I sometimes think that I spend so much time looking at the weather, I may as well have been a meteorologist. In my weather app I’ve bookmarked every city in Texas that has an event or schooling venue, and I page through them regularly, especially leading up to a show. I look at almanacs, long term forecasts, and follow way too many weather-related pages on social media. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone in my creepy weather stalking habits. All horse people are weather watchers.
For those who don’t event, our entries work differently from h/j shows. Entries open 6 weeks in advance and close 2 weeks in advance. If it’s a popular show, or one that limits their entries, you have to enter early if you want to ensure a spot. Oh, and – we pay in full. Whether that’s online with your entry or via snail mail with a check, we pay our entry, stabling, clean stall deposits, and other fees when we send our entry in.
Refund policies can vary. The standard one is that if you withdraw before closing date, they’ll give you a refund minus office fees. But remember closing date is still 2 weeks out. And some only do that if they can fill your spot from a wait list, which may or may not exist. Some will give you an entry credit (usually entry fee only, not stabling or other fees) if you have to withdraw after closing date, if you have a vet note. If you withdraw after closing date for any other reason, you’re unlikely to get anything but your $21 USEA starter fee back.
Why? Because events take a lot more prep work and they put out a lot more expense beforehand. The cross country courses have to be mowed, aerovated, repaired, jumps moved, courses designed and set for every level, mapped and flagged and numbered, loads of dirt laid down if necessary, fences decorated and brushed, etc. It’s A LOT of work and it all has to happen well in advance of the event in order for things to be ready. That’s in addition to all the normal horse show pre-work, like booking and flying in your judges and officials, renting tent stabling if necessary, renting showjumps if necessary, prepping the showjumping rings, dressage rings, and warm-up areas. Not to mention the fact that it costs a lot of money even just to own and maintain facilities like this, and cross country courses in particular. By the time you’re 2 weeks out from an event, the organizer has already put out quite a lot of time and money in prep. They would be losing money left and right if they didn’t get our money in advance, or if they offered full refunds to anyone who wanted to withdraw.
Then you add in the complication of weather. Area 2 got to suffer through this last year, with tons of events getting cancelled due to weather. This year it’s also effected Area 5. Eventers are a hardy bunch, we don’t mind some mud or getting rained on, but when it’s to the point of being unsafe, or when emergency vehicles are unable to access all parts of the course in the event of an accident, it’s a no-go. No horse show is worth that kind of risk.
It’s been a weird last 9 or so months in Area 5. Normally it’s pretty dry down here, but we’ve had a lot of rain. The ground has stayed pretty saturated, which means that it doesn’t take much rain on top of that to wreak havoc. Almost every venue in our area has been affected somehow. One local event had to cancel a schooling HT and a charity derby. Another had to cancel a recognized event over a week out, because their whole course was under water. Another had to cancel the XC portion of everything Prelim and above (including FEI divisions) because massive amounts of rain a couple days before washed out a bridge that made it impossible for emergency vehicles to get to parts of the course. Yet another event just had to cancel (although was able to obtain a rain date in August) due to way over-saturated ground. There was even one covered dressage show that had to cancel because a massive storm with tornadoes and straight-line winds blew enough rain into the venue to create a lake in their arena and turn trailers and RV’s over.
Suffice it to say, it’s been a really weird season for competitors and organizers both. The organizers that have been affected have all done what they could to offset the loss of entry fees to competitors. One was able to offer full refunds minus their costs. One was able to secure a new date. Others have offered schooling credits and/or entry fee credits to later events to help offset some of the loss.
Yet every time an event gets cancelled, there are people complaining about it and getting angry on social media. I get it, at the end of the day no one wants to lose money, especially when it’s hard to come by. It sucks to send your entry fee off and then never see it again and still not get to show. Then again, your horse could just as easily get hurt, or you could have a personal emergency come up, so you wouldn’t be sending the entry money in at all if you weren’t prepared to lose it.
While losing entry fees sucks, it would suck a lot more for these organizers to lose so much money and get so much flack that they end up deciding they don’t want to do this anymore. Horse shows are a privilege, not a right. I’ve volunteered enough over the years that I know that NO ONE wants to cancel a show, least of all the organizers. They’ve devoted a lot of time and money into getting ready, and they want everyone to come and have a great day. Unfortunately sometimes things happen that are beyond anyone’s control, and safety has to come first.
The rampant criticism on social media concerns me a lot, especially when we don’t have very many event venues in this area as it is. Sometimes comments end up turning downright mean. Some people go as far as to send rude emails, or complain to USEA.
From what I’ve seen and experienced firsthand, everyone is always just trying to do the best they can and make decisions that are in everyone’s best interest. Sometimes things are beyond anyone’s control, and we all end up disappointed. That’s horses. That’s eventing. Unfortunately we can’t control the weather. I think before we take those frustrations public, or make accusations or comments on social media, it’s important to stop and think about it from all sides.
No, you’re not entitled to a refund. If you read the omnibus, you knew this when you entered.
No, the organizers didn’t orchestrate a grand conspiracy with the weather gods so they could “steal” your entry.
No, the course designer didn’t make up some story about a washed out bridge so that they could cancel your cross country.
Organizers and competitors all want the same thing here, and we’re all disappointed when it doesn’t go to plan. We win some, we lose some. That’s how it goes, unfortunately. If the organizer can afford to issue you a refund or a credit, be grateful. If they can’t, still be grateful. I think sometimes we forget that at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. Maybe instead of lashing out, we should be thanking the organizers for trying their best to make it happen for us, and offer sympathy that their hard work was all for naught. Because without these venues and these people, who are often lucky just to break even, we wouldn’t have a sport to participate in at all.