Show Cancellations and Refunds

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.

Image result for stalker gif

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.

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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.

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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.

harasrain
that’s a problem

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.

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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.

Reality looks like this.

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.

18 thoughts on “Show Cancellations and Refunds

  1. I just had to scratch 2 horses from a schooling show this past Friday. Not for weather but for medical issues. One which surfaced as my husband was warming up for dressage and the other just 2 days before. 😦 And whilst I was quite disappointed to lose the money I understood it’s just horses. *shrug*

    What was super nice and unexpected was the show secretary crediting my husband 1/2 for the next schooling show.

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  2. This x infinity. There are so few options in Area V as it is. All eventers – and especially those of us in areas with sparse venues – need to be careful how we treat our venue owners and organizers. An organizer that gives any kind of refund for cancellation should be thanked not demonized. This is a labor of love and if people keep making it even more thankless than it already is eventually these generous people are going to stop opening their farms to us. What a sad day that will be.

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  3. Oh gosh. I feel this so much. One of my good friends is a Secretary for several events… and she gets a lot of angry emails whenever things don’t go the way people want them to. This weekend at IEA was a great example of organizers doing everything they can to preserve a show.

    The XC course was a MESS coming into the weekend. They had just gotten way too much rain. With everything from I/P to Jr Starter to run… including a Training and a Novice 3DE… and more than 300 horses over the weekend, there was some pressure to cancel XC for some upper level divisions.

    However, none of the organizers wanted to do that. SO they rescheduled the entire weekend. They moved I/P SJ to a super early time and allowed as many divisions to run XC on Sunday as physically possible. And it worked. Trust me when I say that event organizers want everyone to have an amazing weekend, and they really do EVERYTHING in their power to make it happen.

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  4. Area IV has also received massive amounts of rain and cross country was cancelled altogether at Longview Horse Park in Missouri last month. Sadly there’s nothing that can be done about weather and after I read FeatherCreek Farm’s statement on why they can’t issue refunds on Facebook, it makes complete sense. There are so many costs and preparations that go into an event that people just don’t realize.

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  5. I lost ~$120 from a mini trial cancellation due to rain (leading up to and forecasted) last fall, which really isn’t that bad compared to recognized events. I was bummed but also more than happy for the association – which was brand new then – to have my money. They even offered free schooling this spring because they felt bad. Yet I watched people, even trainers!!!, throw a fit in the Facebook comments of their post announcing cancellation. Just.. why. It’s part of eventing life sometimes!

    I had to cancel my entry at an event at KHP last summer. Even though there was no wait list the manager very graciously let me have my stall payment back, which I really needed for a car repair at the time. Sometimes a polite email or call goes a long way.

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  6. This. Always and forever.

    My barn hosts min trials every month during the summer and it’s all run by volunteers – most of the boarders, including myself, pony clubbers, friends and family, and the barn owners. We are painting fences, building new ones, designing courses, mowing, rolling, digging, putting up flags, putting up fences, hauling fences all around the fields and jump course, setting up dressage rings, setting up schooling rings, and then we have to take it allll down. And that doesn’t include all the behind the scenes work to keep up with the abuse the facility endures by bringing in hundreds of horses for a day. Nor does it included the insane number of FREE hours the show organizer puts in as she takes in entries, hires judges, coordinates volunteer duties, and arranges ride times and divisions.

    I wish we made lots of money off these events! Any money we do make goes right back into the mini-trials. New fencing material, paint, etc. So yeah, when we call off these events (1 time in 5 years), it might seem like we’re raking in all this money and didn’t have to work for it because there’s no need for us to be there on show day. Trust me when I say the actual show day is sometimes the least busy we will be and we are looking forward – SO MUCH – to all our efforts coming to fruition. We want to see the dressage rings filled, the jumper ring active, and the cross country fields coming alive. The buzz of show day is exciting and thrilling for us volunteers too!

    Everyone involved makes a sacrifice to make the event happen. And we do it because if we don’t do it, who will? We want there to be events. We want this awesome sport to exist and continue on. So when we have to cancel, we’re right there with the riders in the deep disappointment. Having that disappointment then directed at us, we who are trying so desperately to provide this to the community, is alienating and cuts deep. I will say that it was only a few who grumbled when we had to cancel, but boy were they loud. And when they’re loud, it’s easy to wonder if everyone else is grumbling at us too. but then we regroup, shake it off, drink some wine, and get back to planning the next event.

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  7. THANK YOU!

    People forget that we are privileged to have horses and to be able to show etc. The show committee’s can’t control the weather.

    Freaking out on social media (to the extent of posts having to be deleted) is not the way to go. People can be unbelievable.

