Is it Time to Pay Officials For Their Travel Days?

By TPH Staff

Fact: Horse show officials (i.e. judges, course designers, stewards) do not get paid for the time spent traveling to and from the shows they are officiating. If the show is in driving distance, there is a mileage reimbursement. But if cross-country travel is required, only the travel-related costs are covered.

Daily compensation rates for USEF “R” hunter judges tend to range from $500-$600; $250-$400 for USEF stewards; and daily rates for course designers can vary based on the number of rings they are setting per day. For the most part, USEF “R” hunter, equitation and jumper judges earn the same daily rate – whether they are in their first year or twenty fifth year of judging. Under the current system, the act of contracting officials is the way we police who we believe is competent and able to adjudicate over our sports’ trends, biases, and future.

Dilemma: More and more the show industry is seeing officials who are turning down jobs at destinations that require extensive travel for the simple fact that they can’t miss out on two days of income.

There are pockets of the country that can require officials to spend one full day on each end of their assignment traveling. Those are two days that if the official is a professional horseman, they are not making money at their home base riding or teaching. Those are two days that if the official has a corporate job, they are having to dip into their annual pool of designated “days off” which they may or may not be getting paid for.

When a professional horseman who is active in the industry is hired to officiate at a show, they are often tasked with having to pay someone to ride or coach at their home base or show in their absence. So after they have received their paycheck for officiating at a five-day show, how much of a net profit are they truly showing for stepping away from their business? While many officials believe they are giving back to the sport when they work at shows, are they in fact actually losing money in the process? 

Potential solution: Is it time for show managers to pay officials a stipend for their travel time?

Travel costs have risen significantly in recent years. Show managers are strapped as it is to make a significant profit on shows due to the overall increase in overhead expenses – especially managers of standalone or non-circuit shows. The last thing show managers want to do is pass those added costs along to the exhibitors.

However, if show managers hire top tier judges and course designers, they could potentially attract new barns to their shows – which theoretically would cover either a travel stipend for officials from farther originations, or cover added travel expenses.

As larger circuits continue to consume a high percentage of many judges, stewards, course designers, jump crew, etc. – the pool of available officials from week to week continues to shrink. Throughout the year, there are many circuits running simultaneously that might have six to eight hunter judges per show. Many officials feel their loyalty needs to lie with the managers of the larger multi-week or even multi-month circuits, as the job security can tend to be more reliable. This presents a major challenge for show managers of one-week or smaller rated shows when it comes to filling their officials roster. 

There are parts of the country where there is not a significant concentration of available officials. These areas might experience “officials fatigue” by using the same group of judges on a regular basis. Based on a search of USEF licensed officials conducted in March, 2023, there are currently 40 licensed USEF “R” hunter judges in Zone 10; 61 in Zone 3; and 111 in the state of Florida alone. The eastern half of the country definitely skews heavier on concentration of licensed officials.

If exhibitors want to see a more diversified offering of qualified officials at the shows they attend, would they be willing to absorb the “travel day” stipend or added cost of bringing in officials from the other side of the country in order to see fresh faces? 

There is no regulated or mandated daily fee for officials. Are some officials bold enough to up their daily fee to compensate for their two travel days? Do Premier-level and World Championship Hunter Rider-recognized shows need to provide a higher daily fee for hunter judges to give exhibitors with a highly qualified panel of judges for more important events? Is this something licensed officials task forces could assist with? 

There is absolutely no magic answer for this challenging situation, but it certainly does provide a background for great discussion. How important is the diversity of judging panels to you?

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