With the cost of affiliated competition continuing to rise, many grass roots riders say they are opting to go unaffiliated instead. Are societies pricing the amateur out of affiliated competition? H&H investigates...
British Eventing announced earlier this month (15 November) that, next season, riders competing on a day ticket will also have to become a “day pass member” for an additional £10 a year.
That is in addition to buying two £16 day tickets — one for the rider and one for the horse — plus entry and start fees.
Many amateur riders use the day ticket system, which allows a rider to compete up to four times a year without the expense of affiliating, currently £130 for a new rider and £95 per horse.
Although the new membership category comes with some advantages — such as discounted rates for BE’s training courses — for some competitors this additional expense is the final straw.
“The day membership offers a range of benefits that I personally have absolutely no interest in,” said one rider who has previously competed on a day ticket. “It’s unaffiliated or nothing for me now.”
Across the board
It is not just in the eventing world that grass roots riders are feeling the pinch. There is evidence that amateur showjumpers and dressage riders are now looking towards unaffiliated competition to keep costs down.
“I used to affiliate my horse for British Showjumping [BS], but the yearly memberships are far too expensive for the average person who is working and doing a bit of showjumping as a hobby at weekends,” Faye Jackson told H&H.
Some dressage riders also feel that the price is too high.
“With two classes now costing around £40, plus the increasing cost of fuel and BD costs for the horse and rider to become affiliated in the first place, I think it is putting a lot of people off,” said Shona Moss from West Wales.
Spot the difference
Although many riders still feel the price of affiliating is money well spent, problems that were traditionally associated with unaffiliated events — such as dubious course-building, varying judging levels or poor organisation — are fast disappearing.
Many competitors argue that there is now little difference between affiliated and unaffiliated competition, as established competition venues often host both.
“I have a centre a couple of miles away that holds both affiliated and unaffiliated dressage competitions,” Annie Joppe told H&H.
“Both are in the same arena, both have the same judges, but the affiliated entry fee is £6 more — why would I do affiliated?”
In eventing, venues such as Aston-le-Walls, Tweseldown and Mattingley hold both affiliated and unaffiliated horse trials. They are usually run around virtually identical tracks, which have been designed and built to BE standards.
Last year, Aston-le-Walls hosted eight days of unaffiliated competition, all of which were full, with 300 horses running each day.
“I think they are becoming more popular because there are a lot of people who can’t afford to register for BE,” said Aston-le-Walls owner Nigel Taylor.
“The unaffiliated events we put on are exactly the same, with the same standards of course, good ground and the same standard of organisation.”
Despite both unaffiliated and affiliated events being held at the same venues, BE chief executive Mike Etherington-Smith argues that only affiliated events can guarantee a “minimum standard”.
“Competitors riding at BE affiliated events can do so safe in the knowledge that the event is being run to the highest of standards, particularly in relation to medical and veterinary cover,” he said.
Re-engaging the amateur
Despite rising costs, sporting bodies are happy that they are still providing for amateurs and attracting new people into their disciplines.
BE told H&H that they had seen a steady increase in the number of people competing on day tickets last over the last three years.
British Dressage (BD) also announced last week a new format “team quest” competition. The series, which is supported by Olympic gold medallist Charlotte Dujardan, allows competitors to compete at prelim or novice in teams of 4.
But cruciallly, only one of the team’s 4 members has to be registered with BD. The other riders may compete on a free team quest membership.
BD chief executive Amanda Bond said: “While British Dressage is synonymous with affiliated competition, we have a duty to look after the sport of dressage and we’re hoping that new riders will be tempted to try it.”
BS also now has a “club” membership, which costs just £30 for the year per combination. This allows competitors to compete over 70cm, 80cm, 90cm and 1m courses, for no prize-money, at specific club shows.
“We find a lot of people upgrade to a full membership after joining at club level,” said a BS spokesman.
“Once they start competing, they realise that they can step up to BS.”