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Prize money: why do we have it?

When my daughter first started to ride ponies competitively I was quite surprised to discover she was competing for prize money. And I must admit, the days she won more money than it cost to compete made me smile.

Very few other amateur sports offer prize money, some go so far as to prohibit it, so is it reasonable to think our sport could/should also work without prize money (particularly at lower levels)?

Given most other sports do without, is prize money anything more than just another cost for less experienced or capable riders (who are effectively being forced to subsidise more experienced/better mounted riders)?

And of course, a significant proportion of horses entered in various classes are not actually competing to win, but have been entered to school and give the horse more experience at a particular height. So the proportion of entry fees that goes towards prize money for those horses is nothing less than a donation. Perhaps competitors should be able to opt out of paying and winning prize money under such circumstances?

At a time we are trying to grow our sport, are seemingly unnecessary costs like funding prize money for other people's benefit just making it harder to attract, and then retain, new entrants?

What do other people think?










John Varcoe has not set their biography yet


  • Daf Davies Tuesday, 11 February 2014

    Heaven forbid. This defies belief!! What next? Will winners and placings be abolished also so that little Jonny doesn't feel bad about getting beaten or will we give him a ribbon for trying?
    Have you ever run a show and found out how the finances work to pay the prize money for the series classes etc, I think not. Yes the unsuccessful rider is in theory paying the successful rider, but this is the real world so like it or ship out.
    It is my opinion that it is an ill conceived myth that we need all these new members as alot of shows are in stretched to the limit to get through their program in daylight and facilities are full. The "new members" are going to want more lower heights etc. Maybe they can bring their torch and do it in the dark.
    Back to prize money: The expense of training, feeding and getting horses to shows and the ground and yard fees are considerable and dare I say it entry fees as well. If I did not win the 1,2,3,4 or so thousand over a season I would not be able to afford to go. If I have a really good weekend I shout myself a feed of KFC on the way home. Under your system I will go hungry!
    As you probably have by now gathered I think your suggestion is a load of hogwash.
    Daf Davies

  • John Varcoe Tuesday, 11 February 2014

    Good to read your comments Daf... just two questions:

    1. How come most other sports don't need prize money; and

    2. How much KFC do you think those who aren't winning prize money (ie most people) get to eat on THEIR way home?

    : )

  • Claire Wilson Thursday, 13 February 2014

    I am sorry to say, this suggestion is a crazy one!

    The prizemoney on offer in NZ is comparatively small (compared to what can be won in other countries), but it is still a huge motivator. Prizemoney also contributes some income to our expensive hobby; yes- we have horses in training that aren't competitive... but with the correct management- these horses progress up the grades to be the winners in the higher level. So while it might look like a lot of riders aren't being competitive in the lower grades, they are infact training their horses to be better... and subsequently more competitive in the future!!

    When we are entering shows, especially out of our area- one of the main draw-cards is the prizemoney on offer. Last weekend we went to the Nationals in Christchurch, instead of a more local option... why? ... because there was generous prizemoney on offer. The same can be said for choosing between Gisborne and Hawkes Bay shows in the spring- Gisborne was further away but we won over 3k in prizemoney.... so it was well worth the extra drive. Shows that aren't near main centres need to make their program attract riders to drive the extra distance.

    I am assuming that you have Woodhill on your doorstep, so you Aucklanders don't have as much of a concern about travel and facilities, as the rest of NZ. You can jump every weekend of the year, and not have to travel very far. The rest of us are taken all over the place, we have choices to make- and the shows that offer the best facilities and prizemoney are the shows that attract the most riders.

    And on these trips, sure- we may have a few competitive horses, but we also have lots of young non-competitive younger horses too. They get dragged to the show to fill the truck up, and these horses are supporting the shows even though they have no chance of winning. So, the prizemoney on offer is tempting us to support the show with our 2 competitive horses... but the show is also getting another 7 (less competitive) horses entries also!

    If shows outside of our area don't have decent facilities or prizemoney on offer, we don't even consider them!

    My children (and I am sure others are the same) are hugely interested in the prizemoney on offer. It is the single most important motivator when they are choosing what classes to enter. If given the choice between a training class that offers only ribbons to win, and another class with $5 prizemoney... they will ALWAYS choose the chance to win money.

    At Wairoa recently, my 10 year old son had to choose between a 70cm training sj class with ribbons only (which is a very suitable class for his pony and a much more manly option for a rough and ready boy) or a 70cm showhunter class that had prizemoney (even though his pony is useless at showhunter and he was in against lots of super smart kids)... what did he choose- the chance to win money!! If you plan to do away with prizemoney, I can promise you one thing- you will loose this member!

