Today I wanted to talk about something that has been on my mind lately.
What is happening to the local A circuit? Is it’s death on the horizon? Will those that scrimp and save to attend a hand full of A shows year (raises hand) be priced out completely? I am really concerned.
In Texas, we are lucky to have some great venues. There is the Great Southwest Equestrian Center, outside of Houston. The Texas Rose Horse Park, near Tyler. The Heart of Texas/Extraco Event Center, in Waco. We also have the Will Rogers Coliseum in Ft. Worth, which is hosting it’s inaugural hunter/jumper show in late May. We also have a great venue right across the border in Oklahoma. We also have an amazing state association that has a yearly banquet and great year-end prizes (THJA). So… what is the problem?
Imagine this. You pay around $800-1000 in show fees to attend these shows (not including hauling, hotels, trainer fees, and yearly USEF/USHJA fees etc). So what do you do when you show up and there is 2 entries in your division? Or, your division that is meant for 1/2nd year green 3′ horses gets combined with the much more experienced 3’3 greens? The 3’3 Amateur Owners and the 3’6 get combined. All the pony divisions are combined into one. You are an adult who also really enjoys doing the Eq, but it is consistently cancelled due to lack of entries.
Prior to the show, you carefully reviewed the prize list, and picked out some really great classes to make for a full, but manageable week. You carefully planned and picked classes based of the schedule and your horse’s fitness level. You want to maximize your experience after all. It’s not really the classes that cost a ton of money after all. Compared to everything else, the class fees are chump change. But, half of your classes don’t fill. The show gets condensed from 5 days to 4, or even 3. Is your stall fee any cheaper? No. Your office fees any less? Nope. Was hauling less expensive? Nada. So now you are paying essentially the same cost to get there and lets say… $680 in show fees because some of your classes didn’t fill, for 2 days of experience (because the only division that filled for you is Sat/Sun). You wanted your trainer to show your horse in the Derby, but now it’s the same day as your division and he’ll be too tired. You also now don’t have time to add the jumper classes you were planning to do for fun/experience. Or, imagine that the show doesn’t get condensed, but most of the divisions get combined, and you struggle to ribbon against harder/more experienced competition that normally you wouldn’t need to compete against. You also don’t get any points for most of your classes due to not enough entries. That doesn’t make the show any less expensive though.
You see where I am going with this. The show ends up losing money (they pay out more prize money then they take in for entries) in an effort to keep their A rating. They get so desperate, that some shows even ask for donations. Donations. Yes you heard me right. People talk about how small the show was, and no one wants to come back next year. Where does it end before the local A shows die completely?
The elephant in the room- what needs to be done differently?
I’ve heard talk that it’s up to the trainers to support their local venues (versus going out of state for several week long shows). But, I also see it from the trainer’s perspective. This is a business after all. If it’s easier/more beneficial for them to go elsewhere, then they will.
We have a thriving local circuit, which is great… right? You would think that riders would “graduate” from the local circuit and eventually move up to the A’s, but sometimes the A’s are just too cost prohibitive. Juniors end up joining IEA teams, which makes barns money (from what I hear). These juniors are having fun, and getting to compete and win ribbons, so there doesn’t seem to be any incentive for them to move up to the A circuit. That is great for juniors, but where does that leave the the amateur adults? Where is our place? We don’t have an IEA circuit, and I don’t know too many adult ammys that want to go compete against all kids/juniors all the time. Especially in an unregulated circuit, which potentially means it’s ok for lines to be set short, and there is always the risk that your competition is “prepped” to their gills without ever having to fear a drug test.
Is the issue TOO MANY show dates? Maybe there are too many options and not enough people with wallets and time enough to attend all the shows. Then the shows kind of become hit or miss on whether their will be enough entries to make it worthwhile.
I’m worried that the close local venues (which are less expensive and time consuming to travel to) will start to die off. Show managers won’t want to host shows at these venues anymore, due to losing money. I’ll have to travel farther to shows, which will only increase the cost, and make it even harder for anyone new to break into the circuit. I’d imagine it’s easier to get a new client to pay $250 in hauling fees and drive 1.5-2 hrs away for an A show, instead of $1500 in hauling (out of state of course) and $500 on a plane ticket, to show in the Hopeful Hunters.
Maybe some Adult Amateurs won’t balk at that price tag, but what about the younger set, that is maybe only a few years out of college, struggling to get back into horses on a middle class budget (raises hand again). It is just not practical. If local A circuits dry up- I won’t be able to show the A circuit at all. It’s not practical to go across the country if you can only afford one show a year. For starters, you won’t ribbon. Horse showing is kind of one of those things you have to DO to get better at it, you can’t just practice at home. At least with local A shows I can do a handful a year, supplemented with the occasional local show, and maybe a clinic here and there. It’s not ideal of course (I’d love to show more often) but it’s at least feasible. You CAN get better that way.
From one fellow ammy to another- what say you? What is the problem, and what can be done differently?
***All photos in the post credited to MM***