Jo Young, who owns Wits End Farm in Mansfield, ON, with Bill McKeen, reveals the results of an Ontario Horse Trials Association member survey – researched and conducted by Katie Holman and presented to EC and the OHTA in November – and examines the state of eventing in the province, including the perception that entry fees are a cash grab by organizers.
Katie Holman: Last year was a very difficult one for eventing in Ontario. Most events that were scheduled as two-day events all dropped down to one-day, with the exception of one horse trial in May. Overall entries dropped by almost 500 in 2016, to 3,201 from 3,712 in 2015. At the Board of Directors meeting in February it was noted that as of January 31, 2017, there were 399 members as follows: 302 senior, 97 junior and 0 associate. This is a decrease of 111 members over the same period in the prior year.
A decline that significant could not be ignored and it was time we tried to determine why. We conducted a membership survey asking for feedback regarding the state of the sport:
- 44% of the membership responded
- 59% held a senior competitive license
- 77% were adult amateurs
- 64% were actively competing in 2016
- 72% attended sanctioned horse trials
The most important question on the survey was the last one: What are your comments regarding the state of eventing in Ontario? Recurring comments are revealed below.
There was consistent feedback about how much entry fees have increased in the past few years. It might be interesting to note the comparison of entry fees from 10 years ago:
- 2006 Entry level = $120; Intermediate = $180
- 2016 Entry level = $190; Intermediate = $280
Particularly for the lower levels, that is not a huge increase for a decade, especially when you consider the biggest increase came a few years ago to incorporate the HST, which works out to approx. $25-$35/entry.
What is included in entry fees? Here is an example:
Training level fee (average) = $230 which includes:
- $12 Canadian Eventing levy
- $5 OHTA levy
- $30 HST (average)
- $7 Drug Fee
- $12 Ambulance Fee
That leaves $164 to run three phases ($55/phase). Organizers then have to pay for officials, course builders, materials, port-a-potties, etc. (see An Organizer’s Costs)
An ongoing struggle for competitors and parents alike is the multiple memberships. In Ontario, you are required to hold four memberships – Equestrian Canada, Canadian Eventing, PHTA/OHTA, and OEF. The OHTA is only able to speak to our fees, but as far as our PHTA/OHTA membership fees are concerned, we are right down the middle of Canada (Jr $25; Sr $53). From most to least expensive are BC, AB, MB, ON, QC, NS, NB, PEI.
For an adult amateur (the majority of our membership) full memberships will run $172.95 for 2017. For parents with a child wanting to compete at pre-entry, they still need to spend $128.50 in full memberships. Luckily, if you are new to the sport, or for those only on planning to attend one or two events, you can purchase a $15 Day Membership.
There was consistent feedback throughout the survey and verbally throughout the year regarding the scheduling of the calendar for 2016. There were great concerns about the Intermediate events not being spread out, event venues that are close geographically running on back-to-back weekends, a void in the schedule for August, and even complaints about one-day events running on Saturday rather than on Sunday. All of your voices were heard and taken directly to the organizers. Hopefully, the 2017 calendar is more to everyone’s liking.
While safety is paramount in everyone’s minds, sometimes while trying to mitigate the risk you spoil the sport. The governing bodies seem to be struggling to find a balance between safety and the enjoyment of our sport, leading to complaints about (in particular) the lower levels being too regulated [medical clearance, permission to continue, waiver of understanding, etc.].
As already noted, entry fees and memberships are expensive and when little Chrissy pops off her pony and lands on her feet in the show jumping ring on her way to fence 2, her day is done. Even if the ground jury and organizers allow her to continue hors concours for schooling purposes, it is just not quite the same as being part of the show.
An Organizer’s Costs
Jo Young gives an inside view on the labour and expenses involved in hosting an event:
Facilities & Maintenance
First, you have to have a facility with at least three dressage rings, a show jumping ring, and cross-country courses. You must purchase dressage arenas, letters, a set of show jumps and fake flowers and brush to decorate. You will need tractors, mowers, rollers, ring conditioners, and harrows. The initial minimum outlay for this is about $280,000 not including the value of your farm.
The cross-country course designer and the course builders’ fees will depend on how much work needs to be done and how long it will take (FEI designer $2,000-$3,000; national somewhat less). A good designer can design a track on a site that is familiar to him in a day or two. He will return to see that the builder has followed his instructions and should be there on the days of competition to see the courses ridden. The builder will spend a minimum of a week (at roughly $350/day) working on the course including a day on brushing and half a day on footing. He may take up to two weeks if there are a lot of new builds involved.
Jumps have a lifespan of five years if you are lucky. Each jump costs between $300-$800 with banks, steps, and sunken roads costing a lot more. Your water jump will cost around $20,000.