    I know you draw a comparison between showjumping and other sports that offer no prizemoney.... but how about comparing showjumping in NZ and showjumping elsewhere in the world. You are suggesting we do away with prizemoney, well- I suggest we need to pump it up.

    Im not sure if many readers would recall (many being new to the sport) but 15 years ago, we had shows like Kawerau and Cooks Gardens in Wanganui... that offered huge prizemoney and were very well supported. Why else would riders choose to travel to these (no offence intended) out-of-the-way venues? For the prizemoney!!

    In America, 1.10m horses can jump for $10,000. Well, here- our World Cup horses hardly can jump for this. Why do you suspect top riders are choosing to sell their horses, rather then hold on to them? What they can earn in their career is peanuts... so they might as well sell up.

    If you are wanting to keep riders in the sport or encourage new members... then please think seriously about what you are considering. This (like some of the other suggestions I have heard lately) is going to make the sport of showjumping into a glorified Pony Club. Again, no offence intended! But really, we are competitive people.... if winning wasn't important- we always have the option of trekking, hunting and riding clubs. But winning is important.... and the bigger the prize- the bigger the excitement!! If you take this away... I say without doubt- our sport will fizzle up and die!

    I understand that you might have a different perspective on this topic, but then again- you aren't a typical showjump rider, are you? So maybe you don't appreciate that moment when the judge hands you some prizemoney after you have been successful. It is a good feeling! It is a feeling that hungers you to do more, get better, try again and look forward to the next show.

    Im a very competitive person and passionate about showjumping... maybe other showjumpers dont think this way? I will be interested to hear what others think...?

  • Edward Bullock Thursday, 13 February 2014

    I think there is a lot of merit in this. There should be a certain minimum height for prize money, such as 1.20m (this height can be debated). I feel there is too much emphasis these days is on jumping fast and winning classes rather than developing horses and riders to be able to jump higher levels. The result is a huge bulk of horses jumping 1.15m and lower and proportionately very few jumping above 1.30m.

    I think this makes a lot of sense, but it does need more debate to work out where to cut off the PM levels.

  • Money Talks Thursday, 13 February 2014

    I think it is an interesting and unexpected question I'd not thought about before, so thanks for that. You are talking about low level competition, so presumably this wouldn't prevent big prize money being offered at higher levels.

    When ESNZ recently surveyed members, I think the single biggest barrier to participation was cost.

    Claire says, "Prizemoney also contributes some income to our expensive hobby", actually I would think the maths suggests otherwise for most of us.

    Most riders in a class don't win prize money, so on average most riders will always pay out more to fund prize money than they will ever win back. So agree or not with the question John raises, for most of us, who are still very competitive by nature but get our enjoyment out of the pleasure of riding and competing, prize money is almost certainly adding cost to an already expensive sport.

  • Amateur Thursday, 13 February 2014

    Have to agree with you, it's very expensive on the majority.

  • claire wilson Thursday, 13 February 2014

    To clarify my comment; "Prizemoney also contributes some income to our expensive hobby"... I am not saying that riders ever hope to cover their costs... I am saying that it can 'contribute some income'.... this may be as little as being able to buy an ice-cream at the show, of KFC on the way home.

    I can see that organising committees would love to pocket the sponsorship they are given, to help run their shows more cheaply. But my question to you is... how are you expecting to get riders to travel out of their area for 'enjoyment and pleasure' alone? I can achieve 'enjoyment and pleasure' just riding at home!

  • Money Talks Thursday, 13 February 2014

    I agree with Edward's comments.

    If the costs of creating the prize money pool is greater than most people win back, then prize money's not really an income Claire, it's a net loss for the vast majority of riders. For most riders, if there was no prize money they'd be better off.

    How would you get riders out of their area for enjoyment, pleasure and competition? Well the answer for many of us who don't win a lot of prize money is simply that we already do go out of our area because we love our sport, the competition and camaraderie, and if the net cost was lower, perhaps even more of us would be happier to travel further afield? At lower levels, more prize money that we have to fund but are unlikely to ever win is not an incentive!

    I do see the benefit in prize money for higher level competition (maybe for both ponies and horses?) and for some key Shows.

    Perhaps an option for lower level competition is to allow people to opt in to compete for prize money, with the prize pool determined by the number of willing participants?

