Dressageonomics 201: Showing In The Big Leagues

Mar 23, 2012 - 1:19 PM
Getting to the USEF National Championships isn't easy or cheap. Photo by Susan J. Stickle.

I got some nice feedback from my last blog, so I thought I’d share some more dressage mathematics—the cost of showing at the international levels.

Before I do, though, I’d like to state that I’m not doing these blogs to complain or to throw myself a pity party. It’s expensive, sure, but it’s not news; I knew what I was getting into when I chose this profession, and I make it work, like anyone else.

Onto the economics of it all. First, let’s say you want to qualify for the USEF National Championships at the Grand Prix level. To do that, you’ll need to do at least two CDIs, and realistically three, as you get to drop your lowest score after two. You’ll also need to submit your application of intent to qualify, which is $50 unless you’re a Tardy McTardypants and turn it in after the due date, when the cost goes up to $300.

There are three places to go to CDIs—south Florida, the Wellington area; California, central and south; and everywhere else. If you’re not in California, and you also choose not to do the Florida thing, there are CDIs in Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas in the spring and summer, and New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado in the fall. But it will mean hours and hours of driving (not that driving up and down the coast of California is a treat), and usually several shows in a short amount of time, with little to no break.

You’ll also need an FEI passport ($200) for your horse, which needs to be revalidated every four years at $175; and you’ll both need FEI Registrations (at $15 each), which need to be renewed every year.

I don’t know a thing about what it looks like cost-wise to winter in California, and I won’t bore you with the dramatic costs of a winter in Florida, but let’s just agree that they’re substantial. I want to focus on the showing.

A Grand Prix class at a CDI will cost between $200 and $250. That’s one class. You’ll also need to ride either the Grand Prix Special or the Grand Prix freestyle (entry fees at least $225 each). When you ride in a CDI, you have to stable in the CDI stabling, which almost always costs more than a stall in the national show and is usually in the $250 range for the weekend. And let’s say that you’ve just got your one horse and don’t feel the need to hire an interior decorator for a tack stall, so just for starters you’re in the $700 range, before you’ve even thrown a foot in the irons.

CDIs are usually three-and-a-half day affairs—a jog on Thursday, the Grand Prix Friday, the Kur Saturday, the Special Sunday. Except when it’s not. Sometimes you’ll need to turn up on Wednesday. And once your horse is through the vet inspection, he has to stay on the grounds and sleep in the secured stabling compound, until he’s been cleared to leave—after your final class.

Because of that, you (or your groom—hiring a groom is another expense) will be doing a lot of schlepping back and forth between the show and your home stable, assuming you have other horses and/or students, which most of us do. It takes time. It takes fuel. Or you’re showing away from home base, which means you’re paying for a hotel and losing a few days income while you’re gone. Either way, there are lots of costs to consider beyond just the entries alone.

If you’re very good, you can win some of that back in the form of prize money. We’re blessed in Florida to have some very handsome purses, and I know the money at Devon and Saugerties is also pretty good, having won some of it myself a few years ago (thanks, Billy and Cleo!). But in a class of 40, like there was at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby a few weekends back, you have to be VERY good to get in on that action.

Let’s say that you’re very good, and you make the top 15. Congrats! You’re going to Gladstone, which is in northern New Jersey. This is no big deal if you, like me, are in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s a quick zip up I-81. But if you’re pretty much anywhere else, this is a big deal. You don’t want to arrive the day of the vet jog after a 16-hour trailer trip. You want your horse primed and fresh on competition Day 1, which means you’re probably going to dedicate the whole week to show, arriving on Monday or Tuesday, or even earlier than that, for a show that starts on Wednesday.

And if you’re from west of the Mississippi, you’ve got a real problem. The California and Oregon contingent usually fly, pooling together to get a bulk rate on a cargo plane, or something like that. When Championships were in California in 2008, and Cleo and I qualified for the small tour, we had the same plan in reverse—everyone was to meet in Atlanta to hop a Fedex. The cost? About $12,000 round-trip.

The USEF pays for entry fees for the Championship (thanks, guys!), but the riders are still on the hook for transport, hotels, hay/grain/shavings, etc, plus the income lost while we’re at Gladstone. And here’s the kicker—in a team year (Olympics or WEG), the Grand Prix Championships run over two weekends. So you’re gone at least two weeks. That’s two weeks in a hotel, two weeks in a rental car (if you’ve flown from the other coast), two weeks away from home, not making money.

Let’s say that you rock the Championships and want to make a trip overseas to make a campaign on the European tour. Remember that plane ticket? It’s more for a Europe stay—$15,000-$20,000 round trip wouldn’t be unheard of. The rules are different for each country, but you may face some time in quarantine, depending on how long you’re staying and whether your horse is a gelding or a mare or a stallion.

And since most people go to Europe and stay a bit, there’s more time away from your business—and source of income—at home. There’s the cost of getting your grain from home brought over, unless you want to switch over to a European grain. And there’s the simple conversion rate—the Euro is currently kicking the dollar’s butt.

Last but not least, don’t forget that you need the nod from USEF to represent this country abroad. You have to apply for each competition—at $75 a competition—as well as pay an International High Performance fee of $35/horse.

There are grants available, from The Dressage Foundation, from USEF. They tend to be given to riders with a proven track record of success, which is hard to get without spending a lot of money first, though that’s not a given. Grants or otherwise, there’s certainly no way to really campaign a top Grand Prix horse on the cheap.



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