Nobody wants to ride round the same course every year, so the courses must continually change. Lumber and brush need maintenance and replacement; you have to purchase sand and gravel to repair footing. If the summer is dry and your footing gets hard, you may have to aerate. Here at Wits End, we re-stain all our jumps every year to keep them looking fresh and to help prevent rotting. A single gallon of stain costs around $35 and only does a couple of jumps.
The new safety regulations require breakaway cups for show jumping, frangible pins and Mimm Clips on cross-country, as well as safety flags for skinnies (approximately $600/year.)
Dressage rings cost around $3,000 to build. Putting them up and taking them down causes wear and tear and the need to replace some panels and letters. Show jump courses cost many thousands of dollars, as they deteriorate and get broken during warm-up and competition, requiring continuous replacement, plus need repainting every couple of years. ($500)
Organizers have to either pay somebody to flag and number cross-country courses and set up dressage rings, or do it themselves. I am self-employed and have to take at least a week off work before each event to get all these tasks done.
Mowing and weed-whacking is time-consuming and uses huge amounts of gas. Dressage rings require footing maintenance and upgrades. Wear and tear on the tractors and mowers requires repairs and replacement costs. This costs around $1,500 per year.
Officials do not come cheap – for good reason. The cost of attending mandatory educational seminars, with airfare, hotel, and car rental costs, plus accreditation fees, means that our officials are not getting rich.
Most judges charge between $300- $400 per day for a two-day show that would average out at $2,100. Technical Delegates do a pre-inspection of the course, plus attend the day before and the two days of competition. This will cost you between $1,050-$1,250.
The secretary normally charges per entry; their fees average out at around $5-$7/entry. The scorers normally work in pairs, with their costs being around $600 for two days. The announcer/controller will set you back between $400-$500 per weekend.
A recognized show jumping designer will charge between $250-$400 per day, say $600 for the weekend. You may want to rent electronic timers as well ($150-$250).
Additional officials include safety officers, volunteer coordinators, and timers. If you are lucky they will volunteer, but some require a stipend.
You now have your small army of officials to the tune of around $10,000.
Having an ambulance on-site with trauma-trained personnel is very expensive ($1,000+). They must be on the grounds whenever anybody is jumping, but we find that we have as many accidents in the parking lot as on course, so you need them there for the entire time.
It is strongly recommended that a veterinarian be on grounds (not just on call). It is very hard to find one willing to come and the kind souls who donate their time are few and far between. You can easily pay $400 just to have them on the grounds for cross-country.
Food, Housing and Amenities
Every army marches on its stomach and this one is no exception. You must feed, and if necessary, house your officials, plus pay mileage for an additional cost of $700 (two officials at B&B at $100/night per person, plus lunches and dinners, plus lunches for all the other officials.)
Next comes the hard-working volunteers: jump judges, score runners, scribes, ring crew, stewards, parking attendants, and tack check officials. All these people need feeding and looking after if you want them to come again. Your catering bill will run you around $8/head and should include coffee and donuts when they arrive, sandwiches or burgers, fruit, snacks, drinks, and something at the end of the day. You may wish to throw a party for them or take them to dinner as a thank-you. Let’s say 37 volunteers per day will cost $296 and an extra $2,000 more if you want to take them all out after the event.
Cross-country maps have to be drawn and photocopied along with dressage tests, score sheets, and start lists ($1,000).
Toilets rental fees run around $165 per toilet. If you want them serviced on the Saturday night (recommended) you pay an extra $15 to the tune of $1,440.
You may need to rent a tent for mustering your officials for around $1,500.
Your competitors want nice ribbons. If you run six divisions you will be ordering 18 sets of ribbons. Ribbons for our event normally cost around $450. Organizers also try very hard to get good prizes. Sometimes they are lucky and find a sponsor, but often it comes out of their pocket, so we can say at least $1,000 for ribbons and prizes.
At our event we rent the parking area and barn from our neighbours at $3,000 for the weekend. Because of the distance between properties we rent eight-man golf carts to run a shuttle for riders and spectators ($1,500).
Now you have to start taking down the flags, numbers and decorations, putting away the dressage rings and show jumps.
We are lucky to have grants from the OHTA. They pick up the mileage costs for the TD. They help with designer costs for show jumping and cross country. The Competition Improvement Program gives us help with major outlays. If it weren’t for this, many of us would not be running events.
Are we getting rich and gouging the competitors? I don’t think so.
“Nobody wants to ride round the same course every year, so the courses must continually change.”
“An ambulance with trauma-trained personnel must be on the grounds whenever anybody is jumping, but we find that we have as many accidents in the parking lot as on course, so you need them there for the entire time.”