Brian Walker: Don’t fix what isn’t broken *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The panic about the proposed harmonising of entry fees for international shows seems to have spread across Europe like wildfire. Knowing the North American system well, I personally feel it will kill most smaller shows on the Continent. When you look at the FEI calendar, there are more shows then ever in Europe from two-star to five-star, so it is clear that shows are not suffering as they are run currently. Why change what’s working?

    The American system is very different. For starters, there aren’t the same number of FEI shows and the cost of running events is far higher. For instance, there are no volunteers like there are in Europe for jump crew etc. Paying staff, for any organisation, is one of the biggest expenses.

    However, even though it costs more, any rider can enter any show, at any time, including the grand prix. In Europe that is not necessarily the case.

    In America, often you are jumping for greater prize money. A two-star normally has two ranking classes: one for $35,000 (£27,000) and the grand prix, normally for around $80,000 (£62,000).

    A three-star show has three ranking classes: two classes for $35,000 and the grand prix at $130,000 (£101,000).

    That is far more than any two- or three-star show I have been to in Europe. Most shows at this level here just meet the minimum requirements for hosting — two or three ranking classes at €24,500 (£20,800).

    Sponsors in the States are few and far between — most of the time organisers are left to front the money themselves, or at least part of it, which is why they charge higher entry fees. There is the opportunity to win more money but at the price of not being able to train your horses at big shows because the costs are too high. It is like comparing apples to oranges.

    Catering only for the elite

    The European system does not need to change, because it works. It currently allows people from every demographic a chance to compete. The US system only caters to the elite. Lower costs at FEI shows allow riders, owners, and breeders a chance to develop young horses on a big stage and not only at smaller national shows. Making these classes more expensive would make it impossible to develop young horses at international level because the numbers would simply not work. That is why there are not many young horses developed in the States.

    Horses are now very expensive and the only chance a rider has of getting a competitive horse for the top level without a sponsor is to develop a young horse themselves. Higher fees will make many international shows in Europe struggle, and will make national shows more popular. Fewer people chasing ranking points leads to fewer FEI exhibitors, which in turn means fewer shows because organisers will not have enough income to host events with a lack of participants.

    Comparing US show fees and trying to mix their system into the European system is like trying to combine Formula One and NASCAR (very popular American motor racing). Both systems work, but the demands and needs of the showjumping business on each continent are very different.

    As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 4 May 2017