Friday, February 16, 2018

The Death of the Horse Show

There's been a lot of banter in recent years about the dwindling attendance at horse shows across the country except at the upper levels of the sport.  The Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF, Palm Beach) is booming.  Upperville (in Virginia) hits new numbers every year.  Devon is still as popular as ever.  The Hampton Classic (on tony Long Island around Labor Day) gets more sponsors every year. So while the upper end of the sport continues to do well (where generally money is no object for anyone in attendance) the rest of the sport is suffering.  Horse shows appear to be dying a slow and painful death in many parts of the country.

So why is this happening?  The easy answer is cost.  Many can't afford to dump $1000 a weekend at a horse show.  The governing bodies of the sport (USEF and the USHJA) have no appreciation for the cost of owning a horse and horse showing.  When you attend these shows you spend a lot of money before your horse ever hits the show grounds:  office fees, EMT fees, drug testing fees, Zone fees, and facility fees (yes, in some cases, borrowed from our friends in health care).  It's mind boggling and the lists seem to grow every year. 

The entry fees for horse shows even at the lower levels seem to increase every year. Then there are braiders' fees (don't get me started about why it costs $60 to braid a horse's mane for one day) for rated shows which can easily top a few hundred dollars  for a show.  So for most of us, just the sheer cost of attending, braiding, shipping, trainer fees, hotels, meals, gas money, well, it is a significant expense.  

The local shows too are suffering attendance flight.  Every year the numbers seem to fall for many divisions - often the 3'0 and 3'3 hunter divisions, while "beginner novice" and "pre-beginner novice" (and no, I am not making this stuff up - these divisions do exist) seem to have enough entries to fill even though I question why kids jumping 6 inch jumps are "prepared" to horse show. We started at 2'6 or 3'0 (dependent on pony size - small or large) when I was coming along - you either mastered 2'6 or 3'0 and showed or you stayed home.  But that's another story.

But I think there is more going on here than just the exorbitant cost because we often find a way to do the things we love - we drive older cars, shop at Goodwill, eat Ramen Noodles.  There are ways to cut corners and save money in the long run so there's the money to horse show.  So for those that really want to do it, they tend to find a way.

Time is an issue. Owning, riding and competing horses is an all-consuming sport.  It takes huge amounts of time to travel to the barn, to lesson, to ride and to show.  You have to be able to do it frequently. Riding is not something you can conquer well without a significant time commitment and I personally think many are not willing to make that commitment today. I rode four to five days a week as a child. There is just no substitute for this.  You can't run track, play soccer, hockey, swim, etc. and ride and ride well unless you are an incredibly gifted rider. And even then, riding uses a set of muscles not used for other sports.  You have to want to do it.

The suburban sprawl of America has changed our landscape so that there are fewer and fewer facilities available especially if you live in a metropolitan area.  It may take an hour or more to get to a barn to ride. This also has taken it's toll on the number of horse shows - there are fewer of them because there are fewer facilities to host them.

As a rider, owner, competitor, I think it is important that we support our local circuits with our time or our money or both. Volunteer to help at shows if you can't compete.  Attend the annual awards' banquets.  It all makes a difference.  One day this may all be gone and it may happen sooner than we all think! And we will miss it!


  1. I can't afford to show at big, national AA shows, like WEF. The cost in time and money is just too significant. I do support local A shows, and hope this year to attend some local schooling shows as well. Like you said, just the cost of owning a horse, and then training one, to even be READY to show is a huge burden. When you then add on all the other costs of attending a show, I just can't justify doing too many.

  2. There was a blogger - I think deloiseinamerica or something like that who went to the Annual Meeting and at the Annual Meeting they handed out a spreadsheet of the cost of 1 horse show in Virginia which included traveling for the ride. It was kinda mind boggling. The least amount of the cost was the actual show with fees and classes. It ended up being less than 1/4 of the cost. The major costs were hotel/food/travel (a little over 1/4th) and over half of the costs were what the Trainers are charging their clients to be there.

    1. The costs are staggering. Some trainers charge a lot more than others and if your trainer has a lot of students the price comes down significantly as those costs can be shared among everyone. But that does not change entry fees, braiders' fees, USEF fees, gas, food, hotels. I am lucky that I show only in my general area now for the most part but when I used to go all over the country - I am sure I could not afford to do that now.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...