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Early horse shows suffer from low numbers

Bad weather explains only part of the story of showing’s flagging entries. A long financial crisis — coupled with expensive entries and poor prize-money — plus a surfeit of qualifiers, means people are picking their shows very carefully.

Working hunter supremo Louise Bell says all the shows she has been to this season have had “disappointingly small classes”.

“We’re probably a month behind,” she said. “People with other commitments haven’t the time to prepare or the money to start showing yet.”

British Show Horse Association (BSHA) chairman Nigel Hollings, said: “The weather is definitely affecting numbers right now.

“If people have had a lot of snow or cold, their horses won’t have been ready before the end of April. But it’s not been all bad everywhere — some shows have been
well attended,” he added.

But Sue Kenny, south vice chairman of the BSHA, denied the weather was the culprit. Entries, she says, have been dwindling for some time.

“Down south, the winter has been no worse than last year,” said Sue, who has set up a new series with the Side Saddle Association to boost flagging entries. “Low classes were already a problem. We’ve been looking at how things have been going awry for a while.”

Last week Royal Windsor enjoyed record entries, although H&H showing editor Nicola Jane Swinney reported a few classes had “disappointing numbers”.

Finances are tight

Bad weather has prompted many to save money, with exhibitors picking their shows carefully. North of England Show organiser and H&H columnist Stuart Hollings has noticed “big yards sending their entries by their closing date instead of paying extra to enter on the day”.

Fellow H&H columnist Katie Jerram said at most shows she has attended this year, the maximum in a class was four.

“Shows have to dangle more of a carrot,” she said. “At one show, it cost £25 to enter, and the prize-money was £15. I spent £100 on diesel — that’s not viable.”

Working hunter specialist Louise Bell agrees. “Entry fees are humungous, so we’re all being very careful,” she said. “I go to fewer shows than I’d like to, and make them count.”

When money is tight, competitors are unlikely to travel if they’ve already qualified. Stuart believes that the abundance of qualifiers mean that “people risk waiting until mid-May” to compete.

Too many pros?
Similarly, if exhibitors think they have no chance of qualifying due to judging preferences, they won’t waste their money.

“I’ve heard lots of people say that the professional yards covering all the classes are killing the sport because no one else has a chance,” said Sue Kenny. “Perhaps the low entries are in the same area as these big yards?”

Aside from the Retraining of Racehorses and coloured classes, which are thriving  the decline in entries seems to be random, affecting a variety of shows.

Nigel Hollings believes the warmer weather has already invigorated enthusiasm. But it remains to be seen whether the sunshine will override these other issues.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (16 May 2013)

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