The Arabian Horse Association of New England (AHANE) held their 62nd annual show June 30 through July 2 at the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds in West Springfield, MA. The three-day event qualifies many New England riders for the Region 16 Championship in Syracuse, NY.
The AHANE is a regional club in New England, which is a part of the larger national association known as the Arabian Horse Association (AHA). The AHANE was formed in 1954 to encourage breeding, exhibiting and promotion of the Arabian Horse. Its existence today helps to educate individuals within the New England states on how to preserve the Arabian breed.
The event, also known as the “Big Money” show, gave riders the opportunity to bring home some generous cash prizes during championship classes. The highest prize classes totaled $300 with the winner getting $225. Participants in junior and amateur classes received trophies this year. There were also other prizes awarded such as ribbons, tote bags, glassware and water bottles.
According to AHANE officials, the show attracts over 1,000 people, including exhibitors, family members, show barn owners and their employees, and the general public. There were a total of 120 registered Arabian and half Arabian horses at this year’s event. This is down slightly from last year, which had 135 registered animals. There were 113 riders who participated in classes a total of 595 times with their horses.
“We’ve found that over the last couple years fewer horses are coming to the shows but they are going out in more classes,” Show Secretary Lurline Combs said.
Show Manager Robert McEntee of Bossier City, LA says the show has been steadily declining in attendance over the last few years mainly due to the economy.
“This show has been struggling through the years with attendance going down and down so we instituted this marketing idea called ‘Big Money’ in order to draw more people,” McEntee said.
McEntee, who took over duties as show manger since 2012, said prize money has suffered a parallel decline.
“In 2011 the total amount of prize money was $17,000,” McEntee said. “It worked over the years but the numbers have been steadily going down. When I took over in 2012 the prize money dropped to $5,500.”
With financial support waning, McEntee says he looks to local businesses as well as exhibitors for support through sponsorships. All sponsors are announced throughout the show and are listed on the sponsor page in the AHANE show program. Those who contribute the most get a link to their website for one year on Ahane.org , a free one-page advertisement in the show program, and four champion class sponsorships.
“Our sponsors enable us to provide exhibitors with little perks like donuts or a pizza party,” McEntee said. “The rest goes into a general fund to help put on the horse show.”
McEntee says that the horse show business can be a very expensive hobby for owners and trainers alike.
“Many of our exhibitors here own their own horse but they keep them with a trainer at a training facility,” McEntee said. “Horse showing is a hobby. You’re not going to make money showing a horse. Even the trainer is not going to make a lot of money. A trainer’s life is rough. They have a lot of overhead and they’re only doing it because of the love of the horse.”
Trainer Lynee Deadder of Somers, CT can vouch for that. She is a regular at the show and gets a great deal of enjoyment from working with young people and seeing them mature into champion riders.
“I’ve been showing here for 25 years,” said Deadder. “Some of the kids that I have showed as junior riders are now showing as adults. We’re not competing against each other but we show as a group. It’s neat. It teaches kids the responsibility to work together as team players.”
McEntee says the fee for keeping a horse at a training facility runs from $600 a month to as high as $1,800. This cost usually includes boarding and full care such as veterinarian and blacksmith attention. There are additional costs that comes each time a horse owner participates in a horse show including local trainer charges, entry fees, class fees, stall fees and several others.
One way in which horse owners can save money is by being what McEntee calls a self-trained exhibitor. This includes everything from boarding and feeding to riding and technique work.
“There is nothing better than doing it on your own,” McEntee said. “There is a great sense of accomplishment when you beat someone who is using a trainer. “Most self-trainers have taken lessons or had their horses started by a trainer and continue from what they know.”
There was one exhibitor at the show doing just that, and she traveled all the way from Ingleside, Ontario Canada to showcase her training and riding skills. Twenty-two-year-old Eliza Sylvia made the seven-hour drive with just one horse in order to qualify for the Region 16 Championship in Syracuse, NY.
“In our area we don’t have any shows so we crossed the country because we knew that there would be a bigger opportunity and more competition here than at home,” Sylvia said.
Sylvia, who has been showing horses for 12 years, competed in eight total classes and was able to get one blue ribbon and two red ribbons. The first and second place finishes were enough to qualify her for the regional show in Syracuse. Sylvia also qualified nationally as well which allows her to compete in four Arabian national competitions including the Canadian nationals taking place this August.
Despite some of the financial challenges inherent in the horse show business it is ultimately the love of the animal that keeps people involved and coming back year after year.