I’ve written a lot of the lack of accessibility in the horse world, largely due to the financial component of everything. This issue keeps coming up time and time again, most often because I’m genuinely shocked to see how out of touch with reality some people are when talking to young up and coming riders who are wanting to make it big, but without the big bucks to back them. I totally understand the desire to serve as an inspiration for the younger generation and to make people feel as though their dreams are within reach, however, it does (often) hit a point where people do so with a massive tone of condescension and oversimplifying the issues within the horse world to an insane amount. So, allow me to break it down for you why some people are met with more barriers than others and hopefully, this post will serve as a mediator to allow people on both sides of the financial spectrum to level with each other and be more understanding.
First off, the main thing I hear any time I dare to complain or express frustration regarding the costs of horses and showing and how they serve to act as barriers in my personal journey is: If you work hard enough and set your mind to it, the opportunities will come. Let me tell you, with the amount of hard workers I’ve met that have been burnt out, used up and ultimately quit riding because of it, I can tell you right off the bat that it is simply untrue. You see, most of the people stating this mindset are coming from positions in life where at the very least, they had their university tuition paid for but more often than not, they also had much of their riding paid for along with other expenses such as car, gas, rent etc. These types of people are on a different plane of what “hard work” equates to and what the benefits of such are. You see, if you have your tuition covered, you are thus enabled to work hard and use all of said money towards things like riding, food, showing etc without having to worry about the tens of thousands of dollars students who are not as lucky as you are forced to budget for. If you had your tuition paid for, you were never in the position where you had to pick between an education and showing or try to budget the time and money for working, riding, classes, homework and showing without burnout. Tuition fees are a common thing that many seem to take for granted, not due to lack of gratefulness but simply because they have never HAD to consider the “what if”, so people speaking out on these things just genuinely have no idea of the burden that having to consider these expenses can bring. Telling people that if they just work hard enough, it will happen may seem inspirational and encouraging to you, however, saying it to people who are busting their butts with little result comes off as condescending because you are telling them that if it hasn’t happened for them, they aren’t working hard enough. For those working 40+ hour work weeks along with full time school and still managing to find time to ride, this is pretty damn near impossible. Where are you supposed to fit in “more work”? How are you supposed to work harder when the only free time you have is to sleep? People realistically shouldn’t be expected to push themselves to a breaking point to achieve a certain dream, expecting those coming from less funds to risk burning out or completely forego an education in order to pursue their equestrian dreams is part of the issue, as this is largely something those from more stable financial backgrounds never even have to worry about. So, we tell people with less money not to express frustration, just to work harder and it’ll come, yet we neglect to acknowledge the fact that even with hard work, some things simply cannot come to fruition.
Let me break it down for you. Showing one week at Thunderbird Show Park, a local show park to me, is at least $1,000. That is on the low end. For ONE WEEK. The average person does not have an extra $1000 laying around every month to burn on shows. For some, it is impossible to get those funds to use once in even an entire year. To really have the opportunity to start making a name for yourself, showing can be extremely important. Reputation largely seems to rely on show records, something that costs money to make. Even if you get your cheap, green horse and train it to be able to do well at rated shows, you still need to factor in show expenses, training, transport etc. All of these things cost a rather exorbitant amount of money. The next thing people generally suggest is : Oh just get a working student position! I’m not knocking this as an option because in the right situation, it can be great! However, the fact that so many are unable to realize why this may not be an option for some is rather concerning. Anyone in school realistically cannot just up and leave to go work a full time working student position and even if they COULD manage it time wise, most working student positions offer little in the way of compensation or no compensation, in exchange for room, lessons etc. For someone paying their own way in school, a working student position would take up all of their time while disallowing them the extra funds to afford things like books and tuition. On top of this, most trainers taking on working students still expect said working students to cover their own show fees should they wish to show. Let’s say you find the one unicorn trainer out there who is willing to give you a horse, cover any and all show fees and lessons and offer you room and board, if you are in school in any capacity, you still have the problem of being able to afford the time and money to attend post secondary along with ANY other expenses in relation to daily living such as a car, gas, cell phone etc. Working student positions are not a fix all for lack of money, in fact, in a lot of cases, they seem to demand a lot more work than the compensation is even worth. I have a sneaking suspicion many of those suggesting working student positions as a fast track to the top have either never even worked one or did so while not having to worry about any other very pressing expenses.
