Nomination Fees: Pay More to Earn More . . . No More?

As I made my transition from Hunterland into the Jumper Ring, I couldn’t help but feel as if there was a whole new world out there for me to explore. And along came the concept of the nomination fee. I will admit I was a bit discouraged by the thought of having to pay additional fees to compete, but tried to rationalize the new expense as a means to earn more prize money. While that was the original intent of the nomination fee, it appears as if that mentality is starting to disappear with the requirement of large nomination fees with little or no prize money awarded to the competitor.

The Details

There is little regulation regarding nomination fees in the USEF handbook. JP109 states:

JP109 Nominating Fees

Nominating Fees. A nominating fee may be charged for either the Jumper Division or for each Jumper Section, but not both. Exception: An additional nominating fee may be charged for the highest prize money class at the show. If this fee is for a class offering $25,000 or more in prize money, the total amount of Entry and Nominating fees assessed must not exceed 2% of prize money per JP150.6.

Wikimedia Commons/ Caygill/ CC

According to USEF guidelines, it is not a requirement to allocate a certain amount of prize money, or any at all, to a class in which there is a charge for a nomination fee. So how does that affect the everyday equestrian at shows? Let’s take a look at this example from a popular Midwestern facilities show bill.

Jumper Nomination Fee: All jumpers must pay a nomination fee except Low, Medium and High Schooling, Young Jumpers, and Low Children’s Adult Jumper section. The Jumper nomination fee will be $200. This fee is in addition to the declaration (entry fee).

Lets say you wanted to compete in the High Junior/Amateur Owner Jumper (1.40m-1.45m) classes at this show, one would pay $70 per class (which do offer $450 in prize money), plus $245 to enter the $3500 Classic- not counting the $200 nomination fee. That means to complete in all three of the standard classes and the classic, you are looking at $655 just in entry fees alone.

Florida is one of the most popular states for equestrians to retreat to in search of warmer weather and boasts a wide array of show selections. However, many Professionals and Amateurs alike voice the same concern- it is becoming increasingly hard to get your horse the show ring exposure he needs and make it a profitable expenditure.

Take a look at an iconic Florida venues rules regarding Nomination Fees below:

Nomination Fee & Eligibility: To be eligible for the Jumper Division horses must be nominated and the nominating fee of $250 paid by the closing date of entries. Horses nominated after that date will pay a nominating fee of $350. Once a horse is nominated, he becomes eligible to compete in the following sections: Jumper 1.50m, 1.45m, 1.40m, 1.35m, 1.30m, Amateur-Owner Jumper, Adult Amateur Jumper, Junior Jumper, Children’s Jumper, Children’s Modified Jumper, Adult Amateur Modified Jumper and all special classes held in the Jumper Division, if otherwise eligible. Management reserves the right to cancel any jumper class with less than 5 entries unless otherwise specified.

This venues High Junior/Amateur Owner classes. To enter classes 1026 and 1027, both $2,500 1.40 classes, you must pay the nomination pee of $250 plus a $115 entry fee. If you happen to place first in one of those classes, you do receive a $655 payback but after your costs to enter the class (not including trainer fees, stabling, grooming fees, etc) you only bring home $290 to offset your entries.

Comparison to High Payout Jumper Classes and the Hunter Divisions

To compete in a $25,000 1.50 Championship Jumper Classic, at the same show in Florida one must pay the $250 nomination fee plus a $450 entry fee. The payouts for this investment, however, are much greater with the blue ribbon rider taking home $7500 in prize earnings, second taking home $5500, third $3250, with prize money all the way down to 12th place. In this instance, the nomination fees feel more applicable and worth the investment as the reward earned far exceeds the entries to partake in the class.

flickr/ Wilson Hui/ CC

Over in Hunter World, the costs to enter appear to be much less. There is no ‘nomination fee’ for high payout classes and while entry fees are higher for the larger purse offered, they still do not compare to the investment made when paying a nomination fee and an entry fee.

For example, to enter the entire High Performance Working Hunter section, a rider will pay $415 to compete in five classes- each of which offers a payout of some sort. While one could argue the payouts are smaller than some of the Jumper classes, the moneys earned compared to the money invested is almost always larger than when a rider enters a Jumper section offering only three chances to earn prize money.

The Future

The easy solution to this problem is to suggest that show officials decrease the cost of nomination fees for lower payout classes, but unfortunately that is a reality I doubt our industry can face at this time. With the rising expectations of the equestrian elite, the amenities of many horse shows continue to skyrocket to a cost that is hard to keep up on entry fees alone. To make hosting exceptional shows feasible, show managers are forced to find ways to bring in additional income and the nomination fee appears to be one of those catch-alls.

Until our industry focuses more on developing young horses, budding professionals or amateurs who are trying to come along on a budget, we are going to always face the dilemma of affordability. It is our job as equestrians to use our voice and encourage change to better the entirety of the industry. Proper regulations regarding the cost of nomination fees need to be in place to allow talented horses and riders to continue to get the ring exposure necessary.