Running a Horse Show

By: Rachel Baresich

I have been around for a long time, (read: old) or at least I might feel that way sometimes.  I am or have been, at some time in my life; a student, competitor, horse owner, horse breeder, schooling show judge, farm manager, show manager and a horse show volunteer.  Because I have been involved in the industry for a long time and worn many hats, I have had a number of discussions with people, parents, competitors, etc about shows and show management and the opportunity to be involved in multiple ways.  Rightfully so, people want to know what goes into putting on a show.  Or more importantly, why do my entries cost so much? Where does my money go? It makes sense. We all work hard and we want to make sure our hard-earned cash is being used in the best way possible.  To give us the most enjoyment in life.

So, what goes in to running a horse show?

Well, we really begin as soon as the last one is over.  We reflect on what worked, what didn’t and how we can improve for the next year.  Before the Championships are over, we are generally completing an application to host next year’s show, discussing prizes, extra items, determining which officials to hire and then hiring them (which can be very time consuming).  If you have your own facility, there is ring maintenance, which starts months prior, and even earlier if you are making changes or upgrades to your footing.  How should the schedule run?  Does the schedule that other shows are using work for your venue?  Does the schedule make for evenly run days?  How do we best prevent ring conflicts?  Where do you place the parking?  What do you do if there is a thunderstorm? Heatwave? Tornado? Medical emergency for horse or human?  What needs to be done to the jumps to have them show ready?  What are the costs involved with that, either monetarily or in your time?

Let’s look at the costs of running a show.  These will vary depending on a variety of factors.

Officials: The average EC official charges $250 to $500 per day plus mileage.  This means you are looking at roughly $1,000.00 per official.  Remember that for the average Trillium show, you have 2 judges, a course designer, a steward and a jumper timer.  You also may have to provide a place for them to stay, which can easily add another $1,500.00 in hotel costs, plus you are also providing food for the officials each day.   This means that you are spending between $3,500.00 and $7,000.00 on officials depending on how far they are coming from and whether or not you can put them up in your own home or a client’s home.

Medic:  Arguably more important than the officials is the medic.  We must have them on site, and we want them there to make sure that all competitors and spectators are getting the best and most immediate care in the event of an emergency.  Medic costs generally range from $800 to $1,600 for a weekend show depending on their fee structure, how many medics are on site and how long they are on site.

Venue:  Many show managers have their own venues, but this does not mean that they are free of costs.  Every time they start up their tractor to harrow the ring, it is drinking $$ and the cost of fuel is ever increasing.  I will mention the all-important time factor again.  It takes time to water, drag, level the footing.  Yes, it needs to be done, but let’s not underestimate the value of time.  Or, it’s in hiring someone to do that or having staff divert time away from another task to maintain the ring.  While most facilities are doing this on a regular basis anyway, extra time and attention go into getting the ring ready for a show.  If you don’t have a venue, you are looking at anywhere from $450 to $2,400 to rent a facility for the weekend to host a show.  You also still have to work out the logistics of being able to maintain the competition venue as well.  Does the facility maintain it? Do you need to hire a tractor and water truck?  Are these fees built in or are they extra?

Licensing Fees:  In order to host a Silver level competition, you are looking at charges of $250 to $500 to the national governing body depending on the prize money offered.  If every division offered on the Trillium Circuit runs without being combined, this puts you into the higher bracket for fees.

Insurance:  In this very litigious society insurance is a must.  Charges for this range from about $350 to $800 for the show weekend depending on which provider you use and the level of liability coverage you wish to carry.  Go big or go home in this department! You want to have as much liability coverage as you can afford.

Jumps: To rent jumps, you are generally looking at a cost of $3,000 to furnish both rings.  And for the venues that have their own jumps, they still need to paint, maintain, repair or purchase new jumps.  Yes, this is rolled into their other business costs, but the requirement would be lower if they are not hosting shows.  What does a course of jumps cost to buy?  Approximately $5,000.00 for a basic hunter course.  At a Trillium show you are going to need 2 courses at minimum.  Also adding to the cost is the upcoming requirement to have the tracks and safety sleeves to be mandatory for all EC shows in 2021.

Show Management Software:  These fees are approximately $300 to $500 depending on your software, and are generally based upon the number of entries you have, but may be capped at a certain number of entries.

Your Secretary:  Because let’s face it, this is a job not for the weak of heart and should be paid for.  These costs are often in the range of the officials and well worth the money.

Prize Money: Yes, prize money.  While it may not seem like very much when your first place ribbon only gives you $25, but multiply that by 3 or 4 classes in every division and multiply that by 18 divisions and it adds up.  Generally prize money is in the range of $7,000 for a Trillium show.

Ribbons:  Ribbons will often cost between $2 to $3 per ribbon for a regular class ribbon and $4 to $6 for Champion and Reserve ribbons.  Now multiply that by 6 placings in each class times 3 or 4 classes in each division, times 18 divisions, plus 26 equitation classes and don’t forget about your clear round ribbons and medals.

Prizes:  We all LOVE prizes, but now stop to think about those costs.  A cooler can range from $40 to $400 and again we must multiply that by the 18 divisions the Trillium circuit offers.  Horse shows love giving great prizes, but they add up.  Even if your championship prize is limited to $10 to $25, multiply that by 18 divisions (Champ and Reserve) and we are now looking at $360 to $900 for your prizes.

So, we have covered more or less all the major costs.  Many have been paid for before the show starts. If a monsoon rolls through at 5 pm on the Friday before the show when your officials have arrived, you are not likely getting any of this money back.


So, let’s sum up those expenses:

Officials: $3,500 to $7,000

Medic:    $800     to $1,600

Venue:    $450    to  $2,400

Jumps:  approx $3,000

EC Fees: $250    to $500

Insurance: $350 to $800

Software: $300 to $500

Secretary: $400 to $700

Prize Money: $5,000 to $7,000 (depending on how full your classes are)

Ribbons: approx. $1,000

Prizes: $360 to $900

Estimated Costs: $15,410 to $25,400

There are other miscellaneous costs, but this gives you the larger expenses.

So, where does the income come from?  Mainly your entries.  Now let’s see how that adds up:

Most divisions cost between $55 and $75 per entry and $20 each for an equitation or medal class.  The warm up class is $15 and there is an admin fee of $20 and a $10 medic fee.   We won’t factor in the drug fee and development fee as they go straight to the regulating bodies.

The majority of competitors show in only one division, or one division and their equitation classes.  Most competitors do a warm up, and only a few competitors compete in two divisions, or two divisions and their equitation classes.

We will use our figures from 2019 as an example.  We had 105 entries, which accounts for $10,755 in entry fees (this is the divisions, classes and any warm ups).  Admin fees were $2,080 and the medic fees were $1,040.

This means a total of:  $13,875 in income.  Now, let’s remember that a show’s expenses are in the range of $15,410 to $28,400 (and we have not considered various miscellaneous expenses).  You’re not wrong if you’re thinking that the math doesn’t add up!

Many shows make ends meet with sponsorship, prize donation, combining divisions, arranging to have services donated, etc, but ends don’t always meet in years with low entries.

So, here comes the real question.  Why do it?  Why run a horse show, when it looks like an inevitability that you will end up in the red?


Next time you’re at a show, make sure you take the time to thank show management.  They recognize that you are spending your hard earned money, and they are also working hard for you as a competitor, their customer.  We’re all working together for the betterment of the sport!

We would also like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to our fabulous sponsors!  This is how we make High Street possible!

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