  • Amateur Thursday, 13 February 2014

    Again I tend to agree with yourself and Edward... Tuff debate when there are professionals and amateurs all in together!

  • Kelly Chapman Thursday, 13 February 2014

    I'm not sure that the idea of having riders "opt in" to pay a higher entry fee for a chance at the prize money is beneficial. If riders are wanting to compete more cheaply and are happy to win ribbons only, there are some "winter" shows that run September right through to December (this is in Auckland sorry, I'm not sure about elsewhere), there are also several pony club shows that run on great grounds with good courses (you don't need to be a pony club member to compete at these days). If cheap and fun is what you are after. NZEF shows cater to those more serious about winning prize money - and some probably don't offer enough. There are plenty of horses out there who are speed demons over 1.10 - 1.20 but simply aren't scopey enough to compete higher (or the riders don't want to). Reducing the prize money for these classes in order to encourage people to produce their horses through the grades to be successful higher up seems counter productive for those who cannot or will not ever compete higher. The onus should be on the rider to produce the horse how they see fit, not for a committee to dictate that these horses and riders shouldn't be able to win prize money because going fast at 1.10 isn't producing another Grand Prix jumper.

    John, other sports do offer prize money for upper level amateurs and professionals. Their prize money to the cost it takes to compete in their sport is also vastly different to equestrian. Take long distance running, if you are training, you go to a comparatively cheaper event, do a shorter course, and don't receive prize money for placing. If you decide to compete in a full marathon, your entry fees are higher, but there is also a relatively large sum of prize money (2-3k form what I can see) for very little financial outlay (shoes/running gear/sports drinks etc.)
    In comparison, take a 1.30m class. There are several of these at winter series for training - cheaper to enter, but no prize money. At NZEF shows, there is a higher cost in entering, and most shows offer ball park $150ish for first (dependent on the show). But our financial outlay to even get there is far far higher than a runner. It is all comparative.
    Just my two cents.

  • JackieJ Monday, 24 February 2014

    Well said!

  • Claire Wilson Friday, 14 February 2014

    This is the last time I am going to comment, because I am finding this Blog thing very frustrating! For the record, I have had a huge amount of support for my opinion... and hopefully these people will find the courage to speak up...

    From a show organisers point of view... don't these lower level classes create a reasonable earner. For example, a typical A&P show might charge $10 to enter a 1m class, with a total prizemoney fund of $120. So with 50-60 competitors... do the maths- this class is profitable for the show, affordable for the rider, and a good size for the organisers! Shows struggle to make ends meet, and often these low level classes prove to be very worthwhile. To give $120 out in prizemoney is a cheap investment, if the income from this class is $500+.

    If you suggest that this show (and all others like it) instead charges say only $5 entry fee and offers just ribbons instead... this is the reactions I can predict;

