Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can you afford to show this year?

In an economy where people are struggling to make ends meet, is it selfish to talk about the high cost of horse showing? Maybe, but let's face it, owning a horse is hardly an act of selflessness. Forget the U.S., our horses live better, and consume more global resources, than people elsewhere in the world. That's the dose of reality, and maybe I'll write more on that topic one day. But let's don't go there today. My point is, just keeping a horse is a significant financial commitment, and once you own and pay for a competition-quality horse, does it make sense to stay home the whole summer?

Blogging by request here...
A reader asked me to write about how to make horse shows more affordable in tough times. I'm up to it in spirit, but have to admit I haven't personally showed in awhile, unless you count one schooling show last year. A heavy show season for me "back in the day" was 4-6 schooling shows and one recognized dressage show, at a total cost of about $1,000. Don't recall what year that was, 2003 maybe? I'll start the ball rolling with some thoughts off the top of my head. Please chime in!

So what's the goal/plan?

On the COTH hunter jumper forum, the consensus was that shows cost about $500/day, which I can fully believe. And the time involved is a healthy percentage of your life! With that in mind, it's a good idea to have a goal for the show season. Some goals might be to...

  • Give a green horse some show mileage
  • See how you stack up against competition in your local area, region or country.
  • Get a medal or year end award
  • Qualify for a finals or championship competition
  • Campaign a horse for resale
  • Have fun and/or be with friends
Your goals might suggest how you can get what you need out of this show season. For example, you don't have to go to Devon or the Hampton Classic to put show mileage on a greenie.

Is it a good goal/plan?
So your goal may or may not be in the list above, but whatever it is, ask yourself: is this goal important to you? Do you really, really want it, or are you showing out of habit, pressure from parents/trainer, or lack of something else to do? Do you do well at horse shows, or do you go home frustrated and disappointed? Sometimes we forget that there are alternatives. You could...
  • Spend the season improving your riding -- invest in clinics, ride with a prominent trainer, or lesson more often with your regular trainer.
  • Save the money for a piece of equipment you really want, like a new saddle or boots. You know, the right equipment is more than just a status thing -- you really do ride better in a quality saddle, and a good, well-fitting pair of boots will improve your riding.
  • If you're socially conscious or the guilt-prone type, skip showing for one season and hook up with a horse rescue. Can you take in a horse temporarily? Contribute $$ or time to their care?
  • PARENTS: If I had a kid with a sense of entitlement about his/her "right to show," using your money, I'd be really tempted to make this a teachable moment. Let'em get a paper route or muck stalls or work at Baskin Robbins to offset some of the costs. Or, skip showing all together.
But maybe you've got it together goalwise, and in that case read on...

Yes! I DO want to show!
Let's say it IS a good goal/plan, but you're cash strapped. When my stepsons were younger, they sometimes asked for big ticket items. My husband would pose this question: "Okay. What are you going to give up?" What about you? Is there something you can do without?
  • Half-lease your horse out. If your leasee wants to show too you can support each other (live vicariously!). I suppose you might be able to share the horse at the same show, if you limit the classes.
  • Get a part-time job. Yes, really.
  • Downsize. The editor of Dressage Today caught a lot of flack when she wrote that downsizing your car (she probably meant, from a Lexus to a Corolla) could help pay for a better horse. I guess a lot of readers (myself included) observed that it's hard to downsize from a Ford Taurus (or in my case a Toyota Yaris). Still the point is, can you skimp somewhere else to find money?
  • Is there something you can sell? A spare saddle that you seldom use? Gold (lord knows that's an option)?
  • Go to less expensive shows, fewer shows, or go to "away" shows for a shorter length of time: local or unrated shows with year-end awards, downgrade the show circuit A to B, for example, or schooling shows. Do fewer "big time A" shows or go for a shorter period of time.
  • Trailer in and forgo the luxury of a stall and show bedding.
  • Do your own braiding (if you braid), or braid for other people.
  • Have a friend, not your trainer, coach you.
  • Share a trailer. Yes, I know it's a pain. You have to wait around for everyone else's rides, or get up earlier if they ride before you. But it does cut a pretty big expense.
Well, that's my brainstorm list of ideas. Did I hit the mark, am I missing something, or did I get something wrong (hunter jumper riders in particular may have some corrections)?


We'll all be better off for the experience
from the Chronicle of the Horse

We're all in this together from the Chronicle of the Horse

Horse show solutions from the Horse Channel

Economy: Rated vs. Schooling

One more economy and horses thread (post on COTH)

Economy and horse shows (post on COTH)

Wither the equestrian business? from Hodges Badge company

Economic slump: Effect on the horse industry from The Horse magazine


  1. I didn't show last year because my horse wasn't progressing as I'd planned. Interestingly enough, after some 40 years of showing every season, I didn't miss it at all.

