Organizers have said "whoa" to the first Montana Festival of the Horse, the three-day event at the Missoula County Fairgrounds that was scheduled to begin Friday.
Christian Domarus, co-director of the event with partner Cathy Harris, said they began notifying vendors and ticket holders last week that they were faced with "an unforeseen financial hardship" and had to cancel.
“We did everything we could do on a tight budget to get there,” Domarus said Thursday. “We were at the point where we knew if we went through with it, we didn’t have the numbers we needed to comfortably do this.”
Advance ticket sales were disappointing, and the producers were planning to use those revenues to beef up marketing efforts.
In emails and on Facebook, Domarus and Harris thanked retail and food vendors who had committed to the event and said ticket holders and vendors will receive full refunds.
“We are incredibly saddened that this has happened,” they said. “We have worked for 2 years on the festival and it is overwhelming that it has come to this.”
Harris and Domarus rented the fairgrounds to offer an event that was part horse expo, part trade show, part entertainment – and all horse. A Parade of Breeds was scheduled for the main arena each afternoon, with cowboy poetry, cowboy church and a tribute to women of the West mixed in. The featured act was to be the Ma’Ceo Acrobatic Equestrian Experience of Florida.
"Olissio and his amazing troupe, Ma'Ceo, have been waiting patiently for this to happen for some time," the June 30 Facebook post said. "We are sorry."
Among the clinicians and speakers lined up were Missoula horse packer Smoke Elser and Jeff Patterson, founder of From Herd 2 Human; western ranch life photographer Barbara Van Cleve of Big Timber, and Jonnie Jonckowski of Billings, who's in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
A Lazy Cowpoke Jamboree Music Festival was to feature three acts each evening, with The Cold Hard Cash Show headlining on Saturday and Sunday.
Domarus said this was the only summer weekend slot available at the Missoula fairgrounds for an event he and Harris hoped would become a magnet for tourists. He speculated the marketing budget wasn’t sufficient to set the festival apart on a weekend that includes Sunday’s Missoula Marathon, the Montana Folk Festival in Butte, the Elite Bull Connection Bullarama in Darby and Drummond’s Bullshippers Rodeo Days built around western Montana’s first professional rodeo of the summer on Sunday.
“Our staff wants to thank every one of you that has shown support for our event,” the email said. “You gave us hope that we have built something special and that our work has not been in vain. … Our sponsors, partners and new friends are all appreciated.”
Domarus and Harris will step back and assess before they decide whether to try again in 2017 and, if so, in what form. They had opted to start big, with a full three-day show with high-caliber acts, exhibits and demonstrations.
"We researched this and what happens to a lot of first-year events is if they start small they stay small," Domarus said.