If you loved riding enough, you would risk it and pursue your dream instead of school, you can’t have both. Another tactic people use to essentially shame less wealthy riders for wanting pursue any level of education after high school on top of a riding career. This is so incredibly damaging to push on people. The horse world is a dog eat dog world and is very hard to make a good living in. Even in the chance that you do manage to go professional and make a good living, there is always the risk of injury, which as a rider, could completely crumple your career and ability to work should you ever get injured. Because of this, I would never discourage someone from pursuing other options to allow them another career in the event that their equestrian one does not pan out. I’m sure you’ll notice that many of the top riders today and many of the up and coming young professionals have either pursued some form of post secondary education or other career or are in the midst of doing so. This isn’t to say all do, but many of them have something else going on on the side or a degree they can put to use should they ever need it. For people with less finances, they are risking their entire future and putting it on the line to become a well known professional. While some do this and succeed, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the same level of risk isn’t demanded of people who have the financial backing to pursue their showing interests. So, shaming those for stressing over finances and being disheartened by the cost of showing really isn’t fair, because at the end of the day, it would be nice for everyone involved if the horse world moved to becoming more inclusive and offering incentives to get less fortunate riders in the ring without demanding that they risk their entire future to do so.
Money doesn’t buy talent, stop making excuses. This is absolutely true that money does not buy talent, however, money DOES buy lessons. Lots of them. It opens doors to allow people to train with more prestigious trainers because they can afford the price tag. It buys upper level packers for riders to learn the ropes on and start moving up on. So while talent is still created by the rider and their drive to learn, money offers an easier means of achieving said talent and far more support in becoming a better rider. Talent is also largely measured from shows and riders’ attendance of them, which once again, requires money to be spent. Someone could be the most phenomenal rider ever and could very well have the talent to kick butt in the show ring, but if they cannot afford the entry fees, said talent will be largely uncovered or at the very least, under appreciated. All of the riders doing well in the respective disciplines have to have talent, no matter how much money they have to navigate the horse world. Pointing out the fact that money helps is not a critique of riders with money, it is merely honestly looking at the influence that finances have on riders. You are still worthy. You are still talented. You deserve everything you have and more, but, it is important to be aware and respectful of the privilege money allows you. This isn’t even specific to riding, in any sense, money can completely change a person’s live. Many people with genius level IQs never get the opportunity to attend post secondary because of , you guessed it, money. The same applies to riders in the horse world. Ultimately, riding improvement is reliant on the rider, but if you have two equally motivated riders, the one with more money is the most likely to succeed. They simply have less obstacles.
The other people need to consider is that opportunities differ from person to person as well as geographically. From what I’ve gathered, showing is a lot more affordable in many European countries than it is in North America, because of this, people showing in Europe may erroneously claim it is easier to get out and show in NA than it may actually. Even within the same country, someone living right near word class show venues and in a competition rich area will automatically have more available opportunities than someone in a more rural and less competition focused area. This means that people in areas with less opportunity would not only be required to uproot their life and move but also likely have to go to even more expensive areas to pursue their dreams, making said dreams even harder to manage. Along with the actual opportunity side of things, networking is very important and most trainers don’t hand out free riding, free showing opportunities at all or at the very least, to any old rider. References matter and generally, people want them from known names. How is one supposed to get references if something like taking lessons and showing is hard for them to do financially? There are only so many references in relation to mucking and cleaning jobs that you can use in your pursuit of riding jobs.
I’m not bringing this up to complain, but to draw awareness to a very real issue that many people like myself are dealing with. Show fees and stabling fees at shows have sky rocketed. Showing isn’t as accessible as it was in the past. Fees continue to climb as do regular feed and boarding fees associated with keeping horses. This means that to a large extent, the show world is catering to those with the money to blow. This isn’t to say that wealthy riders are less deserving, they definitely aren’t. Anyone would use the same resources if they had them. BUT- it would be nice for people to start to acknowledge the profound difference in a rider’s journey and ability to take part in the horse world in relation to finances. It is something that needs to be discussed because it’d be nice to start moving towards incentives that allow for more inclusiveness. Most other sports have them. They offer more in the way of scholarships, breaks on costs for families below a certain income bracket and so on. The horse world is more than a bit behind in this way and instead of acknowledging it and pushing for a change that would allow for even greater competition and more riders, people deny it in fear that the money discussion some how undermines their abilities as a show rider.
