Check out ways you or a non-showing member of your family can volunteer at your state shows. There isn’t a horse show in the country that couldn’t use more help. Photo © Tiffany Anne Photo

Increased AQHA Fees Bring to Light Larger Horse Show Issues

About two or three times a week, a lot of us drive through our local coffee establishment to order a latte. Most of us don’t think about the price much because it is something we enjoy. Now, if our coffee took a 20% increase over five years would we still buy it?

The answer for most of us would probably be yes. We enjoy it. It’s something we are willing to splurge on. Showing horses is also a splurge for most people. Unfortunately, it comes at a more significant cost than a cup of coffee. But, it begs the question, at what point are we not willing to splurge?

AQHA has recently rolled out some price increases for a long list of association fees. Two of them seem to be sticking out for the horse show community. The first being the show processing/drug testing fee that rose from $5.00 to $6.00, and the show approval fees are now $750 for 1,000-2,499 entries, $2,000 for 2,500-4,900 entries, and $3,000 for entries over 5,000.

So how does this affect exhibitors? The drug testing costs are a direct expense to the exhibitor and the shows pay the show approval fees, and those costs then trickle down to the exhibitor through each show’s fees.

AQHA sites many factors in their decision to increase fees. As AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines explains, ”When developing and updating the Association’s budget, we evaluate all of AQHA’s programs and focus on the pillars of excellence from our strategic plan, which include animal welfare, customer satisfaction, culture and communication. We also evaluate the multiple business areas that support the pillars: technology, business development, the growth of the American Quarter Horse Foundation, youth development and operational efficiency. All of these, plus several other factors come into play when evaluating the budget.”

With the increase of the AQHA approval fees, some small organizations are having a hard time breaking even; after paying for facilities, judges, ring stewards, groundskeepers, office workers, and we have not even started talking about prizes yet. It seems like in many cases, the big shows are getting bigger and the small shows are getting smaller. And let’s face it, this is not a new problem.

It’s easy to point the finger at AQHA for the declining interest at the small shows, but there is so much more to the story. As exhibitors, we are always looking to get the most bang for our buck, so when you can pay one mileage for a four-day show and get two opportunities to show, it seems more likely you might choose a larger show. But what we are forgetting is there is still a need for smaller shows. Small shows are needed for youth state qualifying and schooling. And let’s face it, not everyone is ready or cares to compete at the super shows. Amateurs have work and youth have school schedules which make longer shows hard to fit into their plans.

So how can we fix things? If you are frustrated with increased costs, go to the AQHA website and check out the membership page. A few perks you can take advantage of are 5% off your SmartPak purchases, $500 on Ford vehicles, and up to 28% on John Deere equipment. Just taking advantage of one of these offers can certainly make up for a $1.00 increase in drug fees.

Also, get involved if you enjoy small shows and don’t want to see them disappear. Check out ways you or a non-showing member of your family can volunteer at your state shows. There isn’t a horse show in the country that couldn’t use more help. And of course the obvious, go to the small shows. The only way to keep them alive is to attend.

We asked Brenda Campbell, a show secretary for the Pennsylvania Quarter Horse Association how this might impact their shows.

“I believe that cost to the exhibitors is a factor when they choose where to show. My perspective comes from working in the show office and talking with exhibitors on a regular basis. Rising costs of shows are one of the biggest concerns for many of our exhibitors. PQHA attempts to keep the costs as reasonable as possible, yet still cover expenses. We have been offering all-inclusive fees for quite some time, and our exhibitors have commented many times that the reasonable, all-inclusive fees are very appreciated.”

Campbell continues, “Many factors must be considered when setting the fees that we charge our exhibitors. Some of the show expenses are beyond our control – facility charges, portable stalls, judges and AQHA Show Approval, Drug and Processing fees, just to name a few. Usually, the expense increases that we incur each year are minimal, however, in 2018 the AQHA fees have, in some cases, more than doubled. These are fees that must be passed on to the exhibitors and could negatively affect the number of shows that exhibitors will choose to attend. The most substantial increases have been passed on to the most significant shows (5,000 or more entries – based on total circuit entries). Smaller shows (500 or less) will see a slight decrease in AQHA show application fees.”

Comparing AQHA Fees in 2017 and 2018

5,000+ entries – Show Application fees increased from $1,500 to $3,000. Also, in 2017, 50% of the show application fee (in this case $750) was returned to the organization in the form of an Award Certificate Voucher to be used for purchasing awards from ARC (Awards Recognition Concepts).

In 2018, the award voucher program has been discontinued. The bottom line impact to the show is an increase from $750 to $3,000. That’s $2,250 that will be difficult to absorb in the show profit margin and will most likely be offset by either reduced awards or increased fees to the exhibitors.

