Or, “why do we drastically overpay for 50-cent ribbons?”
The annual winter migration of hunters and jumpers to warmer climates has always fascinated me. The cost, the shows in the middle of the week, the impeccably OCD hunter hair — it all seems so extravagantly improbable, like African swallows carrying coconuts to England by the husk. Yet somehow, every year, working amateurs save up and take vacation time to make it for a week, tiny children and their ponies are jetted down from up north, and those for whom price is no object play all winter long. (The professionals are there too, of course — they have to, if they want all of the above to continue hiring them.)
But what does it really cost to be a horse show snowbird for a day? I decided to find out, with the aid of prize lists and an illicit registration on ShowGroundsLive.com, where all riders at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) register for their classes.
Let’s say you have enough cash to treat this like a fancy schooling show, and you want to trailer in for a day to do an unrated 2’6″ hunter division at WEF or the Horses in the Sun Ocala (HITS) series. How do the prices compare?
WEF: Low Hunter 2’6″
Classes 4016 U/S, 4017, 4018, 4019, 4020
- Post Entry fee: $50
- Ambulance fee: $10
- Zone Support fee: $2
- Office fee: $75
- USEF fee: $16
- Class fee: $40 (x5)
TOTAL: $353 for the division
HITS: Training Hunter 2’6″
Classes 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 U/S
- Division fee: $175 OR per-class fee: $60
- Office fee: $25
- Ship-in fee (for the week): $225 OR daily stall fee: $20
- USEF drug fee: $8
- USEF fee: $8
- USHJA horse fee: $2
- USEF SP fee: $30
- USHJA SP fee: $30
TOTAL: $298 for the division (corrected 1/24 per reader feedback)
Rinse and repeat daily. And don’t forget the cost of an apartment for yourself, a stall for your horse, or trainer fees — all of which vary so widely I didn’t include them. This is simply the bare minimum of costs if, hypothetically, you didn’t have to pay any shipping, coaching or braiding fees.
So for the small league, WEF may nickel and dime their way into your wallet, but the larger per-class fees at HITS can add up quickly if you are not competing in the whole division.
Just to give a high-to-low range — let’s say you’re competing at the FEI 5* jumper level. Hands-down, WEF has the higher purses. In fact, the show overall has over $8 million in prize money (which is the largest of any show in the world), with the largest purses being the CSI5* $372,000 Grand Prix, which is held most Saturdays during WEF, and the big finale, a $500,000 Grand Prix class on the last Saturday in March.
But you’d better be pretty confident you’ll place (or have a great sponsor) because to get a shot at the purse for either series’ big finale, the entry fees are no joke.
If You Competed in the $500,000 CSI*5 at WEF…
- Event fee: $800
- Nomination: $250
- Office fee: $75
- USEF drug testing fee: $38
- IHP fee: $35 (whatever that is)
- Stall for the week: $675 (all horses competing in FEI events must be in FEI stalls )
- Class fees: Wednesday (1.45m $34k purse): $340, Thursday (1.45m $34k purse):$340, Friday (1.50m, $100k purse): $700, Saturday (1.60m, $500k purse):$1500
TOTAL: $3,373 for the week, if you only rode on the last day. Most likely, though, the grand finale wouldn’t be the only class you did of the division. If you competed the entire week, you’d be facing $4,755 in debt and most likely an unhappy show steward.
For a chance at the $150,000 FEI Grand Prix at HITS…
- Nomination Fee (nonrefundable if you scratch the class): $400
- Entry fee: $800
- Post entry fee (late fee): $100
- Must be member of USEA and USHJA or pay a $30 show pass fee
TOTAL: $1,230 (if you register on time) for a chance at the biggest purse of HITS
Wow. All of this makes me kind of happy to not be anywhere near a Grand Prix rider.
Have you ever shown at WEF or HITS? Did your bank account cry afterward? Tell us about it in the comments!