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December 15, 2013

The Goya Syndicate

Lauren looked at Goya and knew she was special, so she's going outside the box to keep her.

Have you ever been sure of something? Really, deeply sure, with your heart and your soul and not just your head? It's a dangerous thing, to feel that way about a horse. But when I looked at Billy, I knew. It took a little while, but when I looked at Midgey, I knew. 

And when I looked at Goya, a few hours old, wet and wobbly-legged, I knew.

I knew that she was immaculately bred—the daughter of two FEI dressage horses. I knew that she had good legs and good feet, would have exceptional training and handling. But lots of horses are good horses. I looked at Goya, and I saw the look of eagles. I knew.

But here is something else I know: I've always owned my own horses, been the buck-stops-here responsible party for their expenses, through the good times and the bad. It's been a relief, in so many ways—I answer to no one about my training choices. I never have to justify the trip to the vet, or the mediocre show. But it also means that the risk is entirely mine, and if anyone can tell you that it's not a matter of if your good horse will break down and need early retirement but when, it's me. 

The costs of owning my own string have been adding up for a while. I've borne it happily, because the alternatives aren't without their flaws either. Two years ago, facing the tough choices I knew I was going to have to make this year—whether to sell Ella or not, whether to sell the babies or not—I read about the Eventing Owners Task Force, and it got me thinking outside the box.

Syndication is not new, but it's a pretty novel idea in the dressage world. It's been around forever with racehorses, and lately has become a popular mechanism for owning event horses. The idea is simple: Instead of trying to find one owner willing to bear the brunt of an international horse's vast expenses all on her own, a syndicate spreads those costs among its members. It makes being part of the elite horse world one-fifth, one-eighth, one-tenth as expensive as trying to go it alone. It's like crowdsourcing, but with hooves. And it disseminates not only the costs, but the risks as well.

It seemed like a brilliant idea, and so I got in touch with the EOTF, specifically Tim Holekamp, a prominent Trakehner breeder I got to know while Bellinger was competing; Tim's Windfall and Billy were the top Trakehners in their respective disciplines at the same time. Tim referred me to genius lawyer Yvonne Ocrant, an excellent event rider in her own right, who helped me draw up the paperwork to form a syndicate for Goya, Cleo's 2011 UB40 daughter, the one I Just Knew about.

Of course, nothing is smooth sailing. I had Yvonne's paperwork on my desk to finalize when I got the call that Goya had come in lame from the field; she ended up having chips out of both hind fetlocks, an irritatingly common phenomenon in big, fast-growing warmblood foals, but fortunately one that is easy to recover from. The syndicate was shelved while she healed, and heal she did, growing into this stunning, sultry creature that I Just Know has a big, big career ahead of her.

And so, with the blessings of my veterinary team, The Goya Syndicate LLC is back up and running, and I'll start approaching potential investors over the next few weeks.

We in dressage now have the Dressage Owners Task Force, and I'm eager to see if they can be as helpful in guiding us in our search for a better system of ownership of dressage horses as the EOTF has for eventing. Certainly the website the DOTF has created,, is full of ambitious riders all seeking help, though few have any specific plan or horses they already have a relationship with. Lots of hopeful people that, as my dad would say, are counting on winning the lottery. I suppose there's no harm in being on such a site, even without a specific plan; I've listed Goya's 2010 full sister Farrah on there, just in case someone decides they want to own her for me, but I'm certainly not holding my breath. 

But with Goya, I have a plan. I am ready to go. The paperwork is in order. It's not just a pipe-dream, it's a business. And if it's one thing I can do, it's run a business.

At the end of the day, it's a hard sell. Why would anyone want to own a team-quality horse, even as part of a syndicate, especially if it's a horse that they themselves may never get to ride? There is the possibility of financial profit, sure; a group gets together to own a good young horse, priced accordingly, and then splits the proceeds if that horse becomes a success and sells. But we all know the countless things that can go wrong with that plan; if it's financial returns an owner is looking for, they'd be far wiser to invest in stock or bonds or BitCoins or something that can't die if it eats too much hay and drinks too little water.

So it's about love. It's about wanting to be part of something, part of the team—the horse; the rider; the trainer; the other owners, if there are any; the hopes and dreams and aspirations, the setbacks and the triumphant returns. For The Goya Syndicate, it's about the phoenix of this brilliant, sassy, leggy filly rising from the ashes of her mother's too-short career, a homebred and a 29-year-old kid on a mission. 

It's a hard sell. I'm going to try it anyway.