Thanks for all the great comments - I figured rather than reply to each one I'd just do a quick "post script" of sorts on some of my thoughts.
My first thought:
this was toally worth it.
Yes, the cost is crazy, but I had so much flipping fun I can't stand it. I know plenty of people who can spend $5k a week on a vacation, and since this was basically a 3 week vacation (in my mind at least... The Boy might beg to differ...) it doesn't seem that out of line.
You can definitely spend way less than that on vacations, but horses are kind of like fancy spa resorts in terms of high upfront cost, high add on's and people who are crazy addicted to the process :) They are definitely not the vacation equivalent of camping.
Certainly most of my friends would think that spending this amount of money to basically get dirty and sit around all day trying to keep shavings and manure out of your hair and sandwich while you eat a quick lunch on your lap is, well.... insane. But it sounds like fun to me that's all that matters :)
The biggest paradigm shift of the show was definitely the option of showing up 15 minutes before you get on. It's a total perk, although not one I totally took advantage of since I just *like* being early and part of the getting-ready process.
I still reveled in it. Even when I showed in the first class of the day at 8am, there was literally no reason to be on site until 7am. If I was grooming and braiding myself - I would have been there at 5:00am to feed, clean, braid and panic a little (and then try to feed and clean myself in the last 5 minutes). Instead, I strolled in at 7.. said hi to the mare... polished up my boots... drank my latte and slowly got myself ready. Even though it was still kinda of an early wake up call (not complaining), I found that every time I threw my leg over the mare I was calm, happy and well fed.
Previously I often scrambled on in a slight panic still buttoning my shirt up and trying to pull gloves on.... I can't imagine that helped the mare's nerves at all...
Anyway, thanks again for all the good comments - I find the business side of horses moderately fascinating, and I sort of geek out on what makes big shows (and barns) tick. I'll try to keep this thread going this summer as we experience our first entire season with a full service barn attending a variety of shows and events.