It’s no secret that the number of participants in the horse industry has been dwindling. Recently in Ontario, it was announced that the Cornerstone Dressage shows held at Caledon Equestrian Park are no longer going to be running due to low entries and increasing costs. The Ontario Horse Trials Association had a sad number of entries in all divisions at their championship show this year. Local saddle clubs are disappearing because of the lack of attendees.
There has also been commentary recently (especially with the issues surrounding Equestrian Canada), about costs to enter shows. Horseback riding is an expensive sport, unfortunately, but we need to support our local shows and associations or else they are going to disappear. If you are looking for a cost-friendly discipline to do with your horse, look to distance riding! I have shown at schooling shows for almost every discipline, and nothing gets you a better bang for your buck than distance riding.
- Free entry! Yes you heard that right. This year OCTRA ran a “first ride free” promotion (with some restrictions). http://www.octra.on.ca/docs/OCTRAPROMOTIONS-FirstTimeFreeRide.pdf What other riding association gives its lower level riders a free entry fee?????
- Cheap entry fees in general. Let me break down some numbers for you. Assuming that you don’t qualify for the free entry, here is what a normal distance ride will cost you. Entry fees roughly run between $40-150 depending on what distance you enter. What is included in that fee? Aside from your riding time (could be anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours), you get a minimum of two to three times where a vet checks over your horse, your camping (you provide the horse containment. Sometimes there may be a nominal fee on top of your entry to cover camping but rarely does that happen), usually a meal of some sort (I’ve had everything from potluck, to chili, to chicken parm to stir fry), a certificate of completion, a ribbon or other prize for completing (yes, just for completing you get something! I’ve received t-shirts, camping chairs, beer, candy, stickers), water provided for your horse, and getting to ride on some awesome territory that no one else may have access to!
- Low cost paperwork requirements. To attend any OCTRA ride, the bare minimum that you need to ride is proof of insurance (it doesn’t have to be OEF, as long as you have $1,000,000 coverage), a negative EIA/coggins test, and an OCTRA membership ($45) or pay the day membership of $20.
- You can use the equipment you already have! No need to go out and buy all new clothing or tack. If it fits you and your horse and is in good repair, you can use it! The minimum requirements are a helmet, appropriate footwear, a saddle and some sort of bridle (be it traditional, bitless, or a halter). A stethoscope, stop watch with seconds (or your phone), a sponge and a bucket are all you need to crew your horse at the vet Yes, there is technology and fancy equipment out there but you don’t have to make the investment when you are just starting out. Find out if you and your horse enjoy the sport first.
- You can grow with the sport. The thing I love most about distance riding is that there are many options to be involved depending on your goals. Want to ride for team Canada at the World Equestrian Games? You can do that. Want to spend time with your family? You can do that (either compete with them in ride n tie or have them crew for you!) Want to stay at the lower levels and just enjoy time on your horse? Do that. Want to compete for year-end awards? Do that. Want to use this sport as cross-training for your other disciplines? Do that. Unable to ride but want to learn more and help out? You can do that too (and our volunteers get awards as well!) The possibilities are endless.
There are only a few rides left in the Ontario ride season but now is the perfect time to put this on your radar for next year. Visit the OCTRA website or join the OCTRA Facebook page and find a mentor in your area to answer your questions, and help you plan and prepare for your first ride. You’ll wonder why you didn’t try this sooner!