The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Another perspective from a horse show volunteer and exhibitor
In this day and age, showing horses is expensive. Everyone I know is trying to make money last and to do more with less. I am a millennial and I was raised by someone that knew how to stretch every dollar. When I was fortunate to begin to show horses as a young adult, I just didn't understand why horse shows were so expensive.
It wasn't until I began volunteering, not just at the shows, but serving on committees and looking at budgets to get an in depth understanding of some of the issues currently plaguing horse shows today.
The bad: one of the most discouraging things with hosting horse shows is the ever rising expenses, coupled with the decreasing number of volunteers. For those that have not yet volunteered on a show committee, here are some of the expenses for an open show: ribbons, insurance, judge, facility, food and drinks, shavings, office staff and supplies, announcer, and prizes. If hosting a rated show, the costs skyrocket supporting all of the previous and then adding in steward costs, USEF and drug testing costs, breed or discipline fees, and much more. One thing I have noticed in recent years is that positions that a show used to have volunteers to support some of the key positions necessary for a show including a gate and paddock manager, announcer, and barn manager. However, this is no longer realistic at many shows. Each year there are fewer volunteers, increasing the burden on the remaining few.
How do shows and committees encourage the increase in volunteers? I have heard suggestions of reaching out to 4H and pony clubs. Every committee I know has done so with very little yield. Where are the people that used to volunteer between classes or on days they did not show? They no longer exist. One show I know tried to make it easier for club members to see what type of volunteers were needed by inputting everything online and members could just click and sign up for a four hour shift. Unfortunately, there was little response and there were a large number of volunteers that did not show up to assist at the show.
There has also been suggestions for financial incentives for volunteers in terms of payment or gift cards given for shifts worked. Has anyone seen this increase volunteerism? I have seen it tried a few times without much success, but I would be curious if there needs to be a better system created to ensure participation. However, with most shows barely breaking even or running a financial negative, I am wary of increasing expenditures without a good promise of success.
The good: in spite of all this negativity, I have seen so many positive things. I have seen a small group of people that continue to give so much to keep clubs and shows going. These workhorses are the backbone of these little clubs and committees and deserve an immense amount of thanks. Behind every small open show are some exhausted volunteers that have given up a large amount of time to ensure participants can enjoy some quality time with their horses.
The ugly: shows and clubs are dying out by the minute. Many are in precarious situations. I have personally seen many profitable shows struggling to break even, despite slashing budgets and trying to save a dollar in every possible way. As shows raise costs to try and break even, attendance declines. Volunteers decline and then show expenses rise. The end is in sight for many of these events without some kind of drastic change.
I believe that these shows and clubs can be saved if more individuals cared. Investments need to be made with time and sponsorships. Additional volunteers are needed to step up to ease the burden on the few that remain. If more members joined clubs and the committees, they could look at the budgets, offer suggestions, and perhaps, save these dwindling clubs and shows.