Competing on a Budget

The lights flicker on over the ring, tents are raised, and that familiar rhythm of hooves rings out throughout the show grounds and one thing becomes clear; it’s show time! Veteran competitors are dusting off equipment, bringing seasoned show horses in and prepping the new prospects to hit the rail this year. However, for anyone who hasn’t shown, it can be a bit of a formidable task to step foot in the ring the first time.  Showing horses can be an extremely pricy venture; first there is the initial investment of the horse, truck, and trailer. Then add in tack, show clothing, travel, lodging, hauling, classes, show and trainer fees and the price can become dizzying. But don’t look for that fainting couch quite yet – there are ways to minimize costs.

One of the best ways to keep the total down is to buy used.  It is possible to purchase show items at a lower price than new and still not sacrifice quality. It may be tempting to buy an extremely cheap saddle or bridle new, but the quality is usually less than stellar and in the case of the saddle, can do damage to the horse or break at inopportune times. There are sites designed specifically for consigned or used tack, as well as Facebook groups that will buy and sell a plethora of different used items and show clothes. However, when buying used, don’t give in to impulse. Look at reviews, and make sure that the item is actually a deal and not overpriced. Some people will list a bridle used for a higher price than the bridle goes for new, so don’t be tempted to buy the first thing listed because it looks pretty.

When inspecting tack in person, look for cracks in the leather and weak spots, especially at the bends in the leather such as where the bit hangs. There is little more concerning than mounting at the show for a class and finding the bridle is no longer any more than a neck strap after a cheek piece has snapped due to thin leather. Check the holes where any pieces would adjust. The leather should feel supple, but not stretch. Feel bits for burrs or sharp points that might cut the horse’s mouth. If it looks extremely chewed and thin, pass on it. If purchasing used goods online, it’s a bit more of a gamble. Some sellers will return tack, especially if it is not sold as represented. But with other sellers, it is buyer beware.

With the saddle, look specifically at the tree to make sure there is no broken spots. There are ways to check the tree is intact – look for large amounts of wrinkles in the leather or a twist to the saddle itself. Place the saddle against your thigh and put some pressure on the cantle of the saddle. Does it give or hold steady? If it has any give or twist, there is a good chance the tree is broken. Check the billets if it is an English style saddle, or the latigo on a western saddle. Broken girths in the show ring can be terrifying and dangerous.

There are several things to keep in mind when looking at saving money on equipment. Always consult the rulebook before purchasing tack and show clothes. For instance, the mixing of disciplines in tack and attire are not allowed – such as wearing western chaps with an English style saddle would not be allowed.

Bits are a confusing and controversial thing. First and foremost, check the rulebook before taking a bit to a show. There are shank length rules and only certain mouthpieces are permitted. For instance, twisted wire or double mouthpieces are not allowed. As long as the bit meets rulebook requirements, it is up to what the horse likes. One thing to note is that snaffles are acceptable in the show. If the horse does not like a shanked bit, they do not necessarily need to go in one. If the horse prefers a certain bit that is show legal, there is no reason to change to fit a more popular style. However, if a different bit is needed, used can be an excellent option. Before using the bit, check for burrs and properly disinfect it.

Show clothes are less risky than tack to purchase, but are no less vital. They are responsible for bringing together the final, polished look. EBay is an excellent resource for used show clothes, as are different Facebook groups. The important thing is to ask questions and know the measurements before purchasing. Some of the more important measurements are arm length, shoulder size, and waist size that will determine whether the coat will fit. If the seller offers a return policy, it is even better. Sometimes measurements will match but for whatever reason the coat itself does not fit. If this is the case, the seller may offer a return policy, but if not it is up to the buyer to either resell the coat or find someone who may want to trade.

Finally, be careful with trades online. Often people will offer too good to be true trades, and when one party sends one half of the trade, the other half never will. It is usually better to avoid this unless both parties know each other well, or are willing to never see that item again.

At The Show

When show time comes, there really aren’t many ways to save on show fees unless the rider forgoes some classes, as the fees are non-negotiable. However, there are other ways to save such as: bringing food from home, sharing tack stalls with other people, sharing trailer rides, and looking into alternative room accommodations.

Bring Food From Home

One thing that quite easily adds up is concession stand food. The concession stands provide an easy to grab, delicious meal on the go, and although the treats may be tasty, that tab adds up quickly. By bringing food from home, it is easy to keep prices down. It also has a second benefit – the concession stand items are typically calorie laden and bringing things from home can keep waistlines from expanding while your wallet thins. There are a few ways to keep perishables from spoiling in the summer heat; a cooler with ice in it or a mini refrigerator. While the mini fridge is a higher investment early on, it can save money from purchasing ice as long as the barns have electricity. A small cooler can be handy to keep ringside as well to provide water for anyone in the barn showing.

Share Rides

If several people from the same barn are heading to the show together, or in the same area are and you have space in the trailer, consider offering a trailer pool instead of all taking separate trailers and splitting the cost of hauling. This can really add up to cost saving when traveling to shows that may be farther away. This may not be an option if keeping a horse with a trainer who takes all the horses to the show, so always check first.

Share Tack Stalls

If you know a few people well who are heading to the same show, consider asking if they are willing to split a tack stall. This can lower the cost while giving a central place to store tack, especially if the group all has one or two horses to show each. The big factor to consider is if one person has six horses to show, make sure the rest are not crowded out of the stall. It should be mutually beneficial, and ensure that the group is all stabled in the same barn and group of stalls or else it will be difficult for the individual who is not close.

Alternative Housing

At the show, housing is the one of the steepest parts of travel besides the entry fees. Hotels are expensive, but there are ways to bring down the bill. Tack stalls can be set up with fridges, fans, TVs and cots and be relatively comfortable while staying close and keeping a close eye on the horse, especially at a long show such as the International, all for the price of the stall for the week. Then, during the day the cot is either set to the side or put away and when there is a break in the action, it is still available to be napped on.

If tack stalls are a little too open, the vast majority of shows will offer campsites as well, for either RVs or primitive camping. While RVs are a large cost upfront, they can pay off over time and offer all of the comforts of home without having to pack and unpack constantly. If those are to costly, primitive camping in a tent can also be an option as quite a few show grounds also offer showers and bathrooms on site as well. Another option is the pop-up tents that can go in the back of SUVs or Trucks.

While the initial investment in showing horses can be extremely daunting at first, it can become extremely addicting. The ways listed above are just a few things that can cut some money off the bill, and there are other ways to rack up the savings over time. The best thing to do is get out there and get showing!