The Pipeline

Mar 17, 2013 - 5:46 AM
Ella has her game face on to be Lauren's Number One. Photo by Susan J. Stickle.

We’re taking a lot of hits, the U.S. Dressage program. We’re not good enough, we’re not spending enough time in Europe, etc, etc. One thing I’ll certainly jump on board with is that we don’t have enough really good horses, and that we’re reliant on wealthy sponsors purchasing made horses for us far too often, that not enough of our top riders have a pipeiine of horses they’re making themselves. 

We’re also struggling to play with the Big Guns because of a numbers problem. There are very, very few riders in this country with more than one international-caliber Grand Prix horse. And that means that if your only horse gets an abscess, or gets a skin infection of epic proportions, or tweaks a leg kicking the wall of his stall, or, heaven forbid, dies, you’re out of luck.  

I am the proud owner of a five-horse pipeline. Ella (age 12) and Midgey (11) are confirmed Grand Prix horses. Fender (7) is a third-level-plus horse, hopefully ready for Prix St. Georges by this time next year. And Farrah and Goya (3 and 2), babies of my retired Clairvoya (who was Ella’s pipeline predecessor) are both stunning, with Farrah ready to be started under saddle this summer. Through good luck and good timing and a LOT of long, hard days I’ve acquired and supported a string of horses, so I’ve always got the next one in development.

And with Midgey needing a little vacation, I’m really appreciating how lucky I am to have Ella. Michael recently returned from teaching Philip Dutton and Boyd Martin in Aiken, and was philosophical. “Those guys,” he said. “Those guys know how to do it. They have half a dozen confirmed international horses each. When one goes down, they’ve got four more.” 

And it’s true. The same is true of a lot of the big names: Edward Gal, Isabel Werth, Anky van Grunsven, on and on, all have multiple horses at the top of the sport at any given time, not to mention multiple multiple horses in development along the way.

How do they do it? Success breeds success, of course; riders with a proven track record are more likely to have owners of fabulous horses seek them out. There’s easier access to quality young horses in Europe than here—higher numbers of world-class horses over a smaller geographical area—and that also can keep the prices down. Top trainers also attract exceptional assistants, who help with the riding of developing horses, so the trainers a) aren’t sitting on a gajillion horses a day, and b) can make money teaching and giving clinics. 

I’ve never met Philip, but I’ve met Boyd and know his wife, Silva, and in addition to being exceptional, hard-working riders, all three of them are incredibly smart business people. They’re creative in their approach to ownership of horses, using syndication to help keep good horses in the barn—it’s easier to find five people to contribute 1/5 of $X than it is to find one person to contribute $X. It was actually a page from their book I took to get started on syndicating Goya, something I’ll be getting going on this summer.

They also have lots of help, assistant trainers and working students who are all VERY good riders in their own right. I’m lucky this way, too; any Big Time Trainer would be lucky to have Allison running their barn and riding their horses when they’re off teaching clinics.

So what’s the formula for having lots of upper-level horses to ride, in case one gets hurt? Get quality young horses, treat and train them right, have help along the way so you can work and make the money to keep feeding them, sell the ones that don’t work out, and voila, success! Easy, right?

Ha, no, seriously. All that plus hugely good luck and a little magic. I don’t watch South Park, but there was an episode regarding Underpants Gnomes, little creatures who steal underwear as a means to great wealth, but they aren’t quite sure how. It’s a little like that. 

I hope Midge will be back to work in no time. And until then, I’ve stolen enough underpants… er, saved up a little, such that I can start looking for a 4 or, ideally, underdeveloped 5-year-old for myself, to put a horse in the pipeline between Fender and Goya. And then I just have to hope that everyone stays sound and healthy, including myself, and has what it takes to either get to Grand Prix at the international level, or be delightful, rideable creatures to sell along the way.

The season isn’t ending the way I’d planned. The short-term plans may be changing daily—heck, hourly—but the long term one is still the same: Work really hard. Be good to my clients. Be good to my horses. Be creative in finding ways to get the funds to get it all done. Work with my coach as often as humanly possible. Get good. And then show the world. It’s a proven formula. And it doesn’t involve the theft of underpants.


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