Why I support the rise in eventing entry fees: H&H eventing editor’s unfashionable view

OPINION

The announcement last week that British Eventing (BE) is raising entry fees by 2.25% for 2019 caused plenty of social media outrage.

People said this was appalling. That they could no longer afford to go affiliated eventing and were going unaffiliated instead. That BE and/or organisers do not understand how expensive the sport is for competitors.

Frankly, I find all this a little perplexing, which is why I’ve decided to throw caution to the winds, risk receiving some social media hate, and write this.

Let’s start with something we all already know. Horses are an expensive hobby or lifestyle choice. And within that, eventing is extremely expensive.

The entry fees for an eventing season at grassroots level, say 10 events, currently total in the region of £700-800. Then there’s registering yourself and the horse, lessons and diesel to drive to events and training. And then of course there are all those costs involved in just keeping a horse — livery, feed, bedding, insurance, shoeing, vets’ fees, maintaining and insuring a lorry or trailer and towing vehicle.

Most people prefer not to do those sums properly, but I can’t see any way that keeping a horse and competing it for a full season eventing is ever going to cost less than £4,000 a year, even if you are lucky enough to keep your horse at home rather than in livery. For most people, it will cost more.

Within the context of that, is 2.25% on entry fees really going to affect whether you can afford to do the sport?

At BE90 — my level — we’re talking in the region of £1.75 per event. Across 10 entries, that’s £17.50.

I know people scrimp and save in every possible way to afford horses. But I struggle to believe that anyone who can afford to event a horse at all is going to be blown out of the market by an increase of £17.50 a year.

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The other part of the widespread outrage is perceived greed or lack of understanding of competitors’ finances from BE and/or organisers. I’m afraid I don’t think that’s fair either.

Entry fees go to organisers, who pay an affiliation fee to BE. This fee differs according to the class and ranges from less than 1% up to 9.8%, before VAT and abandonment insurance. The affiliation fee covers the likes of officials, fence judge slips and dressage test sheets, public liability insurance. It is calculated based on the number of competitors and is sometimes waived for events in peripheral areas with low entries.

Without going into huge detail, running events is expensive. Suffice to say that plenty of organisers do this for love, at a loss. And I saw one course-builder comment on Facebook that the timber used for fences has gone up 15-16% in cost… while entries are going up 2.25%. That makes you think.

Running a business is expensive. BE is a members’ organisation, but it is also a business — it has to balance the books, pay staff, build up reserves for emergencies and projects, and ultimately bring in enough money to fund all kinds of essentials for the central administration of our sport.

Everything increases in cost in other areas of life, from food to petrol to trains to our household bills. We all whinge a bit, but we know it’s a fact. Why, then, shouldn’t eventing be the same?

The thing is, no one has a god-given right to event. Yes, we want our sport to be accessible, but it will always be pricey.

There are other expensive hobbies and holidays out there. Book to go skiing and you’ll feel a hole in your pocket equivalent to a season’s worth of entries. Somehow, no one thinks they have a right to a ski holiday. We all accept Mark Warner and Inghams are businesses. But BE? Not so much.

Riding a horse at speed over solid fences is a huge thrill and a privilege. If the increased cost of providing my sport in a way which is as safe and consistent as possible, within an organised and recognised competition structure, is £17.50 a year, I’m ok with that.

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