10 Hidden Costs of Showing: What No One Tells You Until You Get the Bill


We always joke in my barn when someone is posing with their $2.49 ribbon about what that flimsy piece of poly satin really costs. Forget the actual class fee. It starts waaaaaaaay before that.

Let us not go back to the purchase price of the horse, all the vet and farrier bills, the boarding and training bills, the lessons, the tack, etc. Let us look at the actual costs that you need to plan for when your trainer says those magic words you’ve been sweating and working your rear end off to hear….”I think you are ready to show!” (which is code for “I think you and your horse are ready to be out in public without serious threat of embarrassment.”)

I am always stunned at the costs of showing when I am talking to other trainers, clients, friends who have been down the “show road”. It seems to vary GREATLY from discipline to discipline but here is a list of potentially hidden costs to consider and talk about with your dream team.

#1 Trailering

If you do not own your own trailer you are going to need a ride for your friend….I doubt your car’s back seat is big enough but I have seen pickups with horses standing in the back- no kidding, really. Been to Texas? Trailering is a necessary part of starting down the show path with your horse and you are well served if you can hire this out with a professional hauler- check references and reputation and always ask what kind of trailer they have, send your own hay for short hauls and make sure they will deal with shipping boots or wraps if needed.

If you have your own trailer you are not off the hook here expense-wise; In fact I am not so sure the upkeep, insurance, tags, fuel, etc. on a $70,000 pick-up truck (yes, the new ones really are that much) and a suitable and safe trailer are really any cheaper than hiring a professional hauler.

#2 Bedding and Feed

I recently had a client ask me if they had to pay additionally for shavings at a show when they are already paying board at the barn and since the horse was not using the shavings in the stall while they were gone….makes sense right?

I could completely understand the question. Most boarding barns are going to have the policy that you board there and if you leave to go to a show they are possibly going to send you with hay from home but not bedding.

However, boarding barns may offer to send you with bedding but you have to figure out how to haul it and usually they are going to charge you for it. The alternative, and what most do, is to buy bags from the show and sometimes hay and have them pre-delivered to your stalls so they are there when you arrive and are ready to unload. Which brings me to…..

#3 Day Care

No, this is not the drop-your-horse-of-and-let-them-play-with-their-friends day care but instead the labor fee associated with taking care of your horse in their new home away from home. Most barns will bring a groom and the clients are charged a per-day fee for horses to be given feed, water, stalls cleaned and more. While some prefer to do this themselves, don’t be surprised if this is a fee your barn will charge, so make sure it is talked about in advance.

#4 Grooming

Again, just because you may pay for this service at home does not mean it is covered at a show. Many barns are going to bring extra help and that fee is divided among the number of horses at the show. This may or may not include braiding, banding, or clipping. There may need to be clipping and mane preparation done before you even leave home that you need to do or pay for someone else to do. In my barn of long-haired beauties just taking the manes down, washing and re-braiding is several hours per horse before they even leave! Many short mane wearers need manes pulled, thinned or trimmed before they can be braided and while we believe in letting whiskers be, most show folks do not so you may have pre-clipping to contend with as well.

You may prefer to do this by yourself and do not have need for a professional groom. Perhaps you have lied through your teeth to your non-horsey spouse and told them this would be fun — A real vacation and an adventure! Or perhaps you have enlisted your best barn friend. Either way I would suggest lots of sparkling or bubbling libations and gourmet snacks as proper motivation and reward. Because at the end of a 16-hour day a good ‘thank you’ may not cut it. (this is where you find out who your true friends are)

#5 Set Up Fees and Matching Barn Aisle Accessories

If you show small shows or show on your own this won’t apply to you. But keep reading. You will be shocked. The first time I went to a really big show was the American Royal in Kansas City when I was a very little girl. Amidst the aisles of gorgeous horses there were chandeliers and running fountains in the barn aisles. And false ceilings. And real grass. And full furniture sets along with the standard curtains, farm banners, stall front plaques, flowers, shrubbery; all stunning. And someone has to set this up and pay for it. Most barns will divide this cost among the number of clients showing but you should be aware of that potential cost as well as if you are going to be asked to buy a certain type of tack trunk, halter, blanket or other gear for your horse to match your barnmates.

#6 Show Fees

From grounds fees to stall fees to drug fees to membership fees to mandatory scholarship fees, you need a degree to enter some shows. To make sure you are not overpaying, underpaying or paying for the wrong things ask your trainer to sit down with you and go over filling out your entry forms. Many disciplines have advice/help on their group websites and some local groups will offer social/educational pre-season meetings on what to expect. I always strive to win the award for perfect entry that some of our local show management teams give out. (yet to happen, but it is a good goal!)

#7 Coaching, Training, Riding and Travel Fees 

Yes, you are expected to pay your trainer for all of the coaching and training they do at the show. I know, you pay that at home already right? Well most trainers are going to charge you extra for this because they have to leave their existing business at home, pay their assistant and/or extra labor to stay at home and take care of those customers and horses while they are traveling and helping you obtain your goals.

Some will charge per class, some per show. Some will charge one fee for coaching and one fee for riding and yet a different fee for actually showing your horse. You may also be responsible for paying all, or a portion of, the travel and hotel, food, fuel fees.

#8 Prize Sharing

Hopefully you are not like me and actually pick a discipline that offers money instead of just taking it from you. Shares in the winnings must also be discussed in advance. Some trainers give all the prize money to the owner, some split it and some work on a percentage. Have. It. In. Writing.

#9 Accommodations/Transit/Food

Don’t forget to budget for you! How will you get to the show or get around at the show? Where will you stay? Meals? Eating out three times daily can get pricey, quickly. There are cost-saving measures you can plan for in this regard, such as group hotel discounts or bringing a cooler, but you’ll need to be on the ball far in advance. (Or maybe you’re the sort who is too nervous to eat at horse shows – lucky you!)

#10 Attire

Specifically you need to be aware of any special attire outside the norm you will be required to wear. Dress coat? Hunt tails? Special shirt? Those fancy custom made Italian show boots that set you back two Christmas wishlists? (0h wait, that was me.) Looking your best will make you feel your best and will help you ride your best. (Quick tip: Do not wait until show day to try on this fancy stuff for the first time. Trust me.)

So now you are overwhelmed. If you are a rookie. And if you are seasoned show-goer you are chuckling, because you have been there. And you are remembering the shock after you started to add it all up the first time around. But rookies have no fear. After that first $2.49 blue ribbon gets pinned to your horse’s bridle, you will forget what it really cost you. AND you will sign up to do it again. AND again.

Nicole Chastain Price is a trainer and rider who holds her USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals, and is a USDF Certified Instructor Trainer through First Level and an USDF “L” Graduate with Distinction. She competes her Lusitano stallion, Esbelto CL, in Dressage and was the USDF HOY All Breeds Champion IALHA at Training Level Open in 2014. She also competes in Western Dressage, Working Equitation and Ranch Sorting. See more of her writing at her website.