I’ve always had a personal rule for determining if I’m ready to show, and it has nothing to do with my riding. If I’m more worried about how much the four faults from a dropped rail just cost me in show fees, I can’t afford to be there.
This rule has kept me from showing for most of my life. I’ve never been close to being able to afford the costs of horse showing in a USEF-sanctioned competition. This is not a new dilemma, it’s the reality of loving a wildly expensive sport.
I can’t say I enjoy this reality, but short of a couple of extra zeros magically showing up next to my bank account balance, I don’t see it changing, ever.
This is not a new dilemma, it’s the reality of loving a wildly expensive sport.
But I own a wonderful horse that can hold his own in any arena. He’s the best horse I’ve ever owned in my life, and he’s getting older. What if this is the last chance I get, ever, to ride a horse like this? That niggling fear has pushed me to try and compete, even though I can’t afford a full-time trainer, even though I can barely afford a lesson.
So I try. I have tried. But no matter how many times I look at an entry form for a USEF show, I can’t justify the $200 (low end) to $495 (high end) in just show fees that line up in that innocuous little box on the right side of the paper. Again, if the fees are causing me stress long before I put my horse on the trailer, there ain’t no way I’ll be stepping foot in the arena.
So this year, with my horse getting ever older and my budget staying ever stagnant, I looked around for another option and noticed something inspiring. It’s the rise of the schooling show, people! Everywhere I look around the country, other adult amateurs like me, and trainers with young riders, and some ambitious organizers, are making inexpensive, high quality schooling shows an available and better option than the straight-to-rated competition USEF pipeline.
In California, the Santa Barbara County Riding Club is hosting three weekends of schooling shows with new divisions being added by demand. A little farther north, Sarah Schwarzer is running beautiful dressage and jumper schooling shows at the otherwise rated-show venue The Horse Park at Woodside. In Utah, Sara Kirby and Shasta Parry are holding the second year of their iJump schooling shows – online registration for their first show of the season filled with 82 riders in just five hours. And right down the road from myself in Northern Virginia at the a-circuit quality venue of Morven Park, a brand new summer hunter schooling show series held their first day of competition over Memorial Day Weekend, thanks to the efforts of Equestrian Director Samantha Franklin.
“If we want USEF to grow it must start with everyone doing what they can,” says Shasta Parry. “There are riders everywhere waiting to find ‘their series’. Those riders have committed tribes behind them waiting to support something great. The line Sara and I hear often is, ‘thank you for giving this to my child, we feel like we belong’.”
I am finding a growing desire to do what USEF is failing to achieve: to support this sport at ALL budget levels.
As I talk with more and more professionals and riders both online and in person, I am finding a growing desire to do what USEF is failing to achieve: to support this sport at ALL budget levels. And it’s not just a desire; people are organizing themselves to offer a better option for the large majority of riders that USEF is overlooking.
One day I might have the money to compete in a rated show division. But this year, I’m going to support the schooling show series near me and give back to it as much as I am able. I encourage you to do the same.