By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Like many mother-and-daughter horse show duos, Deidre McAuley-Hayes and Malachi Hinton have spent countless hours together in the truck as they chased Malachi’s equestrian dreams. In 2019, as the pair was driving down the highway en route to the barn, the topic of Malachi turning professional entered the conversation.
“Malachi asked me if I’d be able to travel to shows with her like I did during her Junior years. I told her I won’t be able to travel like that, but it would be great if we could hire someone on the fly who could help you. Maybe someone who was planning on being there anyway and looking for work,” Deidre said. “Malachi asked what I would call it, and ShowAssist just rolled off my tongue.”
And just like that, an idea to empower those in the horse show industry to find help or seek employment was created. An intellectual property attorney herself, Deidre admits this is often how ideas come to inventors. “There’s no big fireworks going on; sometimes a fleeting thought sparks an idea that the inventor turns into a product or service,” Deidre said.
Getting to this moment started when Malachi was 9 years old. “I started out in gymnastics, but I wasn’t flexible enough,” Malachi chuckled. “That’s when mom was like, ‘I rode horses once, let’s give it a try.’”
Although she didn’t ride horses competitively, Deidre grew up in a military family and took riding lessons as a child when her family was stationed in the Philippines. So, when Malachi was looking for an activity to excel at, Deidre sought out riding lessons. After a few lessons at a local barn, Malachi was hooked. “I ended up spending all my time at the barn, even my birthdays,” Malachi said. “As soon as I knew I could be a professional, I was going for it. As a child, I started having Olympic dreams.”
Malachi climbed the ranks from local shows to competing at rated jumper competitions. In 2016, she had her most memorable year aboard her beloved High Junior jumper partner, F15. “I’d been riding him for about two years, and everything finally started clicking. We won at the Devon Fall Classic and competed and placed at Prix de States that year,” she said.
During Malachi’s Junior years, Deidre was there handling everything from grooming and emotional support to financial support and transportation. You name it, Deidre was probably doing it. That’s why Malachi wasn’t sure how she’d kick off her professional career without her mom along for the ride.
Filling a Void
After the initial truck conversation, Deidre tasked Malachi with doing some market research to figure out just how professionals and horse owners made connections to find help for horse shows. Malachi quickly realized a lot of help wanted ads were being posted on Facebook and going unanswered as the intended audience never saw the posts.
“Every day she’d send me a screenshot of a post where a connection hadn’t been made. I then tasked her with researching the lives of grooms and other services providers. This was the eye-opening part,” Deidre said.
Through Malachi’s research, they learned about the hardships of grooms and issues that plagued the industry. “Owners and professionals complained about grooms’ work ethics, and grooms complained about pay and burnout; we even ran across one article that talked about grooms committing suicide because of burnout,” Deidre said. “That was the exact moment when we made the decision to move forward with the app.
“I told Malachi even if it just helps one person, if this app saves one life, we are going to do this. From that moment on we didn’t look back. We pulled out our notebook and started jotting down ideas on how the app would look and what services it would provide,” Deidre continued.
They used their experience and connections, from their respective fields, to develop a user-centric and user-friendly app. “As a show mom and Malachi’s assistant, it would have been great to have had on-demand help managing the care of her horses at the show,” Deidre said.
Gone are the days where help wanted or seeking employment ads are posted in common areas at horse shows. Today, ShowAssist can be used to connect with experienced grooms and other support staff who are planning on being at the same shows you’re attending.
“The biggest challenge has been getting the equestrian community to embrace incorporating technology to find the help they need,” Deidre said. “We know people in the industry are busy, so we designed the app so owners and riders can quickly post a job request and instantaneously notify registered job seekers.”
Since 2020, ShowAssist has helped owners, riders and service providers connect to obtain services in the barn—StallAssist—or at the ring—RingAssist—at horse shows. “The app includes all rated USEF hunter-jumper shows in the U.S., rated shows in Canada and other select shows,” Deidre said.
Working on ShowAssist has been rewarding for Malachi and Deidre as it not only has strengthened their already solid mother-daughter relationship, but it’s genuinely made an impact in the industry.
“We’ve heard stories of how ShowAssist has helped people. Whether it’s a trainer who needed to find a groom last minute because theirs was sick or a groom who’d been out of work and used the app to find a job,” Deidre said. “It touches my heart to hear these stories.”
