Highlights from the USDF/USEF Young Rider Graduate Program

Young Rider Graduate Program Participants watched Grand Prix Freestyles at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival with USDF President George Williams.
Photo courtesy of Catherine Chamberlain.

West Palm Beach, FL –  February 6, 2016 – When the majority of the country is bundled up for frigid weather in mid-January, the USDF and USEF, with support of The Dressage Foundation, invites some of the top young riders and professionals to participate in the Young Rider Graduate Program in sunny Florida. Instead of focusing on mounted training, the two-day intensive lecture series is designed to help young riders transition into professional careers within the dressage community.

This year guest speakers gave lectures on a wide range of topics such as legal issues, how to obtain sponsorships, marketing strategies, equine sports medicine, how to interact with the media and professional ethics. I was fortunate enough to participate in this quality program, and I highly recommend the program to any young rider who would like to learn how to succeed from the best in the dressage industry. Here are a few lessons I took away from the lectures:

Acquiring and Maintaining Sponsorships

Allyn Mann, the director of Luitpold Pharmaceuticals, which produces Adequan, spoke to the group about the importance of building relationships and branding yourself for success with a positive attitude.

“Doors will close and doors will open,” Mann said. “Cultivate gratitude and observe the abundance of what is already in your life.”

When seeking commercial or product sponsors, he recommended investing proper research to educate yourself about the products and what you could offer the company. Before contacting a company about a sponsorship opportunity, Mann suggested asking yourself, “What products and services am I currently using? What do I really like to use around the barn? How much do I actually know about the product? Is my perception of the product factual or just my opinion? Am I able to communicate passionately to others why I love the product? Do I consider myself an ambassador of the product?”

You need to design a relationship that helps their business and justifies their monetary or product sponsorship.

The chair of the United States Dressage Owners Task Force, Kim Boyer, also gave advice on how to have a positive experience with an owner who is sponsoring a horse for you to train and compete.

“As growing professionals, aim as high as you can go and aspire to be a higher performance rider,” Boyer said. “Sponsors are the key, and it’s the difference between living lesson to lesson or commission to commission.”

She explained how live scoring and rider databases have helped owners become better informed about the sport. However, owners may set unrealistic expectations of the horse and want to see competition results too fast, so she recommended that the riders must be responsible for maintaining good communication about expenses and short and long term goals.

“Your character and who you are as a person, rider and professional will shine through your ups and your downs,” Boyer said. “It’s the glue that will hold your sponsorship relationships together. Many owners see their riders as a very close partner for their dream, and when things go wrong, it can be painful to break up. Do not take advantage of your owner, but also don’t let them take advantage of you.”

Boyer also gave her top eight tips on how to attract and keep a sponsor:

1. Talent: You have to be a good rider, and scores do matter. Owners want to see results and success, so represent yourself to where you are most successful. Are you better at training young horses and not the upper levels? Be honest with yourself.
2. Be Organized: Your owner is not your personal assistant with training opportunities, barn responsibilities or showing logistics. You will save money and time having your business organized.
3. Be Realistic: Be rational when it comes to how much you can fit into your day, what your talents are, your expenses and your projections.
4. Be Trustworthy: Make sure you are ethical in all things, at all times, no matter what. You only have one name and reputation, so do not tarnish it.
5. Be Connected: You need to attend clinics, seminars, charity events and give up your time to help others. Being connected to your community keeps you relevant, and if you become isolated, you will fall out of the game.
6. Be Teachable: Always be a learner and open to more information. Do not become comfortable in your own thinking.
7. Be Loyal: Do not forget who was there helping you get to where you are, so always wear their logo and see yourself as a representative of them.
8. Stay Fully Informed: Read daily dressage articles about show results or clinics. You need to write down the deadlines for grants, clinics, shows and seminars and stay informed of any USDF, USEF, or FEI regulations or rule changes.

Syndication Opportunities

As syndication of dressage horses for high performance riders becomes more popular, many young riders at the Graduate Program were curious about the logistics behind group horse ownership. Rebecca Hart, a para-equestrian athlete who has represented the United States in multiple Paralympics and World Equestrian Games, gave advice on forming syndicates.

“It’s a lot of work so be prepared and open to change and think outside the box,” Hart said. “A lot of people will say ‘No.’ You need to carry on and have the perseverance to keep clawing forward while having the humility to accept that they may not want to support you.”

© Jennifer Bryant : Paralympian Rebecca Hart gave a lecture about syndication. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. Paralympian Rebecca Hart gave a lecture about syndication.
Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

While having a syndicate can be challenging because you have to take each member’s concerns and ideas into consideration, it can broaden your options and open up new opportunities. It can be very special to share the competitive journey with a group as long as every partner is on the same page with practical goals you can follow.

“Be realistic in what you are interested in because that means different investors,” Hart explained. “If the group helps purchase a young horse, they should be interested in the long term journey, but if they sponsor a Grand Prix horse they will most likely want to have success in the show ring soon.”

Yvonne Ocrant, an attorney who focuses on equine law, also gave tips on how to ensure limited liability through an LLC. She discussed how simple it is to set up the syndication contract once all the involved parties agree to the operating terms.
Hart and Ocrant also went through a few questions to ask yourself and your syndicate partners so that you are setting up everyone for success.

1. What do they get for the funds they put up? Do they get ownership of the horse? Or do they have decision making rights such as what shows you can participate in, what you can do if the horse is injured, or if they want to sell the horse?
2. Is their support a one time commitment of funds, monthly horse care support, or yearly expenses?
3. Are there varying levels of support for each partner?
4. Do you want to form a syndicate and then find the horse, or would you rather find a high quality horse and then form a syndicate to help with the purchase?
5. How much of an ownership percentage would you like to maintain, if any?
6. How many investors would you like to have in the syndicate, and how much does it cost to join the partnership?
7. Will the horse be insured, and if so, how will those finances be organized?
8. What happens if the syndicate receives an offer to purchase the horse? Should it be a majority vote, or does the manager have sole decision making decisions after consultation with the group?
9. How do the partners get out of the syndicate if they wish?

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