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Horse showing is not the reason that I ride. But it is a whole lot of fun. It is a world all its own, complete with a sometimes indecipherable language, expenses, and requirements. I found the simplest way to figure it out is just to jump right in. For many, like me, having a concrete goal like competition is a way of staying motivated and marking progress. If the idea of showing has been tumbling around your mind, here’s a break down of expenses I encountered preparing for my first dressage show.
Preparing For The Show
For the sake of this example, I’m going to assume that you have a serviceable saddle, bridle and basic equipment already. I’m also not going to include the cost of lessons. Those are basics. I’m also not going to include the basic equipment that I bring to a show as that varies tremendously – but there’s a blog post coming on that list!
Before I looked for a show to register for, I knocked out a few things I knew I needed to pay for – memberships, any tack I needed to update and my show clothing.
When I decided to focus dressage this year, I made the goal of qualifying for USDF GAIG Regionals. It’s a bit of a stretch for my jumper and I considering we weren’t in consistent lessons until the end of January, but a girl’s gotta have goals, right? Because I was aiming for a recognized show, there are some memberships and fees.
I was already a member of USEF and Elf had his USEF lifetime registration so I needed to join my GMO, USDF and to get Elf’s USDF number.
USEF – The United States Equestrian Federation is the national governing body for horse sport in the United States. Among other things, USEF coordinates the horse show schedule. Become a member here
USDF – The United States Dressage Federation is the dressage governing body overseeing all recognized dressage in the US. Your horse will need a lifetime USDF number: a one time registration fee of $95. In addition, you will need to be a member. Now, most shows will offer to let you register without being USDF member by paying a non-member fee but if you plan on doing more than a couple shows during the year, you might as well become a member. If, like me, you’d like to compete in qualifying classes for a chance at regionals, you’ll need to be a participating member. Click for more USDF membership info.
Local Group Membership Organization – Most shows are put on by your local GMO, for me the Central Texas Dressage Society. If you are not planning to qualify for USDF regionals, joining your local GMO will also give you a group membership in the USDF. You will also be sent notifications for shows and have access to education opportunities! If you’re not sure about showing yet, volunteering at shows for your GMO is a fabulous to learn and support your local equestrian community. Find your local GMO here.
- group member – included in your GMO membership
- USDF participating member- $75
- USEF membership – $55
- USDF Horse Registration – $25
- USEF Horse Registration – Annual $75, Lifetime $200
I paid a total of $230 in memberships ahead of my show season.
You would think after 25+ years of showing horses, I would be confident and comfortable with the requirements of what to wear.
You would be wrong.
If I had to identify one, single barrier participation Dressage experiences, I think rider apparel might be it. When we watch Dressage, the riders are the epitome of elegance – executing beautifully ridden feats of equine athleticism in the horse world’s equivalent to tie and tails.
But it when it comes down to outfitting yourself for a foray into recognizing dressage, we run quickly into the unwelcome (and occasionally horrifying) reality of white breeches.
As much as I admire the traditional look of white breeches and black top, it’s not the most forgiving way to spend a horse show – especially for this not-even-close-to svelte adult amateur. To top it off, literally, one try with a stock-tie had me Google-ing super compression sports bras. Let’s just say that for the well endowed, adding even MORE volume to the chest area is not going to improve the judge’s perception of my sitting trot.
But, if rider apparel has you questioning the sanity of attempting your first recognizing dressage show – there is hope. There is a good chance that you have very little that you must buy. For the the lower levels (opportunity and training through fourth level), the apparel guidelines are very simple.
a short riding coat of conservative color, with tie, choker or stock tie, white or light colored breeches, boots and protective head gear
What does this mean for you?
