Can Horse Shows Be Affordable?


An affordable horse show is an oxymoron, but making a horse show more affordable is not. Horse shows are expensive. Entry fees alone are costly, but when you factor in related expenses, the costs can become exorbitant, especially for riders desiring to show on a regular basis. While horse shows will never be inexpensive, these tips may help owners minimize some of their costs.

Identify Goals

Before showing, set objectives and realistically ascertain the level of competitiveness of both horse and rider. The offerings at horse shows can vary greatly, as can horse show costs. The size, competitiveness, and cost of horse shows varies greatly, and some are more suitable to a rider and horse’s level compared to others. Riders trying to qualify for prestigious competitions or capture annual awards require one type of horse show, whereas riders and horses in need of basic experience and exposure can achieve their goals at less competitive venues, such as local schooling shows. Schooling or unrecognized horse shows may offer less expensive entry fees, enabling a green horse or rider additional funds to enter more classes. Compare office fees as they can vary widely among schooling horse shows. USEF fees are not imposed at unrecognized horse shows, which could offer some minor savings. Every rider competing at a USEF recognized show should consider USEF/USHJA membership as non-member fees can be costly.   Entering multiple USEF horse shows as a non-member can be more expensive than the cost of a yearly membership.


Transporting horses is costly. Consider whether it is advantageous to send your horse with a commercial operator versus purchasing a trailer and transporting the horse yourself. Having others transport your horse can be less burdensome, but can also be costly. If commercially transporting the horse, be cognizant of geographical considerations. With most transporters charging by the mile, finding horse shows closer to home that offer suitable divisions can save money and still allow both horse and rider exposure to horse show rigors and off the property obstacles.

Prepare for Horse Show Day

Be organized. Prepare a permanent check list of essentials, such as tack, pads, clothing, bandages, and accessories such as spurs and a stick. Review the list a few days in advance of the show to make certain that the quality and condition of all tack and attire is horse show appropriate. Purchase everything you will need in advance. If showing regularly, consider tack and supplies for use only in competition, subjecting tack to less wear and tear and minimizing replacement costs. Plan for the need of items on horse show day that are not routinely used at home, such as ear plugs, rain sheets, or spurs. If the horse will be braided, have yarn and all items necessary to braid and unbraid at the horse show. Last minute purchases from horse show vendors can add considerable and unnecessary costs to the horse show day, as well as unneeded stress before even entering the ring. Once you have identified goals and matched horse shows accordingly, submit entry forms on time. Many horse shows penalize riders for entering a horse show beyond the entry deadline, and avoiding such costs is a simple means of saving money.

Horse Show Day

Learn to braid a mane and tail. The more competitive and selective the horse show, the more likely braiding is required. If showing several times a month, braiding costs can exceed several hundred dollars. To make shows even more affordable, braid for others if time permits. An efficient and competent braider can recoup costs of entry fees by braiding several horses on horse show day.

Groom for yourself if you can clean, tack up, and still have the energy and focus to ride well. Be organized, prepared, and capable of doing so if feasible. If problematic, bring an equestrian friend or family member to help for the day. Not only does grooming involve preparing the horse and rider for entry into the ring, but often involves last minute relays to the trailer or stable area to address unexpected needs that arise ringside. While it is often easier, and sometimes essential, to pay for grooming services, it is more cost effective to do it yourself.  

Enter classes wisely as each class and division costs money. If your horse is not a stellar mover and the division has numerous better movers, consider skipping the under saddle class. If you are experienced and your horse had opportunity to school, paying for a warm-up class may not be essential. Match your division with your abilities. If horse and rider are not competitive on the A circuit, opting for the children’s hunters rather than the pony hunters can save entry fees. Tying the riders goals to the classes entered can be an efficient way to save money.

A rider’s horse show day can start at 5 AM and end well after dark. Bring enough beverages and food to the show to last throughout the anticipated length of stay. On site food vendors are not only costly, but often require waiting in long lines when time is tight. Packing in advance saves money, eases stress, and allows riders to spend more time preparing for entry into the horse show ring.

Don’t Leave the Horse Show with Just the Horse

Be organized and don’t leave supplies or tack behind. Leaving martingales on a fence after removing it for the under saddle class will inevitably occur at least once, whether self-grooming or not. Driving off the premises without a grooming box filled with everything from rags to hoof polish happens. Have a written check list of major items brought to horse shows and peruse it before departure. Walk to the ring before leaving the grounds to retrieve tack or supplies left on the premises. Doing so can avoid the expense of replacement costs before the next horse show.   Ensure that all tack has permanent labels, optimizing your chance of retrieval if tack is left behind.

Before the day ends, hang up clean show coats instead of crumpling them into the back of the van. Clean tack instead of allowing sweat and dirt to accumulate. Maintaining products and clothing already owned can avoid the premature demise of valuable items.

Horse shows are not inexpensive endeavors and costs go well beyond entry fees. An understanding of all that is involved in preparing for and competing in a horse show is the first step to assessing whether costs can be contained.

Jessica E. Choper is a leader of the team at Leone Equestrian Law. An attorney with expertise in equestrian matters, medical malpractice, nursing home litigation, and appellate practice, she also is a lifelong equestrian, having competed successfully in both the junior and amateur divisions. She was inducted as a member of the National Championship Equestrian Team into the Mount Holyoke Inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame.

Have questions or need legal help? Leone Equestrian Law is available 24/7 for any issue, big or small. Just call 201-444-6444, email, or visit for more information.