To The Show We Go

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Your serious clients, from beginners to advanced, take lessons, then test their prowess at horse shows. Showing can be grueling for trainers who, at the top levels, are expected to attend every major show. This leads to exhausting six- and seven-day weeks. Someone’s got to pay, and it shouldn’t be just you. If clients are going to play, they have to pay.

Question is: How much? We asked clients and trainers to share their thoughts with us.

TO GO OR STAY

You must ask yourself, “What does it really cost me to provide lessons, training rides and ringside help—along with grooms and transportation—and to be away from my regular business?” And you have to balance that by what your customers can afford.

Many trainers include a coaching fee clause in their contracts that simply says, “When we go to a show, I provide this, and I expect you to pay that.” In addition to handing over printed sheets with horse show costs when a new client comes on board, hopefully, you have a strong web presence, where you also post your fees. It pays to spell it out in advance.

FROM THE MOUTHS OF CLIENTS

To gain a better understanding of what some clients are paying, we polled a group of hunter/jumper devotees. A rider from an upper Midwest “A”-show barn pays $65 a day on show days; trainer rides for showing are $35. “We split trainer/groom expenses like room and food. Groom tips are $50 a week for one horse, one division. Braiding, trucking and show fees are extra. My barn tries to keep costs reasonable so we can all show.”

A Great Lakes-area rider reports $65 per day for coaching, which includes care when the rider isn’t available. Hauling is $1 per loaded mile of trailering, with a $50 minimum. No grooms are available, it’s DIY. “We split hotel/trainer expenses. There’s usually little food expense as the entire group of moms brings enough to feed the entire show! The ten coolers—six filled with beer—could fill a tack stall! No set-up or tear-down fees: It’s left for the trainer and whoever can help.”

A Northeast-area show barn client reports $150 for a day show with trailering and coaching. “We groom and braid ourselves, if necessary, and do stalls and night-check. We try to save money where possible and bring our own hay, shavings and feed. My trainer likes to keep things affordable for people, but also tries to make money. Her showing my horse costs $25. At bigger shows, her meals and hotel are split by people showing.”

A West Coast Zone 9 horse show mom reports trainer fees—“from the day on the trailer, to the day he comes home”—at $80 a day: none extra for the rides. “Our trainer kept her prices the same this year with the stock market and business so low for her customers. It’s a smart move on her part as more of us can show throughout the year, and it’s more money in her pocket, too. She creates volume to make her profit, not huge percentages. She is pretty reasonable compared to the other A-circuit barns around us that charge for every last little thing.”

SMART MOVES

Laurie Ann Salmi of Pink Horse Performance ­(www.pinkhorseperfor­mance.com) deals with Arabian and Half-Arabian disciplines at Clarcona Farm in Orlando, and hunter/jumper training at MG Sport Horses in Apopka, Fla.

At shows, she figures, “I can’t charge by the hour, so I try to determine what I make on an average day at home, with lessons, my time...I need to make up lost income.” Her fees start at $100 per day, plus hauling for a one- to two-day show, up to Arabian Nationals at $1,700 total. “I don’t believe in nickel-and-diming,” she adds.

Assume nothing, advises eventer Lee DiGangi, out of Dancing Horse Equestrian Center in Leesburg, Va. “I am also sensitive to the finances thing, and will ask a student whether they would like to have me coach them at an event or whether they would like to save the money for a future lesson or something else. This is an expensive sport, let’s face it!

“I usually charge a lesson fee per student of $50 if I have more than one student competing, or if I will be there competing anyway. I charge a ‘long lesson fee’ of $60 if I have to come out for only one student. My students often tip me if I spend a lot of extra time or if I have to drive a long way out to the venue. If I’m warming them up for only one phase, I generally charge $20 to $25, depending on how long I spend with them.”

Another busy eventer, Andrea Waldo, trains at Triple Combination Farm in Ferrisburgh, Vt. (www.triple­com­b­inationfarm.com). Her show fees depend on whether she’s riding and on how many people she’s coaching. No riding means approximately $50 per day per person (more if only one or two people, less if three or more). Riding is set at $30 per phase.

“I find if you undervalue your services, people don’t respect your time and expertise,” says Waldo. “Panicking and slashing everything just makes you look desperate.”

Trainers who don’t know reining may be surprised at fees, says Tom Foran of Foran Performance Horses and Forastar Ranch in Santa Paula, Calif.

“Reining has traditionally been a cowboy sport, remaining very reasonable—nowhere near the cost of, say, hunter/jumper shows. Even Western Pleasure guys make a bit more.”

His day fees are $35. Clients are responsible for their costs: entries, necessities, feed, shavings. Hotel fees are extra, and hauling is at 65 cents a mile. His owners don’t pay grooms’ fees or blanketing charges.

How does he do it? Foran makes 30 percent commission on what he wins, and in reining that can be some serious money. “There’s the potential to win quite a bit,” he says modestly. Reining incurs no cattle charges as in working cow horse or cutting. Some grateful clients will tell him, “Whatever you win is yours.”

Whatever you charge, all experts agree that you should not undervalue your time. You ultimately need to do what’s right for you and your bottom line.