Showing on a Budget
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Showing on a Budget

Make a Plan

Know Your Budget Figure out what you can afford to spend in a year, a season, or a month on shows. You can't plan if you don't have some hard numbers to work with.

Know Your Goal Perhaps you're shooting for a state high-point award or a world title. Or, maybe you just want to get experience in the show pen and have fun. Your goal will determine the kind and amount of showing you'll need to do, and what you'll need to spend.
The tricky part comes next, as you try to figure out how to reach your goal with the money you have. Although no one ever really seems to have enough, your dollars may take you further than you think if you follow these expense-managing tips.

The Expense: Training Fees

Budget Buster: You have your horse in training at your trainer's barn. Sure, you'll have the advantage of a pro's advice and assistance whenever you need it, but you'll pay a pretty penny for it. (Spending between $500 and $700 or more a month in training and board - no showing expense included - is common.)

Cost Cutters:

Stable your horse at home or at a less expensive barn find a trainer who'll let you haul in for lessons, and pay a day fee for help at shows. Work on your own during the week, following a lesson plan you map out with your trainer.

If you're showing mainly for mileage and fun, save even more money by bringing a riding buddy rather than a trainer to shows. Your friend can critique your rides and videotape them for you.

If you're chasing points and need your trainer's help to do so, ask him or her to help you map out a strategy. Perhaps it would include sending your horse to the training facility for a month at the start of the season or before major competitions to tune him up. You could save on board and training bills the rest of the year with alternative arrangements.

Value Note: Training and showing solo isn't for everyone. You need discipline and self-confidence to work on your own, and you may miss the comaraderie that exists at many trainers' barns. But solo showing will save you money, maybe enough to cover the rest of your show expenses.

Budget Tips: Many trainers let students work off training fees. Offer to clean stalls or do other barn chores in exchange for lessons, or groom at shows in exchange for the trainer's help. See if your trainer needs your tack-cleaning, blanket-mending or bookkeeping skills.

The Expense: Show Clothes & Tack

Budget Buster: That gotta-have-it new headstall, a $450 status saddle blanket, or several different show outfits. This category will blow your budget out the barn door before you can say "custom chaps".

Cost Cutters:

Put your money where it counts most, by updating the most obvious parts of your turnout. For instance, if your saddle and headstall are in style, you can probably get another season out of that blanket.

Go with classic, good-quality clothes that'll serve you well for many years. A $30 white cotton oxford shirt, starched to death, is never out of style. Choose a hat and chps in a neutral color, such as black or buckskin, that will go with a variety of clothes and horse colors.

Use your head. If you can't spring for a top-quality felt hat (or find one second hand), go with a black one. Because black reflects less light, the quality is less obvious.

Shop second hand. You'll save hundreds of dollars by buying a late-model used saddle rather than a new one. Used chaps can be altered for a custom fit, and cost a fraction of what new custom chaps cost. (Sell your old gear to finance your new gear.)

Look for halfway measures. For instance, give your old headstall a new look by replacing the browband with ear pieces.

Shop sales and catalogs. Take advantage of seasonal price reductions, and shop smart. Wait for your particular need to go on sale and resist impulse buys.

Spend your money where it counts. Don't waste dollars on stall drapes, custome tack trunks, or anything else the judge won't see. Value Note: Someone will always have a nicer outfit or a fancier saddle, so forget about keeping up with the Joneses, it is a needless money drain.

Budget Tips: Put your money into maintenance. It's a lot cheaper to keep your clothes and equipment in top condition than to replace them. And have show clothes, including jeans, professionally cleaned, pressed and starched. Not only will you look crisp and professional, but you'll also get more mileage out of your clothes.

The Expense: Show Fees

Budget Buster: You succumb to the temptation to show every weekend, because in your region, there are shows every weekend. At multi-day events, you pay for a stall and chip in on a tack stall. Consequence: You're out of money by June.

Cost Cutters:

Choose carefully. Go only to shows that bring you closer to your goal. Pass up those that don't fit your plan. If your goal is to gather points, enter only those classes that count, even if you're tempted to add classes because you're winning. Keep track of points so you'll know when you can stop. And if the show permits it, enter class by class. Then, if you have a bad day, you can cut your losses by quitting early.

If you're trying to amass breed-circuit points, look for shows that have a large number of entries in your events. As a rule, more entries mean more points, which will mean you'll need to attend fewer shows to reach your goal.

When possible, haul back and forth and show out of your trailer, thus saving the stall fee which can range from $50 and up, plus bedding. If you rent a stall for the day or night, keep your equipment in your rig to save the cost of a tack stall.

If you're showing only for fun and experience, skip the big breed circuits. You can gain valuable experience at small open shows and pay around $5 a class instead of $12 or $15. Plus, you won't need the latest status equipment to be competitive.

Value Note: Some shows offer novice and amateur "jackpot" classes, which pay the winners cash to offset entry fees. It's tempting to enter such classes, but unless they fit your goal and you're competitive enough to finish in the money, you'll be wasting the entry fee.

Budget Tips:

Keep a record of your show results by judge and venue. If your horse performs poorly at a certain arena, don't take him back unless you're willing to spend money for acclimation training rather than competing. And don't waste your money showing under judges who won't use your horse.

Shows are always short-handed. See if the show committee will let you work off your stall fee by putting in a couple of hours at the gate or in the office.

The Expense: Hauling & The Extras

Budget Buster: You pay your trainer to haul your horse to the show, then room at a motel, sleeping in while a hired gun bands or braids your horse. After each show day, you eat out at the local hot spot with your buddies.

Cost Cutters:

Buddy up to haul, and share expenses. If you have your own rig, bring a friend's horse along, asking that the friend pitch in on gas money. If you don't have a rig, ask around to see if you can catch a ride with someone who's heading to the same event.

Share a motel room with other riders. Think clean and cheap when you pick the motel. You'll be out of the room from 5am to 10pm, so luxuries won't matter.

Camp, in good weather. Plenty of riders sleep in trucks and tack stalls, and shower at the show grounds.

Enlist a friend or family member to act as your groom. Or, team up with a riding buddy who's showing in different classes. You groom for her, and she grooms for you.

Whenever you can, show close to home. You'll save on travel and overnight expenses, especially if you can haul in for each day's events.

Learn to braid and/or band. You'll save money by doing your own horse, and you'll be able to make money doing others.

BYO everything. Pack nonperishable food and drinks, so you won't have to eat those overpriced burgers at the show. Bring extras of everything from underwear to lead lines, so you won't have to run out and buy anything while you're away from home.

Water, plain or lemon, is the best thirst quencher and it's free. Pack your cooler with water bottles. If you freeze half of them, they'll keep the others cold until they thaw.

Value Note: When you don't have a pro team of trainers and grooms helping you get to the ring, you need to be organized. List the equipment you'll need for each class, and pack it in order of use. If your groom is an inexperienced friend or family member, label items by event.

Budget Tips: Buying a truck and trailer just to haul to shows seldom makes financial sense. The $25,000+ you'd spend on a rig would cover hundreds of hassle-free trips hitching a ride with someone else.

The Last Word: There's nothing more frustrating than spending money to no good end. If you're not getting closer to your show goal, change your plan. Back off showing for a while, putting the money you save into training, lessons or clinics. No amount of mileage and no piece of equipment can put you on top if your skills are weak.

Reference: Horse & Rider 4/97

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