This is the most obvious difference. Entry fees can vary by hundreds of dollars. For instance a stall at our local non-rated show is $50. At HITS it is was $250. A jumper class at NR show is $15. At HITS it was $50 and classic was $150 to enter. Rated shows also have fees such as $18 drug fee, horse watch fee, office fees etc. NR shows may have horse watch fees and office fees but since they don't drug test you don't have that one.
WHY? Why are there these big differences in costs? Standards. When you are regulated by a governing organization such as USEF you have guidelines to uphold to keep your rating. Footing costs money, fancy jumps, rated judges, jump crews, office staff, stewards, stabling, tents for temporary stalls, water trucks, drags, tractors, etc. Then there is the purchase price of the rated show "dates" you own. And those can be coveted. There is a lot more money that goes into making a rated show and that is reflected in the costs. But don't think these rated show horse managers aren't making money. They are. In fact there is one on the East coast that if you follow on Facebook you will learn all about his private plane, yacht, water front homes (notice plural), etc. Seeing that makes me pretty unhappy paying premium prices to show. So why do it?
Now our local NR organization is made up of few members who really work hard to put in their shows. They get about 150 entries. I've been to rated shows with that low of a number and I've been to others with thousands of entries. Now our local show has one guy who waters and drags the 4 rings. He does this the day of and a couple times that day. It's not enough. When they hold a rated show there they spend weeks prepping the footing. Footing is important to me. Bad footing can give you a plethora of issues and injuries to your horse. I won't. WON'T risk taking Poppy to a place with bad footing. And when Luxxx went to school at the local show I found myself picking up rocks and just praying he didn't come up sore from the hard ground. Are all NR shows like this? Of course not. Do all rated shows have excellent footing? Of course not but they won't be around for long if they don't. Most NR organizations are non profit and run by volunteers. They don't have the time or resources to do ring/footing prep 2 weeks out.
Here you will see a big difference in the quality of horses at the NR and rated shows. Now I have learned my lesson at a big rated show. Do not snicker at that little paint horse that looks like it was just pulled out of someone's back yard. That little paint horse can fly around a 3'6 course like its tail is on fire and snap its knees to its nose. And I have also seen big gorgeous athletic looking horses that struggled to jump around 1m. You see it all, you really do. But when I was in the NAL Classic at HITS with 45 riders and horses, I was not in bad company. They don't even have 1.15m jumpers at our local NR show, there aren't enough people to fill it.
I have also seen far more scary things at our NR shows than rated ones. There are the lame horses (head bobbing or 3 legged not just NQR), people warming up over oxers backwards, beating of horses, running (why do people think jumpers must equate to running???), poor horsemanship (I'll just leave than one vague), oh and the one time that the jump off course included only the "b" element of an in and out (which is illegal by USEF rules, "a" must be removed to use "b" only). Have I ever seen scary stuff at rated shows? Sure but not to this magnitude. It comes down to the NR shows bring out all kinds. And that's what they should do. It's for people and horses to learn about horse showing. It's for people who have a smaller budget to still be able to go out and compete. But sometimes it is more than I have the patience for. When I am on a green horse and people don't understand ring etiquette (ie passing left should to left shoulder) I sometimes think to myself that I would rather pay for a rated show. But ironically the 2 times I ever got run into in the warm up ring was at an extremely busy AA show!
Really for me it is the standards, organization, and governing body rules. I overall get a higher quality experience than I get at the NR shows (and the exhibitor parties are nice). And to ensure show managers are keeping competitors happy and providing quality USEF even sends out a survey to you after each rated show. Poppy learned the ropes of horse showing at some NR shows and so will Luxxx. When he graduates the lower levels he will move on to the bigger shows and drain my checking account a bit more.
And you know those blog posts where we have talked about those dream horse shows we want to go to? Aren't most if not all of those rated? It's the big leagues kids! And unfortunately all that glitz and glamour (snicker) has the price tag to go with it. More importantly, it's your decision. You go show wherever it fits best for you, your horse, and your budget.