How can we make the world of show jumping on budget and viewer friendly?

I recently had a conversation with another trainer about this issue. Why isn’t our sport more popular? When she asked me this question, I thought back to an article I read earlier this year that didn’t make much sense to me. It keyed on things like keeping your horses’ names one word. Really? If we really change our horses names to simple words that will be a game changer? Troy Polamalu did alright.

When I am at horse shows, I attempt to watch what is going on around me, and here is what I see; Bored parents that don’t understand why it is taking so long and why they are spending so much money.

You have to admit even if you love horses and are an avid fan, watching 2’6″ round after round can be extremely painful, not to mention teach you every bad habit there is if you watch too long. So how have things changed? When I was growing up you didn’t go to an A rated horse show if you couldn’t jump 3’6″ period. Mileage to get to this level was done through lessons and some local horse shows. (Please note this article is not a discussion about whether or not someone should show 3’6″ but a discussion on ideas on how to make it less expensive and more interesting for the ‘non-horseperson.)

An argument I hear with this is many parents can’t afford to buy a 3’6″ horse. I don’t buy it. If you can afford to go to an A rated horse show, and go in class after class that offers no prize money, you can afford a 3’6″ horse that has a chance of winning some prize money. My first 3’6″ horse was a cow horse and pole bending horse we bought at the sale barn for $600.00. We later traded that horse for my first Hermes saddle. My first two grand prix horses cost $750.00 (He Can Run aka Caddyshack) and $900.00 (Captain Kidd). Caddy shack and I also won the AQHA World Championships in showjumping and did hunter classes. The problem is riders don’t ride well enough and trainers don’t train well enough to show most horses at 3’6″. In our barn unless it is ancient or crippled it shows 3’6″. Hunter’s first pony was bought from a school horse program. She was a large, but we couldn’t be picky on size, with our budget. I paid for her to do one or two shows at short stirrup and told Hunter if she wanted to show at A shows she had to do the rated division, as I could not pay entries for a short stirrup horse. The next horse show she showed in the large ponies and earned a little prize money. Same thing for Hunter’s first horse, she did a couple classes in the childrens hunters and moved right up to the juniors because prize money was a must to make this sport doable for our family. We still operate that way. Our horses have to earn their keep. If we don’t do well, we cannot go to the next horse show. Bottom line, if a rider wants to show 3’6″, they can, if they put the effort and time into it. They learn so much more than running around trying to make the step at 2’6″ and cutting their corners. It is my opinion, to save the future of the sport, smaller classes do not belong at A shows. Just as you don’t pack a stadium for flag football, same goes for smaller jumping classes. We need to get the parents back if we want to get the next generation of riders. Below is a victory gallop picture of Hunter winning the ASPCA Maclay at Indoors. Look how few spectators for this prestigious class;

Victory Gallop ASPCA Maclay Finals Chicago Equestrian


We need to get our audience back. Unfortunately horse shows are expensive because we have no spectators. If we had people that wanted to watch the horse show, they would make exhibitors costs go down and parents would pony up for more horse shows and more horses, if they were having fun and not spending their life savings for their kid to show. Let’s face it, a normal six figure income will not allow most kids to show on any type of regular basis. Not only is that wrong, but you extremely decrease your market, making life hard on everyone.

How can we make horse shows more interesting? Here is my list;

  • Classes that are exciting , interesting to watch
  • Show at the time you say you are going to show
  • Shorter hours
  • Spectators
  • Pre-loading

Let’s take a note from Europe. They preload. That greatly cuts down time. In Europe, someone is always jumping, someone is in and hacking waiting for their turn, and the one that finished usually hasn’t left the ring yet. WE need to buck up and get used to it. It works. That would lessen the hours and make it more interesting.

Twenty years ago most horse shows were put on by a group of people that weren’t interested in making a profit. That isn’t the case now, so where do we go from here? If they adapted guidelines such as preloading, maybe everyone wouldn’t be too tired to put back on more interesting events in the afternoon and get spectators involved. If we are taking a note from baseball, we need to figure out how to draw a paying audience. Classes would have to start at the time they say and then you are done. Parents get to go relax, riders get to relax, grooms get some down time. Life is good. This year at indoors we were riding from 3 am in the ring until after midnight. The course walk was at 5 am the next day. I had one groom that didn’t sleep for almost 48 hours. That isn’t right. Let’s learn from popular sports in our country and show jumping in Europe.

