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Is it worth going to AECs?

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  • Is it worth going to AECs?

    I realize that this decision is inherently a personal one, but I am looking for feedback on whether it is worth the money and time to haul out to compete at AECs (almost 1000 miles from where I live, and would require me to take close to a full week of PTO from work). I've heard that there is great shwag and gifts for all competitors as well as the potential to win prize money. Does anyone know how much prize money is typically at stake and how they distribute it among the divisions and placings? Is the shopping really good? Are the shwag bags as good as people say? Any other thoughts or considerations?

  • #2
    If it's on your bucket list as an adult and you qualify, sure.

    As a young rider or teen, I think it can be worth it if you are looking to get your name out there for riding scholarships or sponsors -- but IIRC the prize money is not enough to recoup expenses. I've not competed at the AECs yet, as the year I qualified the event was some 3,000 miles away

    It's very expensive to go when you're not very local. My younger sister qualified and went to the AECs at Great Vista in the early 2000s and she said it was a lifetime event, but it was lots of money to get there -- and that was relatively close to us. She had a great time, said the course was incredible, and very competitive (naturally). I think it's something worth doing if you want to compete nationally, but not all competitors that qualify go, given how big the US is and many people cannot make it.

    Regarding the courses, remember they are championship level - it's probably redundant to say this, but I frequently hear complaints from barn-mates or acquaintances who chose to go and were surprised by the technicality. If you are not ready to ride everything maxed out at your level, don't go.


    • #3
      I haven't been in long enough that I can't answer your question about the prize money or giveaways, although I can guarantee you that you won't win enough (no matter how you place) to make back the expense of going. IMO if you are going because you want to "win" you shouldn't bother unless your dressage is VERY competitive for the level. If you are going for the experience I would only do it if you are going with friends. If you have friends who are competing, a friend who can go as your groom, even a family member to cheer for you, then it can be a really fun experience. I wouldn't go by yourself.
      The big man -- my lost prince

      The little brother, now my main man


      • Original Poster

        I would go just for the experience. In fact, I'm qualified at a level below where I compete and on a horse that isn't my own. Some folks from my barn are going and trying to convince me to go. If it were my horse (who is currently on the DL) I would do it in a heartbeat. But I guess I am still on the fence, which is why I'm looking for reasons I may not be aware of that could help me to make the decision one way or the other.


        • #5
          I wanted to qualify this year, wanted to start showing recognized.... but then I looked at the cost. To me, it isn't worth it - especially on a horse of questionable health and soundness.

          That said, if you qualified, and you've got friends going too, and you can swing it money wise, I would *totally* encourage you to go! You never know what the future brings. Seize the opportunity!


          • #6
            I sort of regretted not taking my horse when I had the opportunity. That year it wasn't too much of a hike from home. We did do the Area championships though and that was a lot of fun. The organizers did a great job I thought. So if your Area has level championships and you haven't done one that's another option to consider. Certainly not the AEC's but still fun nonetheless.


            • #7
              I qualified, but for me the cost isn't worth "the experience". I live nearby and compete at KHP so the venue holds no special allure. It's going to be insanely crowded. Our dressage scores aren't competitive enough to put me in the Top 10 and I'll likely have rails in stadium so while "qualified", we aren't walking away with cash and prizes. I'm sure it's going to be a great experience and really fun, but the cost-to-fun ratio isn't quite there for me.


              • #8
                FWIW I took my once in a lifetime horse to AEC's at Chattahoochee Hills in 2012. I showed alone most of the time, so we went alone. We had a reasonable expectation of doing well, and I did finish in the top 10. I was able to stay with a friend who lived at the farm at the time, so I didn't have to pay hotel, but it still cost me about $1200 to go. I don't regret it for one second. That horse broke his leg in a freak pasture accident the night we got home from the event, and while he is still alive, and did return to compete, we never got back to where we were when we qualified.

                It's a personal decision, but I'd make the same choice I made over and over again. It was great fun.


                • #9
                  I think if you're qualified and can afford it, it seems like it could be a special experience. I'm qualified and would LOVE to go.....but I'm in California and unfortunately there's no way I can justify the expense

                  If you do go, please let us know how it goes!!!
                  Another Adult Amature and her OTTB:

                  Repurposed Racehorses


                  • #10
                    These big championships aren't worth it if you are trying to win and recoup costs, as others have said. But they are so fun!

