The Truth About Running Horse Shows

As trends change in the horse industry, clubs, both national and regional, continue to look for ways to increase participation in club events, including horse shows.  One common complaint heard about horse showing is the cost.  Showing horses is too expensive.  People say that if it could be less expensive, more people would show. 

Not everyone who shows horses realizes how much capital it takes to actually run a horse show.  As someone who has been on regional club boards and volunteers for other regional clubs, I have firsthand knowledge of the extraordinary costs of running a horse show. 

Horse shows have changed drastically in the 30 plus years I have been showing Appaloosa horses.  Years ago, we were content to show in outdoor pens.  We donned rain gear when the weather was bad.  We rode in what was sometimes questionable footing.  Times have changed and many people who are showing at regional breed shows have come to expect much nicer facilities.  Indoor arenas with covered exercise pens.  Well appointed barns with plentiful wash stalls.  Big classes and hopefully good, valuable prizes. 

For those competitors who do not know what it costs to run a horse show, let’s break it down.

Facility:  Facility rental fees vary greatly depending on what you are renting.  A higher end show grounds with an indoor can cost up to $5000.00 or more a day to rent.  Often this is just the basic rental.  Most bigger facilities also charge additional per stall.  Then there are extra fees.  These can be for using tables, chairs, PA systems, etc.  There can be great variability in cost, based on the region, but renting a higher end facility is thousands of dollars a day. 

The rental of a nice show facility with no indoor arena is, obviously, a much cheaper endeavor.  Fees for these facilities can range from $250 to $750 a day.  Some come with stalls for an additional fee, but many do not and would only be suitable for a one day, drive in show. 

Judges:  Again, judges’ fees vary based on who the judge is.  The fees can range from $400 to over $600 a day based on the location of the show and the length of the show.  If the horse show is multiple days, or the judge is coming from some distance, the club putting on the show is also paying for hotels, airfare, a rental car (or mileage), and food for the judges.  So, if you have a two day show with a judge you are paying, for example, $500 a day for judging.  Then you are paying $100 a night for hotel for at least two maybe three nights.  If they are flying in that is another $300 to $600 dollars.  Then add the food bill onto that.  One source from a club that runs larger shows told me it costs the club about $2000.00 per judge per horse show.

High Point Awards: Let’s face it.  We all want awards.  We want nice awards too.  Again, there is a huge amount of variability in the amount of money that a club spends on high point and reserve high point awards.  Add to that the fact that there are SO MANY divisions that require high point awards.  For example, two age divisions of youth plus novice youth and possibly two walk trot youth division. That is five high point and reserve high point awards just for youth competitors.  Add to that 5 possible non pro divisions and the possibility of open high points for English, western, games and ranch horses.  This adds up quickly even if you are only spending $50.00 per high point award.  Another club that runs larger shows stated that they spend about $5,000 on high point and reserve high point awards per show.

Ribbons:  Here lies a bone of contention for some people. Many larger breed shows do not give out ribbons.  Is the assumption that points are enough?  Are they too expensive? Did a lot of people not want them?  I am not sure the answer.  A quick perusal of the Hodges website indicates that you can get a simple set of 1st to 6th place ribbons for $8.50 a set.  For a big show, multiply that by the roughly 180 classes offered.  That is $1,485 dollars for ribbons for one judge!  Then, are there four judges?  That is almost $6,000 in ribbons alone. 

Show Staff:  Again, depending on the size of the show, some of these positions are paid and some are volunteer.  As volunteers are harder to come by these days, many clubs are finding the need to pay for these positions.

Show Secretary – This is your person that takes entries, enters them into the computer software, takes care of show bills, prints out gate sheets, handles scoring sheets, collects, and inputs judges’ cards and tallies your high point awards. This person is there before the show starts and there after the show is done.  On average, this person is going to cost you $400 a day.

Announcer – Again, if you are a club that has a lot of volunteers, maybe you do not pay for this. It is not a job that a lot of people like to volunteer for.  So, you are looking at paying an announcer $400 per day for the show.

Ring Steward/Gate Keeper – Sometimes these posts need to be filled with paid personnel.  Even great volunteers cannot always commit to up to three days of 10-hour days for the bigger shows.  Same type of price here as the announcer.

Insurance – In today’s litigious world, you cannot forget liability insurance.  No club can put on an event without liability insurance specific for the show.  While this is not usually an astronomical expense, it adds to the ever-growing pile of bills. Several clubs have stated that post COVID insurance prices have nearly doubled. 

When you add all this up, to put on a big three day show at a nice facility with an indoor arena can cost up to and around $25,000 to $30,000.  While a one day show with one judge is much cheaper to put on, it still costs a good deal of money and the entry fees have to be enough for the club to at least cover its expenses.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

  1.  Volunteer!  One thing you can do is volunteer.  Help the clubs run the horse shows.  Work the gate.  Be the ring steward.  Announce if you are comfortable with it.  This can save clubs hundreds of dollars.  Every job that is taken by a volunteer is a job that does not have to be paid for and cuts costs.
  2. Accept less Classes:  Many shows have turned into two- and three-day extravaganzas with nearly 200 classes.  This evolves because people call clubs and request specific classes.  While I completely understand that we all want our favorite or specific classes at every horse show, sometimes it just is not going to happen.  To make showing more affordable, maybe there needs to be less classes and/or less divisions and we must just accept it. 
  3. Support Smaller Horse Shows:  Some regional clubs have responded to the concerns about breed shows being too lengthy and too expensive by offering one day single judged horse shows that are considerably less expensive to attend.  If you have asked for these types of shows, then you need to support them.  Though these shows are much less expensive to run, they still need enough entries to cover the expenses.  Not all horse shows make a profit but those that run at a loss do not get run again and we lose out on opportunities to show. 
  4. Help the shows get sponsors:  It’s the dreaded sponsor word.  Horse shows run on such a tight margin that sponsorship helps immensely.  That money may mean the difference between break even and a loss.  But when I say help get sponsorships, I mean corporate sponsorships or money from people who are not already attending the show.  If we continue to only tap our own for sponsorships, the well dries up sooner.  Finding corporations or businesses to sponsor horse shows can go an awfully long way to helping decrease costs. 

While this is neither an exhaustive list of the expenses accrued when running a horse show, nor of ways you can help, consider it a primer.  So many of us simply go to a horse show and expect it to run smoothly.  We do not think about all the work that happens behind the scenes.  And sometimes we tend to complain without understanding everything that goes into making the horse show a nice experience for you and your horse.

You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.