Save Showing Bucks

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Many of us are now looking at our 2009 budget and wondering how we can fit in showing and training expenses along with the economic issues we face. The answer could be right in our backyard.

Local riding clubs can seem like a big step down when you're accustomed to showing on a recognized circuit, but they're a bargain compared to all the fees and expenses associated with ?away games? instead of staying close to home. Many clubs also offer training opportunities and clinics at greatly reduced rates. And they

likely have an awards program that's an end unto itself.

?Local? means anything from regional to statewide to countywide to township, just so you don't need an overnight stay to take advantage of its shows, clinics and social gatherings. Local also means show management is volunteer rather than paid, so expenses are reduced.

There are local counterparts in nearly every equestrian discipline. Of course, local is also relative, especially in our country with all its geographical challenges. Local riding groups will range from hyperactive in one area to moribund and virtually non-existent in another. But that's the nature of volunteer organizations ? they're only as good as the particular enthusiasms of the people who run them.

So, in addition to joining a local club, you may need to also invest sweat equity. Volunteer riding clubs need help, and your own special skills will be of use. For example, there may be lots of nearby shows run by private farms and different clubs but no way to learn of them. If you have computer skills or you're good with a phone, you can beef up your club?s calendar by gathering this information.

Local clubs, even for varied disciplines, can support the interests of all horsemen in their area. Hunt clubs and trail riding associations work to keep riding trails open. Statewide horse councils keep tabs on local groups and specific political issues that they face. You can find a local club that suits your interests by asking friends, checking at the tack shops or an online search.

While some riding clubs function alone, most have some sort of affiliation with a national organization and are bolstered by its resources. The U. S. Dressage Federation, for example, has over 170 ?Group Member Organizations,? ranging in size from under 25 members to several thousand. The U.S. Eventing Association has 30 affiliates. Some of these clubs find it worthwhile to cross-pollinate as a ?dressage and combined training association.?

?Local? also means that the judging and classes offered at schooling shows won?t be as sophisticated as you'll find on the recognized circuit. But if your goal is schooling and mileage, your money is much better spent at a schooling show an hour away than at a recognized show on the road. that's where you can confirm that both you and your horse are performing at a level high enough to be competitive in a bigger arena before actually writing that bigger check.

-Margaret Freeman