Monday, January 31, 2011

The High Cost of Horse Trials

(Our first post on The Starting Box .... thanks Carrie for sending us your thoughts! That's what this page is all about! ~ ed)

Posted 1-31-2011

Carrie and Dean (submitted photo - thanks Carrie)
OK, I'm probably just being a crotchety "old-timer", but here it goes:

I was surprised to read the side bar list of events that were cancelled. Well, the economy hasn't actually recovered for the majority of people. Many are still faced with uncertainty concerning jobs and finances. Discretionary spending is where most people budget their horse hobby, so, of course, people are probably being much more careful in evaluating what they want to do vs. what they need to do. And for most of us, taking our horses to competitions is a want more than a need.

Just yesterday a friend and I were discussing the cost of eventing nowadays. We both did the bulk of our upper level events (I, Prelim, he, to Intermediate) during the 90's. Boy, am I glad I did what I did when I did it. I've always been a shoestring competitor, only going to 3 or 4 competitions a year. I purchased a new horse almost 4 years ago with the plan of trail riding, hunting and - whenever I got around to it - some events. I rejoined the USEA. The economy started tanking (thankfully, I have stayed gainfully employed). I thought maybe there will be a resurgence of affordable one day horse trials. Great!

Well, no. At least not much on the recognized front in the more well-know venues. I am so far from the whole mix anymore, but from my perspective I see a couple of factors at play. First, running an event is a money making proposition for the key folks. This is how it appears to me. Tell me if I'm wrong and I'm sure that I am for some events. It is a lot of work. The bigger it is, the more work. Second, multi day competitions are more likely to attract "name" competitors who, let's face it, are professionals, with clients. They have their own, and their client's, horses to ride and quite often a bevy of riders to coach (and charge all the associated fees). Having the "names" at your event surely lends cache to your event, so who wouldn't want that? To accommodate the names, well, you just have to run the multi day affairs so they can fit in all their requisite professional activities.

That's fine, except when you consider those of us who work full time to keep a horse, have limited vacations days and are dealing with practical financial restraints. Forget about paying a coach at an event, it's enough just to get lessons and clinics in the schedule - and in the budget - at home. Five hundred bucks for 15 minutes of riding for a $10 ribbon? Where's the bang for my buck? I've always loved eventing (going on 35 years) and since I never could afford a horse that could be expected to be in the ribbons consistently, I have always found satisfaction in just judging how the training at home was transferring to the competition arena. Ribbons were just icing on the cake.

Well, I always said back in the 90's, "I'm glad I'm doing this now, because some day the party will be over." That reality is staring me in the face more and more. I now derive satisfaction from training the project I have and seeing steady improvement. I hope to get the opportunity to once again see how the training at home transfers into the competition arena. We'll see if the funds loosen up enough to fulfill that "want" to compete. I sure don't "need" to compete.

Carrie Hill
Cincinnati, Ohio


  1. I feel you pain Carrie. As the mother of two boys who compete @ the Prelim level and above competing definitely puts a dent in the pocketbook and leaves little left for me to compete ;(

    From an organizers point of view I understand where they are coming from. I was just checking out airfares and got sticker shock when booking flights! But I think the real expense is that the cross country courses and amenities that the competitors demand these days are just plain expensive! Not only has the cost of materials skyrocketed but course building more and more is being done by professionals not volunteers. And it seems that more and more jobs that once were volunteer positions are now paid positions. For example, I now pay a secretary. It seems that to keep good volunteers you need to provide more perks than food and drink for the day. Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for all the fabulous volunteers but it is a fact of life that Eventing in 2011 is a lot more expensive than it use to be.

    We're fortunate that we have built our own stabling barns so we don't have the big expenses of tent stabling and I have a husband that builds the jumps and serves as the official veterinarian, I design the courses, the boys help with all the prep work and we have great volunteers. Because of that our events are probably the least expensive events in the country.

    You won't get indoor bathrooms with showers, but then again a 'real' eventer can take a little roughing it.

    Organizer of Area VIII Winona & Stone Gate Farm Horse Trials

  2. Hi Carrie,
    I run an event on the west coast. I wish competitors had a true accounting of what it cost to provide a show grounds for them. I myself compete several horses so I know the costs of competing. But all the cost a competitor has is compounded by the event organizer. Fuel cost up, we have to get the grounds prepared and so our fuel costs are up too. Rules have changed, builders designers, stadium courses all have to be by licensed officials, they cost, used to be your local trainer or Advanced rider donating their time and skill.
    I love the sport and enjoy hosting and competing in events and I think organizers want to make competitions that are affordable and fun. All events one day or more cost basically the same to prepare and organize, still need volunteers (lots of them) ambulance, ring crew, judges, stabling, food, trash service, porta potties etc. that requires a certain amount of entries to cover these costs. That is why hosting a one day event can rarely cover those basic costs.
    I encourage all competitors to work (volunteer at their local event) and really discover the workings of an event. I think you would be surprised at the very slim margins that events are working with.
    I know I love hosting events, but would love other riders to know that as of yet I have not made a profit running them. I basically work for free to host them, try explaining that to your accountant! I am sure that some events do but when you factor in all costs, it really is more a labor of love more than anything else.


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Nan & Co.