As summer winds down, the cooler months approach, and Florida will be in full swing with horse shows. Have you shown before? It is an exciting time, but with anything else equestrian-related, it will cost you.
Horse shows offer the perfect opportunity to show off what you have learned in your lessons, add a bit of competitive fun to your riding, give yourself a bit of an ego-boost and fond memories with your horse, gain exposure and increase the value of your sale horses, among many other benefits.
But a warning to those who haven’t taken the plunge into the competition world – it isn’t cheap.
Before getting your (or your kids) hopes set on showing, it is important to take a look at the costs associated with showing. You may look at a show bill for a local fun show and think that only $5 per class is doable, but entry fees actually only make up a small percentage of the total cost of getting you and your horse to the show, in the ring, and back home.
The following are some of the costs you may not have thought about that go into horse showing along with possible ways to save money. Actual monetary values of these items vary depending on location, rating of horse show (local, A-rated, national, etc), and discipline. This list is provided as a means to help you plan for the costs you will incur when showing.
Show Clothes, Tack & Equipment
Unless the show allows you to ride in your jeans and t-shirt, expect to shell out some money on show clothes. Be sure to read the rules included in the show bill. If you have questions, ask show management or someone who has shown there before. Many shows will require you wear an approved helmet. To be competitive, you may need to be aware of what is currently “in style” for the discipline you plan on riding/competing in.
You do not necessarily need the newest equipment or tack to compete, but it must be clean, safe to use, and acceptable by show rules. Again, you must make yourself familiar with competition rules for the discipline you are competing in. These rules can change over time as well, so refresher courses won’t hurt. Certain equipment, boots/wraps, types of bridles, and bits are not allowed in certain divisions or classes.
Cost Cutting: To save money on your show clothes and equipment, be sure to watch your tack shops (both brick and mortar tack shops and online distributors) for deals. You may find clearance items, but again watch to see what is allowed and in style if you are showing in judged classes (such as hunters, western pleasure/equitation, halter/showmanship, etc). If you ride at a barn with other people who show, you may be able to find some hand-me-downs or borrow certain pieces until you decide that showing is right for you. At some barns, they may offer tack cleaning for shows but it will cost you. Invest in some saddle soap, oil, polish, etc. and clean your own. It may take time but it will save some money and you will know your equipment is clean and safe to use.
Club/Association Membership Fees
If you plan on showing more than once or if you’re trying to gain exposure for your sale horses, it may be beneficial to register you and/or your horses with local or national clubs/associations. By doing this, you may tally points that will lead to year end prizes, awards, and recognition. These could be breed, discipline or location specific. It isn’t required, but if showing is something you want to make a habit of – it could be beneficial to look into the right registry for you.
Cost Cutting: You don’t have to join. By joining, you will have to pay dues/membership fees. If you decide membership is right for you, some organizations offer various levels of membership. Long-term membership options may be pricier up front, but compared to paying annually or because of the benefits offered to those members, it may actually offer a savings over shorter-termed memberships.
Vet and Farrier
Your horse will need a Coggins test to be taken to a show. Also, as with everything else, your horse’s hooves should look their best. You may want to have money set aside in case anything should happen at the show as well. Some shows will have a vet and farrier on call or on the grounds in case your horse is sick, injured, pulls a shoe, etc. Some horses find a way to wait until they are at a show to go lame, develop a hoof abscess, pull a shoe, colic, among a variety of other issues. Be prepared financially in case this happens.
Cost Cutting: Really there is no good way to save money on these things. Knowing how to diagnose and treat common issues with your horse may help. But, don’t fall into a false sense of security. Keep a buffer of savings to treat things that come up unexpectedly.
Unless the show is within safe riding distance, you will have to consider how you will get your horse there. Do you have your own truck and trailer? Whether you do or don’t, hauling adds up. Even if you are at a barn where you will be riding a lesson horse or a leased horse at the show, you may be expected to chip in for trailering. Talk to your trainer about this beforehand. Some places have set prices for a range of distances, others charge by the mile. And remember, you are going both ways… eventually your horse will be coming home and you’re looking at another charge for hauling.
Cost Cutting: See if you can hitch a ride with others who are headed the same way. If you have your own truck and trailer, and if you have slots available, see if anyone else needs a ride. The more people splitting gas and wear and tear on the truck and trailer, the cheaper it might be.
Stall or Grounds Fees
Whether you are staying just for the day or for a few months, you may have options on where to keep your horse. If you’re trailering in and it is just for the day, you may be able to keep your horse in or hitched to the trailer. If you decide on that, you may still owe show management a grounds fee. If you choose to keep your horse stabled, you will have that charge instead. It is always more than the grounds fee, but you have the comfort of knowing you horse is in a stall, can rest overnight, etc. You can even pay for a stall to be a tack room. Keep in mind the other costs associated with keeping your horse trailered or stabled: bedding, feed, water, buckets, hay, locks for the tack room or tack trunks, etc.
Cost Cutting: If keeping your horse at the trailer is not an option and you need to get a stall, there are a few things you can do. For long shows, you may save money by paying for the stall for the entire circuit. Split time with someone else coming down to the show. Or keep your horse offsite if the show is in an area where local barns (within riding distance to the show grounds) are offering stalls to rent for the season.
