10 Ways to Reduce Horse Show Costs

A penny saved is a penny that can go toward horse show entries.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

For amateur exhibitors, every penny saved could go toward another entry fee. Journal columnist Pamela Britton-Baer has some suggestions on cutting costs at horse shows. (Becky Newell photo)


A penny saved is a penny earned … or one that could be used for horse show entries.

With the 2017 show season just beginning, I thought readers could use some common-sense tips – or should we say cents – when it comes to saving money at horse shows. I talked to leading exhibitors about how they keep costs down. Here’s what they had to say:

Sharing is Caring: I heard from a lot of exhibitors that their No. 1 way to cut costs is to share a ride or a tack stall or hotel room.

“Download apps, such as Gas Buddy, to locate the cheapest gas stations on your travel route,” says amateur exhibitor Deb Shatley of Lincoln, California.

She’s not the only one who shares the love. World champion exhibitor Kirsten Farris of Phoenix offers this tip: “Rent a house (www.VRBO.com) and share with others – it’s much cheaper than a hotel.”

Retail Shmeetail: The price of horse shampoo, detangle, braiding supplies, sprays – it all adds up. But take heart. A lot of non-horsey products can be used at the shows

Jeff Peery, owner of Frontier Feed and Saddlery in Anderson, California, says, “Buy women's shampoo for silver hair.

It’s the same stuff as the expensive whitening shampoo, he says, at half the cost.

He’s not the only one who suggests shopping at regular retail stores.

“The dollar store is your best friend for low-cost supplies like scissors, tape, extension cords, snacks, hair brushes for tails,” Deb adds.

Thrifty is Nifty: “My English jacket is really just a woman’s suit jacket from Wal-Mart,” says Level 1 exhibitor Bonnie Hansen of Corning, California. “Sewed on an extra button and – voila – English show jacket.”

Don’t forget about thrift stores. Some New Year’s Eve party jackets are perfect for showmanship. And if bling isn’t your thing, a plain, black suit works, too. You can pick up stuff inexpensively at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army.

Swapping is Swell: These days, many online sites that will help you trade tack or show clothes. Facebook has a large number of groups geared specifically toward swapping.

What might be old and dated on the East Coast would be new and exciting in the West – or vice versa. Check out these great Facebook sites: English Tack Trader, Western Show Clothing New & Used, and Horse Show Tack & Show Clothes.

Sew Easy: If you have a modicum of talent with a needle and thread, don’t be afraid to make your own show clothes.

Patterns are available online. So are rhinestones and decorations. And don’t forget your local specialty sewing stores, like quilting shops that might have just the touches that you need to make your clothes uniquely yours.

 There are even de-stashing groups on Facebook where you can pick up items like lambskin and metal studs for a song.

“You don’t need a $4,000 jacket to win,” says Teresa Porter, a multiple Palomino Horse Breeders of America world champion from Calhoun, Louisiana. “Keep it simple, clean and classy. Pick the colors to make you and your horse look best together. Learn to ride your horse and work on becoming a good team instead of layering on the bling.”

Go Big or Go Home: Buy in bulk. Costco isn’t the only place you can buy large lots of items.

Most online equine shopping sites offer big discounts for large orders. Those 10 percent discounts can really add up.

“I try to buy case-lots of black spray, for example, because I use a lot and it’s cheaper that way,” Deb says. “Never buy grooming products at the show because of the steep markup.”

Equestrian Entrepreneur: More than one exhibitor whom I talked to suggested creating your own business to help support your habit – the horsey habit that is.        

From braiding and banding to writing and riding (exercise riding, that is), there’s money to be made if you’re the creative type.

“I make bracelets,” Kirsten says. “You can find customers at the show, so in essence, you are earning more than your show bill.”

Irene Davis, a long-time scribe for AQHA shows, suggests speaking to show management or your trainer.

“If you have more time than money,” Irene says, “offer to help set up or tear down at shows. Ugh. No one enjoys that. But what a great trade!”

Don’t Hurry or Scurry: Be patient when trying to find the perfect outfit or saddle. Sometimes the best deal takes time to locate.

Try to plan ahead to avoid panic shopping. Look for sales or closeouts. Sometimes, buying at the end of a show season is a good way to stock up for the next year.

“Invest in high-quality items that are classic, but upgrade your performance and look, as well as lasting long,” says world champion exhibitor Sarah Chabot of Maryville, Tennessee.

Just Bring It: Let’s be honest. It’s a pain to haul stuff to a horse show, but worth it in the end.

“Bring your own shavings, bring your own hay,” says long-time competitor Denise Svornic of Newcastle, California.

Horse show food is expensive, too. Organize potlucks with your barn mates. Or split meal duties by creating a menu and assigning a cooking schedule. As Kirsten points out, “It’s so much healthier (and cheaper) than eating out every night."

Fancy Plans: Don’t wait until the last minute to enter horse shows.

Look at entry numbers online. Go to shows that will give you the most bang for your buck.

“Plan your show season where you can maximize your goals and show less,” Sarah advises.

Sometimes the bigger circuits are a better value than a bunch of smaller shows. Sometimes the smaller shows will suit your needs better. Do the research to make sure you know what will work best for you.

With a little preparation and some planning, showing doesn’t have to break the bank. Sometimes a little effort can net you big savings in the end.

Pamela Britton-Baer is the author of the Journal’s monthly Up and Over column. She also aspires to qualify for the Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show.