Charging Ringside

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You may think your horse show charges are more than competitive—you’ve spent a weekend, if not a week, at that event away from the barn. And you do deserve to be paid for your time on the road. But you must also strike a balance between maximizing your opportunities and maintaining a sense of fairness and your excellent reputation with your clients.

Curious about what others charge? Here’s a review that will help ensure that your prices are right.

Disciplines, Locations Differ

Show expenses differ by geographic location and by discipline. No surprise, a “big name” trainer often charges more than someone not so well known.

But not always. Amy Tryon, a Duvall, Washington-based firefighter and champion three-day eventer, who is also Olympic-bound this summer, campaigns her own horses, and thus limits her client base. She stresses self-sufficiency. “My clients know my horses take priority at an event.”

Amiable Tryon will walk courses if time permits, but she prepares clients with their own warm-up skills. “I can’t be here to babysit you,” she says, aided by assistant trainers. Clients groom and haul their own; Tryon charges $45 for the entire weekend; a bargain, most agree, from such a talent.

Eventer Allison Springer works alongside Olympic champions Karen and David O’Connor and trains her own clients in both Virginia and Florida. Her full board and training fees include event rides. She hires a groom at $100 a day and riders divvy up the expense.

Springer keeps all receipts; if she buys hay or shavings, supplies or meds, those costs are client-divisible, too. Body clipping comes with full board, says Springer, who’ll also trim a shaggy muzzle without blinking. “I learned from the best; I keep the horses and tack looking sharp.”

Jimmy Miller has trained American Saddlebreds and Hackneys in Wentzville, Missouri, for 35 years. “I’m not committed to any specific number of shows,” he says, but attends between 15 and 20 a year, “everything from a one-day to the World.”

He charges a $50 per day show fee. Hauling horses means dividing the cost of a commercial carrier by the number of animals on the van. Some clients may own 10 to 15 head, others only one: “Each deserves the same full attention,” promises Miller.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, which hosts the prestigious Arabian Horse Show bearing the city’s name, Jeffrey Wilms and wife Amy train 50 clients. “Our barn is geared toward showing,” says Wilms; they attend at least 14

A-rated events a year. Kids often go to schooling shows.

His fees are $90 for each horse shown, whether by owner or trainer. “That’s schooling, coaching and grooming,” he says. Wilms charges $15 each to clip (not body) and braid. Tack and feed rooms and grooms are divisible by number of owners—not horses. Wilms takes 20 percent of horse winnings over $100.

Arabian trainer Deborah Johnson of Minden, Nevada—a local horse-show “feeder” market—has 20 clients, five of them serious. “Some clients only want to show in Nevada. Others have bigger dreams,” she says. Her professional fee covers all training and managing the show entry process, and can be as little as $50 for small events; the U.S. National rate is $2,500. At her January goal meeting, clients receive a chart with the fee schedule—which hasn’t changed in ten years.

Endurance coach Peter Rich of Orinda, California, may charge for gas to haul to a local ride, but no fees. “There’s no profit in that,” he admits. His “clients,” who take out his 25 horses at his place, sign up for weekly rides; then they groom and tidy up. “They’re doing me a favor to exercise them,” he says. Twice yearly, he holds a barn-cleaning day when all clients pitch in. He sells horses, from $4,000 to $20,000, and he rents to foreigners: $4,000 per week to do the Tevis Cup 100-mile endurance ride.

4-H or Finals?

Lani French’s Fayetteville, Arkansas, business welcomes clients mainly ages 5 to 12 who start in Western All-Around before progressing to Showmanship or Trail. “Most kids do ‘open’ shows locally and 4-H; that’s really important,” says French, who early on asks, “Who can go, and where do you want to go?” Then she sets her show schedule.

French’s show fees are $45 a day; braiding and banding are $50 and $35, respectively. She’s a veritable show machine who does grooming, clipping, feet painting and stall cleaning there. “Clients split food, hotel and anything else that comes up,” but expenditures are controlled.

Clients of National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) 2003 Futurity winner Craig Morris of Weatherford, Texas, choose either weekend or aged events, fairly typical in cutting. He takes 50 percent of wins, “pretty standard, other than for those who work for just one ranch,” says Morris, who has to be choosy to be profitable. “It does me no good to show something not prepped or not of the caliber that should attend those shows.”

National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity champion Mike Flarida of Lima, Ohio, is “re-evaluating” charges, now at $25 per day, he says. He charges 35 cents a mile for hauling but doesn’t cost back motels or food. “I do take half of what I win, and I won’t take a horse if I don’t think I can win. I won’t leave the driveway with him.” Flarida does bigger shows, usually two or three a month, and no weekend events.

Russell Dilday, based in Porterville, California, wins reined cow horse events like the Magnificent Seven All Around competition; he was third at Worlds’ Greatest Horseman. At 34, he’s trained for 10 years. He takes a third of wins, charges for gas “and a little bit extra for mileage.” Since he’s planning on attending future AQHA shows, “I’m going to need to change the system when there’s no money to be won,” he says. He’s thinking $50 per day, per show. “At home, I make $27 a day to ride a horse at $700 a month,” he says.

In Brighton, Colorado, judge and trainer Karen Banister commits to “excellence in horsemanship and equestrian arts. We consider the show the testing ground, not the finishing ground,” says Banister. Her February barn meeting features laminated handouts explaining costs and expectations.

Clients pay her day fee whether they get loads of attention or minimal, depending upon needs. “I don’t want to be a cannibal to one person.” She charges $10 per day; the Paint World fee is $25. At smaller shows, Banister and crew maintain stalls; owners water and groom and it’s just “more casual.” She’s out to be fair and conscientious with all.

Committed…or Just Casual

Highly sought as a hunter judge and trainer, Wellington, Florida-based Jeff Wirthman is up-front and straight up with clients.

“I ask, ‘How committed do you want to be?’” His day fees are $100 to $125. The Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington is “$15,000 for the whole enchilada,” says the vivacious Wirthman, with shipping and living costs additional. Doing a regular “A” show with Jeff? Budget approximately $1,000 for his exacting training and day care.

Sunny Stevens of Alpharetta, Georgia, does hunter/jumper/equitation at Stevehaven Stables, Inc. Show charges are $50 for boarders, $60 for non, per day. Grooming is from $25 to $60, “depending upon how much they want. I like to feed and groom lightly at the main ring, but if clients want stalls cleaned and horses completely groomed and tacked up, the rate goes up.”

Two-time dressage Olympian Lendon Gray of Bedford, New York oversees 50 clients; “Less than half show,” she says, and not all work exclusively with her all the time. Clients pay a flat $2,100 a month board, training and show fees. Overnight expenses are extra. “I’m not going to work with someone less because they don’t show,” says Gray.

Show fees and related ancillary cost can mean additional revenues for you. Make them clear at the start of your client-trainer relationship, and “no surprises” will mean smoother sailing for you and your customers. Don’t sell yourself short—there’s money to be made when you analyze all the things you really do for your clients and their horses.