Tack and equipment purchases, travel expenses, and show bills can really add up.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

One of my joys of horse ownership is the thrill of competition: Setting goals and achieving them, always aiming for that perfect trip, and enjoying a special partnership with my horse in the show ring. A year out of college, I put the tiny bit of money I had in my savings account toward a young horse I'd fallen in love with. Even if "Helios" hadn't been so green, I couldn't afford to horse show at the time. I told myself I would be content teaching him to jump and just hacking around Kentucky's farmland. Silly me.

A year later the horse show itch set in, and I was scraping together every penny I could to enter small, local shows. Now, six years later, I can more easily afford to horse show, but I've picked up some money-saving habits in the meantime. After asking around, it turns out my colleagues have, too. Here are some ways a few of us try to cut down on costs while eventing, showing Western pleasure, competing in dressage, or show jumping.

Let's start with The Horse's brand manager, Shawna White. She and her 19-year-old off-the-track-Thoroughbred, Chunder, event at the training level. Shawna says she saves money at events by:

  • Bringing her own shavings and hay, rather than buying from the show at inflated prices.
  • Scheduling travel and hauling times when she's less likely to hit traffic, which saves on gas.
  • Clearly labeling all her belongings "so nothing gets tossed in someone else’s box and potentially lost forever."
  • Befriending someone with a horse show mom! "They always bring snacks," she says. Another option is to arrange potluck meals among horse show friends so as not to spend all your cash at the concessions.

Bringing your own shavings is almost always cheaper than buying from the show. Lily, my former hunter, approved.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

On the other side of the discipline spectrum is Jennifer Whittle, our digital producer, who helps care for her family's 11 Appaloosas that compete in the Western performance divisions. She, too, suggests packing along your own snacks, horse feed/hay, and bedding. And she says camping or bunking in a horse trailer with living quarters is far cheaper than staying at a hotel during overnight events. Further, she says:

  • Some horse shows will have the option of pre-entering for a lesser fee. If you’re the gambling type and feel comfortable paying up front, this may save a few dollars. On the other hand, if you pre-enter and something happens, you might not get your money back.
  • State and regional breed shows (AQHA, APHA, ApHC) usually offer a special package or flat fee for exhibitors that might include the cost of the stall, class fees, and/or judges' fees. If you show in several classes on multiple horses, a package or flat fee might be a more economical option for you, she says.

Michelle Anderson, The Horse's digital managing editor, is our lone dressage-slash-trail rider. Her budget-conscious show suggestions include:

  • Wearing track pants over white dressage breeches when not riding to limit the number of pants she needs to buy (and helping preserve their lifespan!).
  • Learning to do quick rubber band dressage braids, which saves her from hiring a braider each day.
  • Teaching her significant other how to tack and groom, to avoid the need for hired help.
  • Creating a packing list to make sure you bring everything you need and don't haveto buy duplicates at the show grounds. "Who wants to buy a new whip when they have a perfectly good one at home?” she says.

As for my own suggestions, they're hunter/jumper specific, but include the following:

  • My barn has hosted a few "tack swaps" over the years. Other barns and horse owners from the area set up shop for a Saturday in the indoor arena with all their unwanted or outgrown tack, supplies, clothing, etc., for sale at bottom dollar. I've been able to unload show clothes I no longer wear and equipment and blankets from horses past while snagging new (to me) riding pants, show shirts, a belt, martingale, and more. The key is having the tack swap at a central location to other barns and horse owners and making sure it's well-publicized via social media and flyers.
  • I've reduced my dry cleaning bills with a machine-washable hunt coat.

    Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

  • One item I did recently invest some money toward was a new lightweight, machine-washable hunt coat. Goodbye dry cleaning bills. I can without a doubt say that the amount of money spent on dry cleaning my former coat over the last 10 years well exceeded its purchase price!
  • We're lucky in Lexington to have several tack shops to choose from. I discovered that one shop owner is also a leatherworker who crafts his own halters, bridles, and more at extremely affordable prices. I own two bridles, a halter, and a martingale he's made, and from afar you could never tell the difference between my $65 bridle and a $600 one. After three years they're still in great condition.
  • I know I can't afford new tack, helmet, or boots every few years, so I make sure to take extremely good care of the ones I have. To extend my tall boots' lifespan, they only go on right before I ride and come off immediately after. I give them a good wipe down while cleaning my tack. I take similar care of my helmet, as today's high-quality, certified helmets cost hundreds of dollars. I read recently that many riders who wear the same brand of helmet as I do have noticed part of it peeling after being rained on. So I now wear my "old" helmet when it's raining, so as not to risk damaging the "nice" one.
  • My trainer is pretty good about searching for shows to attend within a three-hour radius that offer big prize money (that helps pay the bills, too!) without the big fees. Facilities set their own stall rental prices, so the show with the lowest stall and entry fees that still offers nice prizes wins. Some even offer a free stall if you reserve a certain amount of stalls for a certain number of weeks (no split tack/feed stall fee for clients!).
  • If staying overnight at a hotel, I share a room with someone, and I try to carpool or transport/supervise a kid who needs a ride in exchange for gas money. I also try to always book with the same hotel chain, and I'm slowly working my way toward a free night's stay via rewards points. Hotels with complimentary breakfast for when I roll out to the show at the crack of dawn are the best!
  • These are just a few ways us here at The Horse try to conserve money while showing (I know, that's kind of an oxymoron). Sure, I wish I knew how to braid my horse's mane to skip the braiders' fees --trust me, I've tried, and it's not pretty--and had a trailer to do the hauling myself and avoid shipping costs. Maybe someday, right?

    Please share your equine money-saving tips--I know we can all use them!