The light tan/khaki breeches, show shirt with stock tie (or wrap that is popular now) and conservative colored show coat that you already have are just fine for dipping your toe in the dressage pool. Now, if you’re like me and you want to blend a little, there a few options available for you. For my first two shows, I picked up (all on sale, I might add):
- Tuffrider Wide Waistband Full Seat Breeches on sale $44
- Black Dressage Show Coat on sale $78
- Tredstep’s Donatello Dress Boot (this was the most expensive purchase I made, but my tall boots had kicked the bucket a few months earlier so I needed them in general). $285 (discount code)
I already had this Ariat wrap collar show shirt (I opted to not have the stock tie for my first show and the TD waived jackets/stock ties at the second) and my IRH helmet. In preparing for my first show, I spent $407 on show clothes – although I wear the tall boots outside of shows too
If there is one thing you probably don’t have to worry about, it is your horses tack. If you are showing at the lower levels (which I’m assuming if you’re trying out your first show), the clean and serviceable tack you own will be just fine. Just check the rule book to make sure your bit is dressage legal. The only show-specific tack purchase I made was my saddle pad!
Curious what I show in?
- M. Toulouse Aachen Dressage Saddle
- Premiera Imperia Snaffle Bridle
- Mattes Correction Half Pad with shims
- Roma Ecole Flower Diamond Dressage Pad in White/Gold/Champagne
- Lettia Memory Foam Dressage Girth
At The Show
With my trainer’s help, I chose my first recognized dressage show to be a close by, smaller show held at a boarding/training facility that my trainer was very familiar with. While we knew the warm up situation would be tough for Elf, the laid back atmosphere offered the flexibility and relaxed environment that I was looking for.
At recognized shows, each horse is allowed to compete in up to 3 classes. We opted for two, hoping that would give him a break in between, with one of them being the Regionals qualifying class. Show fees also included the office fee, USEF drug fee and stabling fee. Many dressage shows are held as two one day shows that run on consecutive days. While this makes more points available, it also means that you’ll pay office/show fees twice – once for each of the two shows.
- 4 tests (2 each day) $160 – $40 each
- GAIG USDF Regional qualifying fee (applicable only if you are interested in qualifying) $40 – $10 per qualifying class
- SWDC Regional Qualifying fee (applicable only for my GMO’s Regionals) $32 – $8 per qualifying class
- Show Office Fee $64 – $32 each day (each day is a one day show)
- USEF + Drug Fee $16
- Weekend Stall Friday – Sunday including shavings $120
The total for registering for my first recognized dressage show was $445.82
From The Vet
If you don’t already have a current coggins test, you will need one. In some places or if you will be crossing state lines, you might also need a health certificate. Check with your trainer or the show office to be sure.
I have my own truck and trailer, so the cost of transporting my horse to and from the show was half a tank of gas for me. If you don’t haul on your own, you’ll want to ask your trainer or barn owner for their shipping rates and availability before you sign up for the show. Other options may include barn friends who are also attending the show or a local commercial hauler. A word of caution – where ever possible, go for the most reliable option (not the cheapest) when it comes to shipping your horse to and from the show. Anything going wrong with your shipping will add tremendously to the stress level. It’s not worth cutting corners.
At a USDF recognized show, the expectation is that your horse’s mane will be braided. You can DIY this one or pay a professional braider between $40 and $75 depending on demand and local going rates. If you plan to DIY, budget for enough supplies to allow multiple practice runs – it’s harder than it looks to produce show quality braids! I go back and forth, depending on how stressed I am. I braided for our first show.
Depending on the distance of the show from your home, don’t forget to factor in a hotel stay if needed!
The Total Cost
Because I’d planned over a few months for my first dressage show, I was able to add what I needed (like updating my show clothes and tack) a bit at a time instead of all at once. Most of what I purchased I needed any for my daily riding for it wasn’t really an extra expense. Also, keep in mind when looking at this total that it includes things like USEF memberships which you can easily take care of months before your first show! Many of the tack and apparel items that may appear required at first look, like a stock tie, aren’t actually necessary. One of the really fantastic aspect of dressage is it’s accessibility! At the lower levels, especially schooling shows, it is very much a come-as-you-are discipline.
With it’s predictable ride times, heading over to the dressage ring made for a fun option to get back into the show ring for this busy adult amateur!