The elitism of the sport is seen in how people look at brands, at certain breeds of horses, the clothes other riders wear and so on. More so than any other sport I’ve been in. The focus on what someone has, what they spend and where they show is ridiculous. I’ve seen it go as far as large groups of riders making fun of people for showing at certain venues, calling certain winter circuits that many people would KILL to be at “crap” or making posts about how they’re “bored” at a place like WEF. The lack of appreciation and lack of awareness of the money that goes into making the sport a possibility for some is concerning. Far too many riders seem utterly unaware of how unusual the amount of money spent on horses is. People are genuinely under the impression that it is “normal” or “middleclass” to be able to drop high 5-figures on a HORSE and spend the cost of a full family vacation to send one child to WEF. None of this is normal from a life perspective, even if it seems normalized in the horse world. It is time people learn the value of money and the influence it has, instead of denying it and thus pushing the same unrealistic ideals on people desperate to make something of themselves in the horse world. While it is possible to make it in the horse world with lack of funds, it is nowhere near as simple as many of those coming from a place of privilege make it out to be.
I consider myself to be on the lower end financially on the circuit that I show on. I know this because while I pull into shows in my 2005 Chevy that I bought myself with my $400 horse, many of my friends pull up in newer vehicles under their name, funded by parents with shinier, fancier horses, also funded largely by family. These purchases are not the norm for people my age or younger unless there is an outside financial partner. This isn’t to say that some do earn them themselves, but the bottom line is that the average 20 something-year-old’s income generally is not one that can justify purchasing a 5-figure horse and attending numerous rated shows within the same calendar year. That is the reality of it, unfortunately, the horse world works hard to hide said reality and leaves people like myself feeling like they are some how inadequate for not making the 6 figure income required to have said things. I was luckier than some, my parents were wealthy in my younger years and funded my lessons and showing. This allowed me to get valuable experience, references and more and paved the way for me to continue my riding journey on my own once we ran into money troubles following my father’s stroke. So, while I work hard and have to work full time whilst in school to do what I do, I’m well-aware of the fact that my own journey would be much different if my parents had not had the funds to do what they did when I was younger and unable to work to earn my keep in the horse world. I was enabled to ride as young as I did because of my parents. Not all parents can do this, in fact, most can’t because it requires an above average income to show at the extent I did as a child while remaining in full training. The middle class income is not viewed as the normal within the horse world, the entire state of financial affairs is very skewed and leads people who live very comfortable lives to feel as though they’re “poor” which is utterly ridiculous.
Nowadays, I make the bulk of my money for big purchases off of buying cheap horses and reselling, as I have done since I was 16. It still really isn’t enough to buy a super expensive horse when factoring in the fees I pay for university, car and otherwise, but it does help. YouTube and this blog have added an extra income that feels as though it comes without work, something that will be beneficial to put towards showing once I deal with other more pressing expenses. Gradually buying and selling nicer and nicer saddles also allowed me to upgrade my tack in a more budget friendly manner, but something that took me 5 years to do can happen for other families in a matter of minutes, so that is food for thought. Life is not fair and I will never expect it to be, but at the very least, I would be nice for acknowledgement of the high demand for large incomes within the horse world and how much people without said incomes have to penny pinch and work their butts off to even earn a fraction of the accomplishments. So, while ride around the 2’6” ring on my young horse with confidence issues, my accomplishments are simply getting him around. Some may view this as nothing and honestly, lots have made it their job to remind me of how many other people my age are going into the Grand Prix ring on nicer horses. But, my accomplishments are mine and I likely worked as hard or harder to get to where I am with the materials I have to get there. We need to realize everyone’s journey is relative and that a lot of the major goals people have like riding Grand Prix are very much reliant on being able to afford showing in some way or getting an exceptionally lucky break. You still have to be a great rider, but a great rider with no money is going to have a hard time getting the experience to get to GP level.
Trainers, if you have room in your wallets and hearts to offer opportunities to less fortunate riders that you see promise in, please do it. You will change their life. Show venues, it would be lovely to see some incentives that allow riders from different backgrounds the chance to dip their feet in the show ring. Even if it is just one cheaper show a year or a 10% price reduction for families under a certain income bracket or a discount on stabling and so on. If anything, it would just be nice for an acknowledgement on the exclusivity of the sport and to see more mainstream equine news sites, brands and show venues showcase the few riders who are working hard and make it from less funds. The articles written on hardworking riders who juggle university and riding on their parents dime are interesting but overdone. There is a severe lack of exposure for riders who are struggling to make ends meet, to show in the first place and find their place in the horse world. The radio silence on sharing the stories of these very people only serves to make others in our shoes feel very alone and like there is no way to make it. Let’s normalize the financial discussion in relation to horses, stop denying it and allow for more inclusiveness when discussing people from different financial brackets. It is interesting to read about those at the top but what about all of the people crawling to get there, working their fingers to the bone and doing all sorts of crazy things to fund their horse dreams? Let’s hear about them.