If the show is the weekend or longer, you may need to think of where you will stay. Your horse is stabled overnight at the show or nearby, you need to think about where you’re going. The options you should consider depend on how long you need to stay. If you live close enough or have nice family/friends nearby, perhaps you don’t need special accommodations. Or, if you have an RV you can bring your home with you (keep in mind hookup costs if you take this route). Some people choose to camp out at the show grounds – but you might not have the luxury of a shower or anything more than a port-a-potty onsite. Other options could include getting a hotel room, extended stay, or even renting a house for the show season. Also keep in mind that depending on how long you will be there, you may need to consider food costs and local transportation (e.g. rental car).
Cost Cutting: Plan ahead before there’s a rush on rooms or rental cars. Otherwise you’ll be stuck paying a premium or trapped way on the outskirts of town. If you know several people going, you may be able to split the cost of renting a room or house. When staying for an entire show circuit, be sure to consider a place that has a kitchen to cut back on how often you are eating out.
Horse Care & Grooming
Are you going it alone or do you have a whole team of grooms and assistants with you? Whether you are doing your own grooming and horse care or your trainer/groom/assistants are doing it for you – it will cost you. You may need new grooming supplies, shampoo, sponges, buckets, mane/tail detangler, conditioner, fly spray, etc. Depending on the show you are going to and discipline, your horse may need to be braided or banded. You can do that yourself or pay a professional. Keep in mind that horses may rub braids out, so they may need redone. Also, you shouldn’t keep braids in too long and your horse will need to be rebraided every day or every other day (if he/she leaves them in overnight). In addition to grooming expenses, someone will need to feed, water, give hay to, clean buckets, and perhaps clean the stall. If your horse is stabled overnight, you may want to (or have someone else) check on him/her periodically.
Cost Cutting: If you have time, you could do all the care and grooming yourself. When showing, you will find it can be hectic getting both yourself and your horse ready. It’s always nice to have an extra set of hands. Have a show buddy come along to help if you can find someone. Even if you throw in lunch, dinner, or some extra cash, it may be cheaper than hiring a groom. If you are riding with a show barn, they may factor these costs into a variety of charges attached to your bill. Talk to your trainer about whether there are certain things you can help out with that would lower those prices a bit. If you’re willing to get there early and clean stalls, you may find some money deducted from your bill.
Training & Coaching Fees
These fees will be assessed by your riding instructor if you have one for coaching you once at the show. You may find these prices are higher than your regular lesson prices. It is helpful having a trainer there who has show experience and can help you know what you need to do once in the show ring. For someone new to showing, it may be beneficial to find someone to coach you at least the day of the show. Some trainers may want to help you school your green horse around the show grounds. This is up to you, but if you have a nervous horse and you are not comfortable, it could help settle you and the horse. Of course the trainer’s time isn’t free and you will be charged if he/she has to get up on your horse and each time they coach you in the schooling ring.
Cost Cutting: If you feel comfortable, you might not need a trainer. But, if you are new to showing, their experience and knowledge can be invaluable. At least by having one coaching session, you may have a better understanding of what you need to do in your class.
You can’t escape these or negotiate them. If you are going to show, you have to pay show management what they want for each class you enter. These prices will range. From a few dollars per class at your local fun shows to $100 or more per division. You may also have to pay nomination fees. Keep in mind that when a show has jackpot classes or classes with prize money attached, you will likely pay more to enter that class – but you can win some or all of that back (oh the joys of gambling).
Cost Cutting and Pitfalls: To lower your entry fees, enter as early as possible. Some shows offer a small discount if you enter by a certain date. And the contrary, if you wait too long to enter you may pay more. You may also save money by entering an entire division rather than just paying one class at a time – kind of like buying in bulk. Be careful of scratch or add fees. If you wind up unable to compete in a class you enter, you must scratch. Some shows will not refund you for scratched classes.
EMT & Show Administrative Fees
Many shows will assess an office fee and an EMT fee. These might be added daily or be for the entire show. Be sure to read carefully. They can really add up if they accrue daily (e.g. a $10 a day office fee for a typical 3-day weekend show will add $30 to your bill). The EMT fee helps go toward paying local paramedics to be on show grounds with an ambulance at all times. Hopefully they are actually there; I have been at shows where they are not and must be called in. Most shows I have been to have paramedics there, though.
Cost Cutting: There’s no real way out of this one. Just one of those inevitable costs of showing. If you’re going to show, expect to pay the show office staff and the paramedics.
Photography & Videography
You may see some official photographer and possibly a videographer at the show. Be sure to check them out but don’t expect their products to be cheap. Also, be wary of snagging your horse show proofs for your website, sales, or Facebook account. These professionals are often unpaid for their time at the show. They are expected to be there the entire show, shooting all day, possibly thousands of photos. Then they must edit the photos/film and post them so you can see them. It can be stressful. The only way they are paid is if you purchase photos and/or video of you and your horse.
Cost Cutting: You aren’t required to buy your photo or video. Don’t think about just snagging your photo either, in most cases the photographer has watermarked the images with his/her copyright. Even though it is a picture of you, the show management has a contract with the photographer that likely includes a clause that all images taken there is his/her property. Why? Because, that’s how they are paid. He/she can come after you legally if you have taken the photo without permission. If you cannot afford professional, official show photography or videography have a friend come out and snap some photos or video of you. As long as they aren’t professionals selling their photos/video to you, they should be allowed by show management to stand outside the ring and do so. Or contact the photographer/videographer and see if there are cheaper options of products you can purchase. If you are really not happy with the professionals that are official photographers/videographers at a horse show, speak to show management about considering other professionals.
If you have ideas on how to cut costs for those wanting to show, please feel free to share them in the comments. Hopefully this guide helps arm you with the info you need to plan for your show. It is a great experience, but can definitely cause some sticker shock if you don’t think of and plan for all the other costs.