Less than 500 entries (and all Level 1 and Introductory shows) – Show Application fees decreased from $250 to $100. When considering the Award Voucher value ($125 in 2017), the final decrease in the Show Application fee is from $125 in 2017 to $100 in 2018.

In addition to the show application fee changes, AQHA has also increased the show processing fee from $4 per horse/per show to $5. Based on AQHA rules, these fees must be collected per showing horse.

We asked Justin Billings, AQHA Manager of Shows, if AQHA anticipates any decline in attendance, particularly in the smaller shows.

“Many of the members who make up the AQHA Show Committee have seen the same trends towards larger and subsequently more expensive circuits. In response, the board formed a task force to develop a plan for encouraging affiliates to offer more single judged/single day horse shows. While the large circuits serve an essential part of the roughly 20,000 AQHA members who actively show, the show committee also acknowledges that a fair amount of those members want the opportunity to attend an AQHA-approved show over the weekend without paying multiple class fees. They simply want the opportunity to show their American Quarter Horse, as cost-effectively as possible.

The task force will be making a recommendation to the show committee at the convention to reduce the show approval fees for those single judged shows and modify the class requirements so a particular show can offer a slate of classes tailored to their exhibitors’ needs, along with adjusting certain judge requirements to make the shows more appealing to officiate, and the judges themselves less expensive to hire.

AQHA is a member-driven organization, so I would encourage our showing membership primarily to become more involved. Attend the annual convention and voice your opinion during the committee meetings, sign-up to join a committee yourself and vote on the actual rule-change proposals or simply share your opinion with the current show committee members. When you get involved, you will feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that you’re working towards making things better.

We also asked exhibitors in the industry their feelings about AQHA increasing some of their fees.

Jennifer D’Onofrio – I’m torn because the cost of stalls and shavings are also a factor. Plus, hauling and day fees remain the same no matter how many judges there are. Time is also valuable. When we show, we are taking time for other family activities. So, while the fees still stink, I do like multi-judge shows to maximize points for qualifying, so we can still enjoy other family activities. Since our entire family doesn’t participate, I have to find a balance. Showing every weekend can be hard on the horses mentally and physically.




Nikki Coates- Schultz – The State Show I chair falls at the lower end of the highest fee group but works out to like $.24/entry. We don’t cheer when fees go up in other areas of our lives, or when our trainers raise fees. AQHA, just like all of us, needs to make the bottom line work. Sponsorships are getting less frequent, so everyone has to work harder to make things work. I also think that we all need to support the smaller local shows. Maybe we choose to show at larger circuits or as trainers your clients do, but then, we all need to help with sponsorship or donating time for mentoring for a few hours at the local shows to keep them growing. Without new growth and new attendees, our industry will die. I also think all the negativity towards AQHA and even State Associations needs to stop. If everyone who so easily complains on social media were to step up and spend the same amount of time volunteering for State Associations, a local show or a novice/intro show, we would be better off.

Beckie Peskin – I’m a little on the fence on this one. While I am not 100% sure of the driving force behind the changes, I have to wonder if part of the goal is to weed out some smaller/duplicate shows? Now that I live in the Southeast, it seems like it’s commonplace that several locations within, say, 3-4 hours of me will all have horse shows on the same weekends. Of course, that means everyone splits up, and it hurts each show. So perhaps the fees will eliminate some of that. But, inevitably it will also reduce shows that are small only because of a more rural location. If this was the intent of the rule, then I’m not sure it was the best/only way to get there, but again it’s hard to say not having been in the discussions. That being said, I do think it will hurt some smaller shows and shows at times of year when the weather can make or break them.

Michelle Forness – Being on both sides of the issue as a show manager, an exhibitor and an affiliate chair of shows, I understand the fine line we must walk trying to make a profit or even break even with the increasing cost of producing a show. On the other side, as an exhibitor, are we getting enough for our money? I am sure it is not something that the AQHA Executive Committee entered into lightly. There were considerations taken to lower the smaller shows Show Approval fees, but the AQHA processing fee was raised. I fear that in order to absorb the cost of the higher prices for the bigger shows, that the smaller shows that are less profitable will be cut by the Affiliates and show sponsors.



What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section of this article or on our social media pages.

Photos © Cody Parmenter, Tiffany Anne Photo

About the author: Darla Lee was born in Apple Valley, California where she began riding horses at the age of nine. She later moved to  Ohio where she attended College at the University of Findlay. She has worked for many top trainers in the industry and the past fifteen years operates Lee Quarter Horses located in Plain City, Ohio with her husband Brian where they specialize in Western Pleasure, Hunter Under Saddle and All-Around Events on the AQHA and NSBA circuits.