                    You make way more friends at competitions like this because everyone is stuck there together, unlike a more local event. Usually people ride their rides, do what they have to do and go home. But in this case, everyone will have traveled far, and be staying in the same couple of hotels. You will bump into the same people over and over, and find some that are cool enough to be your new friends.

                    You will get more from the experience than the actual competition, and IMO that's worth the money.


                    • #11
                      It costs as much as my planned fall season so I'm going to pass. However, I qualified mostly on "amateur placings" and am pretty guaranteed to be an also ran with our best performance. Maybe if I were scoring 18s in dressage I'd reconsider.


                      • #12
                        Worth it or not, if you have not sent in an entry you will not get in. It opened a week ago.


                        • #13
                          We are going and I’m pretty excited. KHP is a terrific venue. It’s “local” for us but it’s going to be great fun to do AECs there and see so many people enjoying the park. We are competing at AECs a level below where my horses are currently showing and I think it will be a blast for us to run around and have a really good time. We’re capable of doing well I suppose but honestly I’m mostly looking forward to seeing friends from all over the country, including my horses’ breeder, and enjoying the experience we worked really hard for. It’s definitely expensive, so I plan to enjoy it. If you see horses that look like freakishly large Appaloosas (knabstruppers) and a girl with a big grin on her face, definitely say hello.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by alyssaequestrian View Post
                            Worth it or not, if you have not sent in an entry you will not get in. It opened a week ago.
                            Have they sent out a notice or announcement that it's full already? I've never seen the AECs get waitlisted, and since competition is basically taking place over a full week at a place with massive infrastructure, it should have plenty of room for entries.

                            Yes, it opened a week ago, but entries are open for three more weeks. Some people are still waiting for qualifying events to have results posted.

                            Apologies if I missed some kind of announcement.


                            • #15
                              I just started competing my horse in recognized HTs this year because I wanted to qualify. Unfortunately I kept making mistakes on XC (like forgetting my watch) that kept us from getting a qualifying score. I really wanted to go because I have a horse who can be competitive in dressage and never has rails. Alas it was not to be.

                              So I am aiming for next year. If I can get my qualifying scores at novice this year we may move up to training and see where we are. Although I'm not sure about this horse (spooky!) on a championship training course.


                              • #16
                                I talked to management yesterday, and nope, not full yet. Entries are piling up nicely, but plenty of room for more. There is extra time allowed for qualifying, but if you somehow don't make it, you only risk the office fee. Early entries really help when planning the logistics of a big event like this one. Volunteer coordinators, schedulers, officials, even the port-a-let man needs a head count!


                                • #17
                                  I was on the fence about the AECs all year, always assuming I'd do Prelim, but my real goal this year was a 2*L so I was saving my money & vacation time for that, but we've hit our first bumps in the road & this isn't going to be our 2*L year. A good friend pointed out to me, as Action42 did above - you never know what tomorrow will hold - go have fun now! I was lucky to be qualified at both Prelim and Modified so we were able to drop down a level (even though there will only be one open division that I won't have a chance of being competitive in


                                  • #18
                                    I'm kind of in the same frame of mind as BigMick. My horse and I are qualified at Novice (currently competing Training, have done Prelim together as a pair) and it is the closest it will ever be (3 hour haul) but the KHP doesn't hold the same "special" allure to me since the majority of events in Area VIII are held there. But if I go to AECs, I might as well count that as my final show/experience of the year. If I were going to be super competitive I might feel different, but we'd literally just be going to say we went as we are lucky to crack a sub-35 in dressage at any level. For the cost of going to AECs, both in money and time off work, I can do two shows this fall and probably another clinic. And since this is my "rebuilding" year, I think my money is better spent on lessons, clinics, etc.
                                    I have Higher Standards... do you?

                                    "For the love of my horse, I know who I am."


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Thanks for all these great thoughts everyone! This is a lot to think about. I totally agree with those of you who have said that qualifying again just may not ever happen again so seize the opportunity, and this is really what is driving my desire to just do it. On the other hand, I have some major life events right around the time of AECs so that adds to my uncertainty about going as pertains to both time and money. Plus I could then afford to do a few recognized events at the end of the season on *my* horse (and maybe even qualify for next year!)

                                      I certainly wouldn't expect to make my money back by any stretch, but having a better sense of the prize money and the goody bags would potentially help tip me one way or the other if anyone who has been in recent years happens to read this.


                                      • #20
                                        1200 horses.