    No plans to show this year unless the boy masters third level and maybe not even then. Too much money for too little reward. I get more out of a riding lesson with a good trainer.

  2. Honestly (for me), shows have always been about selling a horse. . .often times selling said horse to someone I beat in that show. It was just, "the way it was done." Especially for those of us who were not born with trust funds and needed to finance showing costs via selling a horse along the way.

    Personally I could care less if my horse does a perfect third level in my backyard, or in the Devon arena. . .it has more to do the fact of "can he do it". Horse shows are all about ego *if* you are not marketing a horse for sale, and like anyone who hangs around horses for a while, you eventually have to ask yourself, "Why do I feel the NEED to go after the recognition?". .there really IS a point where the ribbons seem kinda pointless.

  3. I think a lot of people are cutting back on recognized shows and doing more schooling shows. I was shocked this year to see how many people are in my classes when I go out with the baby horse. The ESDCTA Memorial Day weekend show is only running 4 rings this year instead of 5 so I think a lot of people are choosing to just not go USDF this year. As for half leasing and showing at the same show. Last year I half leased a horse with a friends and we did that all the time. Only Championship shows forbid more then one person riding a horse a day, and so we each just picked a championship show that we wanted to do and let the other one shine. It was not only a great way to keep costs down because we would also coach each other, but it was a lot of fun to go together and show the same horse.

    As for other ways to keep the costs down. I know that one of the local show grounds has a deal for every 4 hours you volunteer you get a free class!

    I love to show, it makes me really happy and now that I am paying for a horse to half lease since my own horse is retired I make sure I have enough money in my budget for showing because it is so important to me.

  4. As this is my first summer with my own horse, it's the first opportunity I've had to show in nearly 10 years. I was really hoping to go to a late summer/early fall schooling show or two just to get Ace some experience. However, I'm now in the middle of buying a house, so it looks like the showing won't be happening this year.

    If you just enjoy showing for the fun of it and want to get your horse experience, look for small local fundraising shows! The 4-H club that is based at the therapeutic riding farm where I volunteer has a fun show every September. There's a $5 grounds fee and classes are $3 each. They have dressage, jumping, english, western, trail, games and all kinds of fun stuff. I think it might just be the perfect, low-cost day to get Ace off the property and into a show ring. We can have some serious experience with the dressage and hunter stuff, but I don't think I'll ever be too old for egg and spoon or ride a buck.

  5. My daughters and I used to do the hunter/jumper show thing, but no longer do. We just got tired of it - the expense, the time and also didn't enjoy watching the mistreatment of horses, or just plain poor riding, by riders and trainers, that sometime occurred. Those "serviceably sound" equitation horses that were obviously lame also weren't fun to watch. That said, my older daughter will probably show jumpers again once her current horse is ready. I'd rather spend my money on attending or auditing clinics, or on horse videos and books. Your ideas were very good ones for those who want to show.

  6. I haven't shown in a while, as I haven't had a horse that was showable (either too young or too old). This year, I have a 4 year old that I'm sending out for training, and I hope to get him to a schooling show by the end of the year for some real world exposure. Next year, we'll probably only hit the local open and schooling shows, again for experience.

    Things that I'm doing to save money are growing my own veggies, cutting back on travel (unless it's for work), getting a part time job, and selling extra hay. I also have a few chickens for eggs.

    I used to to to save money at shows by bringing my own food and drinks, and meeting up or carpooling with friends. We'd coach each other, groom each others horses, and keep an eye on things if someone wanted to watch a couple of classes or had to run to the port-o-lets.

  7. I stopped competing several years ago and took up foxhunting. The whole season costs less than a recognized show and lunch is included after every hunt!

  8. At the moment everything I do is aimed at showing over the Summer. I'm putting about about 2 fifths of my wages into the horse account to show two horses in registered shows. It will be tight and I'm sure as the season starts up that entries will be down.

    Travelling with friends is a great way to make showing more fun and to save money.

  9. For youth riders, one of the most economically ways to show is by doing 4H. I don't know how it is elsewhere, but meetings are put on by volunteers (unlike Pony Club where you typically pay for your weekly lessons) and the shows are basically running at cost. Here is Utah where there are a lot of big families, it makes for a very practical way to get the whole family showing without breaking the bank. Granted, showing 4H can be exciting when you are showing with lots of green riders who have their bridles on backwards etc, but I'm grateful enough for the leaders that were willing to take me under their wing that I am now a 4H leader myself. We just put on a clinic on what the judge is looking for- fantastically put together, informative and fun and it was free for the kids. The State Equine Agent put it on and she is phenomenal. I've also seen a rise in the number of schooling shows being hosted this year- our calendar is full of fun opportunities to show local and have fun--if only we could be in two places each Saturday...

  10. thanks so much Stacy!

    I printed out a copy and posted it in the barn...people love it!


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