On Prize Money and Growth of the Sport

Show Jumper Ashlee Bond Clark with the giant check she won in the AIG 1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Thermal. Photo from Ashlee's Facebook Page, via John Anderson. Show Jumper Ashlee Bond Clark with the giant check she won in the AIG 1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Thermal. Photo from Ashlee's Facebook Page, via John Anderson.

There is quite a bit of chatter about Doug Payne’s recent article for Chronicle of the Horse about the idea that increased prize money will help grow our sport in the U.S. Plenty of people have countered, saying that any increase in prize money would ultimately shift us towards the hunter/jumper model, benefit few and result in increased fees passed down to the amateur and lower level crowd. Both sides are right. Pros have a hard time making the money needed to stay in an admittedly expensive business. Amateurs will feel resentful for having to pay for the big league riders to play.

This same scenario has been played out across all horse sports many times over. This comes with the territory when there is a subtle shift from professionals making their living by being a trainer with a barn filled with clients to being a rider who brings home top results for clients.

How do we solve this problem? How do we make the industry more viable for professionals without alienating the bulk of the membership? How do we keep from pricing people out?

As an Amateur, here’s my admittedly half baked idea: Prize money paid out to the lower levels and as a trainer-incentive.

Let’s change it so that when Annie Amateur wins her division, she and her trainer both get a check. As clients do better, trainers bring home bigger checks. Imagine a weekend where everyone in the barn brings home top placings resulting in some serious payouts. This encourages trainers to get more clients to the event AND potentially helps make things more affordable for Amateurs. It also provides a way for professionals to help support themselves.

Eventing has a unique down to earth quality about it. It has a community. Shifting towards the hunter/jumper model by making it more about those at the top would be so very damaging to that vibe.

In the end, I don’t mind paying maybe another five or ten bucks in entries, but I need to get something from it too. I need to feel good about that extra money. I would find it way more satisfying to see the top riders in each Amateur and Junior division and their trainers going home with a check, instead of the same crowd with another comically oversized check. It might even make me work harder at Dressage if I knew I could make some of my entry fees back!

What about you, EN? How do we grow the sport? Is prize money really the solution?

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