    - the income from this class (assuming all the same people enter and there is no prizemoney) will be significantly less, so the show's profit will be down as a result.
    - there is an assumption that more people will enter the class because it is cheaper, but in reality- most shows cant accommodate more horses. Sure, you could hire portable yards for these horses, but the cost would be wasted on horses paying only $5 in entries.
    - Are there enough hours in the day to run more horses in these low level classes? What other class will you take out of the program? Or will you expect the judges to finish at 7pm instead of 5pm?
    - there is an assumption that shows could put up another ring to accommodate all these extra entries; but is there always room and manpower?
    - there is an assumption that shows can run an extra day to accommodate these perceived extra entries... which is fine if you have the energy. Many volunteers are already on several committees (showjumping group, local sports day, pony club, show hunter group, local A&P committee, Hunt Club)... I am not sure many have the capacity to stage another day.
    - lets assume that the show can accommodate hundreds of horses for this class- with no prizemoney on offer... the quality of competition will be rather dull (like that of a practise round), spectators and judges are sure to die of boredom. In my experience- the greater the prizemoney, the greater the thrill! I have run a 1m class with a total prizepool of $500 and I swear it was just as exciting as watching any Grand Prix!
    - Sponsors that give money for the naming rights of the prizemoneyless class are left wondering how their money was spent- if not on the prizemoney. Will riders write to the sponsors to say thanks for the ribbon that they won?
    - riders (whether they are low level or professionals) still pay the same amount to feed, shoe, transport their horses... so why should the low level horses have no chance to win a little bit back?
    - some riders only ever want to win at 1m. It is unfair to assume that we are all out there to produce a nice youngster and so aren't concerned with racing in the lower levels! I am thinking of the competitive men and ladies (that I teach) and they strive for glory in these classes on their old school-masters. Even a $50 first prize can contribute towards their expenses... it may be small but it is still appreciated by the winner. We aren't all so rich that a little bit of prizemoney isn't wanted!
    - younger riders will lose interest... prizemoney (no matter how small) is a very real motivator. It hungers the competitive spirit and gives particularly children an incentive that they can measure. - this low level class (with no prizemoney) will be much like what kids experience at their PC Gymkhanas or adults at their Riding Club Ribbon days... so why bother registering and going to a show? Infact, at Pony Club in our area- you usually win cups or trophies for winning a 1m class, so to win only a ribbon is going to be a huge let-down! Therefore, with no greater incentive (ie no prizemoney at the lower levels) many of these riders will stick to their unregistered competition days- of which there are plenty!
    - riders choose shows that offer the best prizemoney, this is a fact! If the class you want to enter (whether you are a pro rider doing 1.40m or amateur doing 1.10m) has better than average prizemoney- you will be tempted to drive out of your area. Shows in less populated areas will certainly be supported less, if there is no prizemoney up to 1.20m!!
    - even if you are the parent of a child that wins some prizemoney (as John Varcoe himself admits) it makes us happy! You cant put a price on that feeling- watching the joy in your child's face- as they are so proud to have won prizemoney! Kids know that it costs to enter a class, so there is a real sense of justification... when they are able to earn back a proportion of the cost. Infact that sense of justification applies to adult riders as well!!
    - and finally the option of opting out of the chance to get prizemoney... is this not creating a mine field for the secretary and judges? Is the saving of $5 (to only some competitors) worth all the hassle? And for those who don't opt out... the show will still need to pay them prizemoney... so there is no saving for the show. A few riders will save $5- for all that hassle! Sorry, it sounds very complicated to me.

    Ok, so I have taken the time to look at how this decision will affect not just me... but the many others in our sport. I understand that you are trying to cut costs to encourage more people into the sport. But what you don't understand is- many of us (not so new members) are also show organisers... and therefore have an understanding of the money, blood, sweat and tears that go into running a show that breaks even!

    It is fun to win money... like going to the races- it is addictive. This is what inspires our children- the next generation! They may only win $10 at the local show, but they dream of winning $1,000,000 at Spruce Meadows. That thrill is the same, I believe.

    Some of the comments above are understandably from producer of young horses or someone who is content with just getting around and having a good time; and it is fine to agree with a system that suits your own needs. But there are plenty of other riders out there who should be considered! I realise, prizemoney isn't an income that can sustain the competing... but it is an important motivator!! And it is the only thing that sets a show apart from a gymkhana.

    I understand, that in reality- many of us travel away to shows and never win money. But, at least we had the chance... and with a bit of luck and improvement... we might get to win prizemoney next time. Why should only the super brave people that can jump 1.20m or more be the ones to experience the thrill of winning money? It can take people a lifetime to get to that level... are these people going to last long enough in the sport to experience the thrill of winning a bit of prizemoney?

    How exciting would it be to go to the races, knowing that there is no chance of winning any money?

    Ok, so this is my own personal opinion, I maybe right or I maybe wrong... but at least I had the courage to stand up for what I believe in!

  • trudi Thursday, 27 February 2014

    Im with Claire 500%. No prize money will eventuate in no sport,no shows.

  • Gene Friday, 14 February 2014

    Interesting debate and I appreciate your view point John. However, I do believe there is a level at which all sport makes a step from amateur hobby to seriously competitive and I think through your daughters successes you have crossed that line going from pony club to the NZEF ranks (no offence to the pony club fraternity which I know most NZEF riders continue to appreciate and support when possible.) I do have another view point for you to consider though John, the view of horse owners. As a former owner of a grand prix horse I was blessed to own and have expertly ridden by a professional, I know owners need an incentive to shell out the enormous cost of running a GP horse. A lot of commercial owners are in the sport for profit (most may only break even) and contribute vast sponsorship that is relied upon not just by riders but by the organising committees that often receive sponsorship from owners companies or breeders. The bulk of these costs are not disclosed or ever added up by owners let alone the newbies, but the cost of running a prospect that never makes it to the top have to be negated by slim pickings earned in the smaller classes and the hope a young rider or junior rider will pay enough money for a horse that doesnt make the grade to cover some of that loss. No parent will shell out that sort of money for a ribbon event or so their horse mad child with dreams of representing our country can have no future career prospects. If these parents dont buy these valuable schoolmasters that teach our future champions, overseas buyers will and reap the benefits. This is an example of what can instigate a fatal flow on effect for our sport once one sector of what is essentially a part of a wider whole falters and doesnt complete the full circle in our mini equestrian eco system so to speak. Once this fragmentation happens to part of the wheel then the whole cycle dies a slow death from the flow on effect I'm afraid. I do occasionally compete myself, and I donate a whole lot less at the lower levels than what it costs the pros in the big classes, but I realise I am in a costly, and dear i say it, professional olympic sport environment that I love and I have to be a part of the wheel and "play the game":) I realise we can debate dollars and cents of expenses, but we cant have an exodus of an entire sector within our sport withdrawing their financial support of shows either in my opinion, its a matter of survival.

