years. She defines the ebb and flow of making a production merge into a once in a lifetime experience. This A-Team along with ground crew, volunteers and a generous husband bolstered the vision of a fresh approach to a historical competition among athletes. We have so many new friends because of this and we are very grateful.
BHN: How much money has been raised for K9s4Cops?
Schiller: K9s4Cops was raised from a vision I had in December 2009 when I saw on the news about a K-9 dog being killed in the line of duty. I was so moved that an officer’s life was saved by the quick action of his K-9 partner. I immediately began researching departments that were in dire needs of a K-9 dog. Unfortunately, K-9s is the number one item cut from most department budgets. I am incredibly grateful to the many people and corporations that have stepped up just this past year to the tune of an excess of $1 million dollars. People have embraced this avenue to show their unbridled support of law enforcement. K9s4Cops provides a trusted way for individuals, corporations and foundations to foster a relationship with those in uniform that keep our community a safer place. During the short go of the futurity our friends from Vohne Liche Kennels gave a demonstration how these magnificent animals worked on many levels. After DDBHC's inaugural event we raised over $80,000 for K9s4COPs, and, even more importantly, we have educated and informed so many people about the great work of this organization and awareness of their community.
Tags: Diamonds And Dirt, K9s4Cops, inside the futurity industry, Kristi Schiller, Schiller Ranch, Latricia Duke, Schiller family, Diamonds & Dirt Barrel Horse Classic, Insane For Fame, LG Pro Classic, DDBHC