If we want to make a change I know these things are a must. Every sport that is popular you must have spectators and you must have an accurate schedule. Now what do we do? Where do we start? If we want this sport to be successful and not lose some of our best riders to Europe or quitting because they can’t afford it, we need to make a change.WE NEED TO PUT THE EXCITEMENT BACK IN THE SPORT!


4 thoughts on “How can we make the world of show jumping on budget and viewer friendly?”

  1. This is a really interesting article with some great points. I would absolutely love to see our sport cater to a wider audience. Unfortunately, as you point out, that will be very hard to do unless we make some changes.

    I wanted to add that it’s not always as simple as buying a capable cheap horse. I grew up in NYC where the cost of living for both horses and humans is astronomical. While it’s very possible that my parents could have afforded to buy me a $500 horse, there is absolutely no way we could have afforded to keep it when board runs at minimum $1500 in our area. I never competed as a junior and have never jumped 3’6 in my life. I’ve just never had the opportunity as most of my riding was with lesson horses. I don’t mean this as a “woe is me” tale, but simply to provide an example that many people are priced out long before they get to the horse show.

    You mention getting rid of any class below 3’6 for A shows. I understand where you’re coming from but I ask you to consider people like me, who might want to go to a show for the experience. Or an older adult who is stepping down from the 3’6. Or a kid who wants to get some A show experience but either isn’t ready for the 3’6 or doesn’t have a 3’6 horse. Are they supposed to be limited to local shows?

    I agree with you that show days are incredibly long and often very taxing on those that work behind the scenes. We should do all that we can to make the days as efficient as possible. I’m just not sure I agree taking away all the lower divisions is the way to do that.


    1. You are correct, and that is why I said that I didn’t want this article to be about whether someone should or could show at a certain height but more on how do we make it affordable. With that said, the way things are now the cost of the horse is the cheapest thing about this sport unfortunately. Something has to be figured out how to make it affordable. But by having every class in the book making for extremely long days, you are diminishing the ability to make the sport profitable by drawing an audience. There needs to be a venue for different levels of riding, just like in all other sports. Pee wee football doesn’t play at the high school, high school football doesn’t play in the college, and college football doesn’t play in the NFL stadium. Of course there are exceptions such as championship events etc. but as a general rule they take place on different days and venues.
      We cannot have it all. (I am only talking on points that in our sport, are different than with other sports that draw an audience.)
      With that said, the busy class schedule also leads to another issue… Many riders did not complete the Equitation finals courses this year. People complained the courses were too hard. They should be hard, it’s the finals! The problem is at many of the shows during the year, the Maclay and Medal are an afterthought. They take the junior hunter course and throw in a bending line and rollback for the handful of kids that are pushing themselves, so they can rush into the 35 or so childrens hunters. How does that help these riders prepare for finals? That isn’t right and we are going to lose our best riders, we are going to lose the Olympics, and maybe even our sport if we don’t make changes.


  2. You’re correct that pee wee football, high school football, college football, and pro football do not play together for a good reason. I would argue however, that pee wee football, and most high school football do not have high spectator rates (when compared to the audiences that pro and college football command). At that stage, players are often still learning the game and it’s not as interesting for the spectator. Does this make it any less important as a foundation and pipeline for athletes with aspirations to play college or pro football? Absolutely not!

    I would argue that the 2’/2’6/ponies/big eq etc. divisions serve the same purpose. They are not the most interesting to watch for the uneducated spectator, but they are incredibly important for the foundation they give riders. These divisions help riders learn so that when/if they go on to compete in the bigger GP classes or even an Olympic stage, they can perform.

    I also think there is a diversity factor in equestrian that makes it hard to directly compare to other sports. For the most part, everyone knows what a game of football is and how it’s played. If they go to a game, they can reasonably follow along even if they’ve never seen a game. However equestrian is different. We have hunters, eq, jumpers, and ponies. This doesn’t even begin to touch on other disciplines outside of Hunter Jumper. Each of those disciplines has its own set of rules that is not outwardly obvious and often hard to follow. I think this is where we loose a lot of people.


    1. If you don’t want to compare it to other sports that is fine. Compare it to other countries doing the same sport then. There should be a pipeline. The way things are headed you are losing the top riders. My suggestion is to take a lesson from the sports, countries, doing it right and follow their lead.


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