Prize Money At Horse Trials? Or Not? [Update: Doug Responds]

Doug Payne and Running Order at Rolex 2012, photo by Heather McGreer Doug Payne and Running Order at Rolex 2012, photo by Heather McGreer

The Chronicle of the Horse published an interesting article yesterday written by Doug Payne: “Eventing Needs New Bones Under A Facelift.”  Doug laid out a proposal for a three-tiered system of events, at C, B, and A levels to help the sport grow and thrive.  The lowest-tier events would be made up of largely unrecognized-esque horse trials, while the A level events would offer more prize money and other incentives.

This concept has been met with vocal opinions, including on the COTH Eventing forum, where commenters are largely criticizing Doug’s ideas.  Some of the opposition rests with the notion that “the rich get richer,” as those who can afford top horses, elite training, and hefty competition schedules are likely those who will end up with prize money; while the average adult amateur or pony clubber on a backyard mount will spend the same entry fee and go home with nothing.

There is also the fear of becoming “hunterized:” increasingly elitist and prohibitively expensive as the hunter/jumper industry has done. Sure, professional riders would love to earn prize money at their sport– it would help finance their business and encourage owners to participate if there was some tangible return on their investment.  However, no one is guaranteed to make a living in eventing, at least not directly from competition success.

The Chronicle published a rebuttal article today, from an adult amateur’s perspective.   Sara Gonzalez-Rothi raises some interesting arguments against Doug’s proposal.  Ultimately, she concludes, that the spirit of eventing is fundamentally different from any other equestrian sport.  The culture of “inclusion, horsemanship, and sportsmanship” is what draws so many participants to eventing, and makes us different from the other disciplines.  The added expense of prize money must be distributed across all competitors, not just the lucky few who win.

While I think it would be cool if division winners could receive some sort of prize– other than a $2.50 ribbon– I know that event organizers’ budgets are already stretched thin.  Any leftover money should probably go towards reducing entry fees, not into a prize money fund.  It would be neat if the sport could grow enough sponsorship to both reduce entry fees *and* allow for prize money, but that’s just not feasible at this point in time.  And there is always the fear that the love of money will become a root of evil in the sport…gunning for prize money could weaken the values of horsemanship and sportsmanship we are founded upon.

Update 11:24pm — Doug reached out to EN with the following thoughts.  They are posted with thanks to Doug for his ever-willingness to address eventing’s tough issues, however we each might stand on any given topic.  From Doug:

“Everyone seems to be focusing on the upper level prize money as my primary motivation for writing this piece. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I open the COTH article explaining that I’ve found it cost prohibitive to compete at the lower levels, in searching for alternatives for our horses I chose to limit my events in favor of jumper shows. This allowed me to gain much needed experience for the horses under my care at a much more reasonable cost due to add back money.

It’s only logical that more riders are choosing to go to other disciplines or unrecognized competitions which offer a welcoming competition for reasonable fees. As a judge, TD, rider and a member of the organizing committee of the Carolina International I have a unique perspective on this topic. I have spoken to multiple organizers who said that running unrecognized events costs them half as much and offers the same profit margins.  If the USEA became more flexible with their fee structure and rules, organizers would have more flexibility to price their events reasonably.  It’s crucial that we drop the barriers to entry at sanctioned events, allowing more participants at the grassroots levels. We have a great sport comprised of a great breath of people. I wrote this looking to allow more to participate at reasonable fees, as well as support our team members and owners to help our country succeed on the international stage!

One quick side note with regards to prize money, Carolina International this weekend is a great example of what we need for ‘A’ class events.  Entries cost about as much as other events and horses finishing in the top placings will be able to pay for their weekend or more. These funds were raised under the great leadership of Jane Murray at the CI not on the back of other competitors!

I want our sport to thrive and it’s not going to happen by pricing competitors, owners, riders or organizers out of the market!”

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