Equestrianism is so much different from other sports. In most “traditional” sports, the human or humans are the only athletes playing the game. With all of the various equine disciplines, there are at least 2 athletes that make up the partnership if not more (driving). It is as much about the horse as it is the rider. One similarity between horses and “traditional” sports is sponsorship. Just as top baseball, football, etc. athletes depend on endorsements from companies to supplement their income; horseback riders do as well. Obviously the half a million dollars a football player makes from Gatorade is a far cry from the $5,000 a rider gets from a feed company; however, it is a start.
As everyone who has ever ridden and competed knows, horses are not inexpensive animals. It is quite expensive to own a horse no matter what, but to compete at the upper levels it is next to impossible unless you have “owners” or are independently wealthy. Even to bring a horse along through the levels requires a good chunk of change, because to campaign a horse can cost quite a bit of money. A lot of owners do it for the love of the sport or the love of the animals though, not for the money.
I have been lucky enough growing up to have my mom and dad as my owners. They have always supported my dreams and helped me as much as they could. They also gave me my foundation to work hard and go after what I want. However, I am now a young professional and want to/ realize that I do need to make my own way if I want to be successful; it is time to “build the business”. Although of course they have been assured that they are not allowed to stop being my “biggest clients” (haha).
I have taken loans over the years from various people in order to buy some of my horses; but I have always paid them back and the horses have been in our farms name. However, this past fall I had a mare come into the barn that I believed to have immense talent without the miles and training she needed to use that talent. She was a sale horse though and I knew she would soon be sold at the price being asked unless I was able to find a buyer to keep her in the barn.
Jerry Yankus is my godfather who I have not seen for many years. However, last summer through the grapevine I learned he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer and did not have long to live. I reconnected with him and his wife Gale shortly after. They have no kids and growing up Gale was like my second mother. We all felt terrible at the separation we had for so many years, but with Jerry getting sick it brought us back together.
When this mare came into my barn, I wanted the opportunity to bring her along to see what she could do and because I believed in her. We cannot always have what we want though, unless we find a way to make it happen. For several days, I racked my brain trying to think if there was anyone I could ask to buy her as an investment. Finally, I decided to call Jerry and Gale and ask if I could talk to them about something. I was slightly terrified when I went over there; it was not like I was asking for a small thing.
They are not horse people! They had never been to a show or really known anything about the “horse world.” I explained the situation to them and told them about the mare. I of course explained that while the mare displayed a huge amount of talent there is no guarantee in horses, but that I would do my best to make her as good as she could be. I also was sure to tell them that I did not want them to think their answer would affect our friendship either way; they were free to say no.
After a few minutes of discussion, they decided to buy Clever Girl and allow me to continue training her. They even wrote me a check right then and there. Call me a sap or whatever you want, but that night on the drive home I actually cried. I was so stunned and grateful that they had enough confidence in me and my abilities to hand over a significant amount of money to me with no guarantee of the outcome. I do not know if that is how every rider felt the first time an owner bought a horse for them to campaign, but it is just really amazing when someone shows that much faith in you and wants to help make your dreams come true.
Jerry passed away recently and he never was able to come see Clever Girl show, but I know he will always be there in spirit with us. I am so lucky that I was able to reconnect with him and Gale, not just because they became my “first owners” but because they are so special to me. I am so appreciative of everything they have done for me and it only makes me try harder to make their horse into the absolute best she can be.
This sport would not be possible without the owners who help to support it. Every owner is special, but I think most riders remember how incredible they felt when they found their first owner who believed in them.