  • Unknown Monday, 17 February 2014

    I 100% agree with Claire.....if anything the prize money needs to be cranked up.To anyone who thinks what the rest of you are saying is a good idea,they need to have there head held under water for a while

  • Karen riddle Tuesday, 18 February 2014

    By all means, make the "amateur" classes for ribbons only, I bet even the amateurs will opt to compete in a class the same height that offers prize money!

  • Interested Tuesday, 18 February 2014

    Interesting idea of making the sport more affordable by decreasing prize money. Sounds like a great idea for small height classes only. I think there are a lot of assumptions being made by professional riders (competing 7 horses in both islands doesn't sound like a "hobby") about amateur rider decision-making. I personally think it's not about chasing prize money, it's about going to a good show and competing (and yes, to win if I can). For people competing at a low level, or just for fun, winning prize money is just an unnecessary bonus, one personally I'd happily go without if it meant a lower overall cost for the season - this sport is expensive enough, and I'm certainly not in the sport to fund someone else's business at my expense.

  • John Varcoe Wednesday, 19 February 2014

    Thanks for people's comments.

    To those who got a bit hot under the collar, please re-read my original post. I didn't actually advocate the abolition of prize money, I just asked a series of questions.

    It's worth noting that for every professional rider who travels and competes 7 horses, there are 30 other members who bring 45 - 60 horses to the same show, and they pay 30 times the membership fees and 4 plus x the entry fees, yet take home little if any prize money - not because they don't train or try hard to win, but because they are competing against full time professionals. Guess who the large commercial sponsors value the most? It's largely all about head count.

    We just need to be careful to ensure amateur riders get a chance to have their say and are given a fair go. Why? Because the numbers of people show jumping are relatively low and in gradual decline, yet meanwhile the population of NZ has jumped to in excess of 4 million over recent years. Meanwhile, we are struggling to find GP and WC level competitors; we haven't won a medal in 50 years of trying; and market research has proven our sport is regarded as expensive, elitist, irrelevant, boring and conservative by the majority of New Zealanders.

    Project those realities out 20 years and what can you see? Something (and it may not be prize money!!!) probably needs to change.

  • Sjer Wednesday, 19 February 2014

    I agree with Claire. You talk of wanting more World Cup riders etc, how do u propose those riders exist without a lot of money. To purchase or breed horses of that calibre and to maintain them costs six figures over the life time of that horse, so what is the point if the competition aspect is taken out of the sport. Rugby at an elite level has prize money in the sense that the better you are the more you will be paid, the local farmer who plays rugby on the week end isn't bitter that he doesn't get paid millions for playing internationally because he doesn't do it! Why would a elite rugby player turn up to the rugby World Cup if he got a ribbon for doing his job. I don't mind whether I come home from a show with prize money or not but It is a sport I put a massive amount of time and money into and I don't treat it as a joke.
    At the shows I attend from one end of the country to the other I've noticed that lower classes don't have prize money which is what u r suggesting should be done and secondly the amateur riders have a serious competition in the amateur series which protects them from professional riders. I think the lack of riders consistently at the top level is more of a concern. Top level horses cost a lot to maintain week in week out, so why reduce the drive of a rider to win when their is no incentive. We aren't producing Olympic medals and therefore we should look to the countries that do. A number of facts spring to mind about countries such as Germany and the USA, a key one being significant prize money!

    I agree that there needs to be changes and prize money is not one of them:-)

  • South Islander Wednesday, 19 February 2014

    I live in the in the South Island when traveling to the North Island which is very costly each season prize money at shows is a contributing factor. I know I won't always win back the money I spent to get to the shows but at least it's something towards the trip and also fuels the desire to be competitive

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