There have been a few surprising uses for ShowAssist. “Retired service providers who miss the hustle and bustle of show life have used ShowAssist to work on demand. Most say they like the flexibility; they can work as little or as much as they want through the app. We’ve also seen riders using the app to take jobs on their off weeks to make extra money,” Deidre said. “Not only do they earn income, but they also get exposure to different trainers’ programs.”
Empowering the Industry
Deidre and Malachi aren’t just committed to helping grooms obtain employment, they want to further their education and give them the recognition they deserve. In March 2022, ShowAssist launched its first series of interactive, educational grooming webinars with the help of professional service providers in the industry.
“Education is a great asset for everyone, so by having educational opportunities grooms from the FEI-level to those just starting out can add skills to their resumes. This can help them up their game when they apply to jobs via the app,” Malachi said.
After hearing from owners that they’ve had a hard time finding experienced grooms they felt comfortable entrusting their horses’ care with, Malachi and Deidre decided education was a resource ShowAssist should provide.
“We wanted to not only help grooms improve their skills, but we also want people in the industry to see ShowAssist as more than a hiring mobile app. We are a helpful resource in the industry, and we care about the people in our sport as well as the quality of care given to the horses,” Deidre said.
To show how grateful the industry is for the behind-the-scenes work done by grooms, Deidre and Malachi created the Horse Show Hero Award. “We see grooms as unsung heroes who help the industry move day to day. We knew shows give the winning riders’ grooms awards, and have groom classes but we wanted to give owners and riders an opportunity to nominate a person who helps them daily, win or lose,” Deidre said.
Over the past few years, at select shows, typically shows that partner with ShowAssist, riders have been encouraged to nominate whomever their Horse Show Hero is throughout the week. At the end of the week, there is a random drawing and one lucky groom, braider, body clipper or stall cleaner wins a $500 cash award plus a bag of goodies just for them. This brings joy to both the nominator and the winner. The looks on their faces say it all.
“When we first started the ShowAssist Horse Show Hero award, we noticed some groom awards consisted of grooming supplies—to me, that’s like giving someone who provides house cleaning services a vacuum cleaner for a prize. Our gift bags are filled with gifts exclusively for the groom including gift cards, clothing, self-care items and other products such as drink tumblers, throw blankets, snacks and sweet treats from ShowAssist and our gift sponsors,” Deidre said. “We are now starting to see a positive change in the industry with regards to groom recognition.”
Presenting these awards to horse show heroes goes right along with one of Deidre and Malachi’s core beliefs that we’re here on this earth to make a difference in the lives of other people. “There is something very rewarding when you can positively impact the lives of others,” Deidre said.
Throughout the journey of launching and running ShowAssist, Deidre and Malachi have made many connections throughout the industry who’ve helped them be successful and get the word out about their new venture. That’s why they’d like to share some lessons they’ve learned along the way with aspiring entrepreneurs.
“If you see a problem in whatever industry you’re in, no matter how small the idea may be, don’t be afraid to pursue it. Do research to see if it would be helpful. If you can use it, chances are someone else will benefit from it also,” Deidre said. “Think about the Post-It note, a piece of paper with adhesive that has forever impacted how we take notes.”
Deidre also believes you shouldn’t keep an idea so close that you don’t reach out to others for guidance or advice along the way. “We’re not meant to pursue things alone. Your greatest resource is someone who has been there and done that,” she said. “You can learn a lot from their successes and their failures.”
Malachi echoes her mom’s advice and encourages everyone to ignore their inner saboteur. “We can be our biggest critic and end up holding ourselves back. Look past that and go for it,” she said.
Malachi took her own guidance and opened her business, Rhema Sporthorses, in 2020 upon college graduation. In addition to continuing to grow ShowAssist with Deidre, Malachi wants to expand Rhema Sporthorses and enter the Grand Prix ring this year.
Deidre hopes organically, over time, ShowAssist will be known for helping owners, riders and experienced grooms make connections, and for providing educational opportunities and informational resources to help the equestrian community enhance their showing experience.
“The sky’s the limit when it comes to the future for ShowAssist,” Deidre said. “I’m a strong believer in God. I believe we’re led by Him, and however He wants us to help people next, that’s what we’ll be doing.”
For more information, download the ShowAssist app or visit showassist.org
Photos by Melissa Fuller, melissafullerphotography33.mypixieset.com/