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  8. Despite the frustration when that sort of thing happens, I agree. They can’t control the weather. I’m about to start using contracts with my photography clients because I occasionally also run into this- that when it’s less than ideal they cancel and upend my schedule. If it’s raining, I get it… but overcast? Ugh.

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  9. Thank you!! We have had to deal with very poor air quality due to wildfires that we had to postpone parts of the event. I am sharing this on our facebook page for Alberta Horse Trials Association. I wish more people would see the other size of the organizer.

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  10. I don’t think people stop to think about the fact that the organization has to pay for everything too. They just see their own money going out with no return. I get that frustration, but they really do need to stop and see that the money was already spent. Not in an irresponsible way, but to get the venue ready for them to use. So really, the money WAS spent on them, they just didn’t get to enjoy it. Such is life. Sometimes it’s not fair, especially when weather is involved. I personally would rather lose some money than have my horse or myself hurt or killed. But that’s just me I guess.

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  11. Praise you, Amanda! As an organizer of one the few area V events, and the one who doesn’t even get enough entries to squeak by, I preach this on a regular basis. My event is also the one that 14 years ago was decimated by Hurricane Katrina 4 days before the event.
    The local Eventing and dressage organization, whom I work for, spent 10 years and god knows how much money, to even have a cross country course again. And that’s before an event, schooling or recognized, could even take place.
    Even now, 5 years since it was rebuilt, we spend THOUSANDS of dollars before the first horse even gets to stabling, and we get maybe 40 entries. It’s a great qualifier, but insanely expensive for the organization to run and to lose money.
    So no, I can’t refund money if there is monsoon and xc gets cancelled.

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  12. I wish horse sports had a volunteer requirement to maintain membership with USEA, USEF or whatever association your discipline uses. It isn’t unheard of in other sports. There are more and more ultra marathons that require x number of volunteer hours during the preceding year to get to sign up to run. Working behind the scenes really opens your eyes to how much work, time and money went in to being able to open those gates and let horses in and maybe some people would stop feeling so entitled to everything. I would understand if events got canceled for other reasons like a judge couldn’t be secured or something that is strictly the fault of the organizer, then yeah give a refund. But weather? Nobody can control that.

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  13. Well said !!!

    Conspiracy theories to steal entry money and not actually stage the event? Those claims are ridiculous. The organizer would have come out far better financially if the event had taken place as planned.

    Large parts of the country have been caught in unusual weather patterns. It’s negatively affecting the economy on many fronts. Unfortunately eventing is just one small part of it.

    Extremely grateful for all the organizers who hang in there in spite of the losses they are taking on the weather! Thank you all!

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  14. I get that people are going to be frustrated and upset when a show/event they’ve prepared for carefully, brought horse up to fitness for, bought new stuff for, etc. is cancelled. Not to mention money they may have shelled out in advance. Fine, it truly sucks, so go ahead and rant and rave all you want – but not in public! And not towards the poor organizers! They are upset too, having spent countless dollars getting ready and they’re going to be losing a lot of money as well. What a shame that some folks feel they must vent in the public domain.

    We had a show cancelled here a month ago that caused public scorn, but not for weather and not directed at the organizers. No, it was my very own trainer in the cross-hairs. An old retiree got cast at my barn and by the time our large animal rescue unit extracted him, he was very debilitated and unsteady. The vet had been called and recommended blood testing which to everyone’s immense shock and dismay revealed EHV-1. This horse had not been off the property in seven years and was FINE up until getting cast. I didn’t know it but EHV can lie dormant and appear during stressful situations, which by all signs seems to have been the case here. The old boy was put down (his owner had already decided it was best, even before the blood test, even though she was extremely upset) and the fallout began.

    Unfortunately the morning of this event my trainer had been at a dressage show with two horses. BAM, they were instantly quarantined, along with the rest of the barn. And the show that was supposed to take place the following weekend at the dressage show venue had to be cancelled, just in case the two horses tested positive. They did not (neither has any other horse at the barn) but those results weren’t going to be available in time.

    So my trainer got raked over the coals by some in the local community, on social media. She felt compelled to publish a lengthy explanation of the events on her personal FB page. Fortunately hundreds of people commented that this had most certainly NOT been her fault and couldn’t have been prevented, she had nothing to feel bad about, that she’s an awesome horse person, barn owner and trainer (which she truly is), etc. I felt really, really bad for her. But it’s pretty amazing how fast folks will turn on you in the horse world!

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  15. There are two things every show needs to be:
    1. Fun.
    2. Safe.

    “Affordable” is nice, but not a requirement. If weather conditions threaten either of those things (but especially safety), cancelling is the right thing to do.

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