By Price Bell
We hired two millennials and it enriched my perspective. While I may be considered young, I caution that assumption as I am closer to 50 than 20, and hiring two individuals in their 20’s has given me great hope for our sport.
At this time I will focus on one, the Experience Coordinator, first of its kind in Mill Ridge (or Beaumont Farm) history. Liza van Dissel was hired to run our Horse Country experience at Mill Ridge. This involves giving tours, promoting our experiences in social media channels, and developing relationships with the tourism industry locally, nationally, and internationally. We measure her success by the growth of our audience–most importantly by the number of people we have through the farm who feed a carrot to our mares. We believe in the relationship of humans and horses and it is her job to create more of these relationships. In her second month, we welcomed 214 guests to the farm compared to 59 during the same month last year, and that momentum has continued–last Friday (10/11) we had 70 guests!
We differ in many ways. She uses expressions like “wow, that gives me all the feels” when seeing a first timer’s reaction to feeding a carrot. She takes selfies and encourages guests to do the same and “tag” us (meaning @millridgefarm on instagram or @headleybell on twitter). Prior to working with her, my presumption was millennials were self-absorbed and unmotivated; however, that was prejudice.
She works seven days a week and is inspired by our mission to connect guests with horses. Like me and those who work at Mill Ridge, she is also driven by the horse and our privilege to work with them every day.
At first, I was hesitant about her communication on behalf of the farm. Would she understand Mill Ridge and what has been built and nurtured by my grandmother and our team for the last 57 years? However, it hit me squarely: I am not the audience, and likely you aren’t either. Recognizing I don’t know the audience has been key to its growth.
For what it’s worth, I had been trying to communicate to a new audience for a few years. Either from lack of attention, uncertainty, overconfidence, or inexperience, I had not been effective. She is focused on communicating what is special about Mill Ridge, our horses, and our sport with the world and a new audience has connected with our passion and authenticity. Interestingly, the audience is not necessarily her age; but rather a spectrum of old and young, often without any prior horse racing experience.
Bringing her onto our team and watching how she communicates, shares, and welcomes new people through our gates and to our sport energizes me. It reminds me how lucky I am to work with horses, work with my family and friends, and ply our trade where at least one measure of success is a finish line and everyone in the gate has a chance. I don’t have all the answers in this complex game and I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I do know that engaging a new perspective changed ours for the better and that gives me hope for the future of our sport.