I had dinner with three fellow young trainers one night at Gladstone. One of those trainers was Jeremy Steinberg, who recently resigned from his job as USEF Youth Coach. The four of us chatted about the trials and tribulations of being a young trainer, about horses, about our clients, about the things we struggle with. The conversation got around to the state of U.S. dressage, and our role in it.
And Jeremy said, "It's simple. We teach the kids how to ride. And then we get all the good riders on a ton of young horses, and we train them up."
This has been Michael's mantra for as long as I've known him. If each competent trainer in the country got a new quality young horse every year, or two years, some of them would, inevitably, get hurt. Many wouldn't get to the Grand Prix level, and some wouldn't be of the quality at the level; these could all be sold as amateur or Young Rider-type horses. There would be a handful who would go on to be our Team horses. And once in a while, if we were very lucky, we'd get a Valegro, a Totilas, a Damon Hill.
It seems like a great plan to me, and so over the last few years I've invested in having my own pipeline of horses to bring up the levels. Cleo and Midge got hurt. Goya, Johnny and Fender are on their way. Ella's worked out brilliantly, but the timing is wrong; to pursue a career with her right now would really make my business and my other horses suffer. So I made the choice to put her up for sale, and I told Belinda Nairn, my friend who introduced me to Johnny, to keep her eyes out for a special young horse, maybe 6 years old, something between Johnny and Fender. I told her that as soon as Ella sold, I'd be ready to go for it.
So three weeks ago, when Belinda sent me an email with a video of a 6-year-old Wynton gelding, I told her I couldn't. Ella hasn't sold yet. We've put the paperwork in place to start a syndicate that would keep her with Michael, but it's only just started getting organized, and we haven't logged any investors yet.
But I did a dumb thing: I watched the video. And I was hooked.
So I did the craziest thing I've ever done: I asked a client if I could borrow the money. And she agreed!
I drove home from Gladstone, and about 12 hours and two loads of laundry later I got on a plane to Ocala. "Dynton" is everything that his video showed; three exceptional paces, a playful attitude and a rock-solid mind. Like Johnny, to whom he is related, he takes pressure like a champ, is a total mush in the barn, and is short coupled with long legs. Unlike Johnny, he's got this incredible looseness (which makes for a sitting trot I'm going to need to hit the gym for), and is potentially a bit more cheeky (oh god), with a big, bold flying change each way.
Paperwork is signed, and he'll be in Virginia, with any luck, by the end of the week!
I am, it must be said, absolutely terrified. If he gets hurt, it'll all be for naught, but that's true of any horse deal. If Ella gets hurt, it'll take me years to pay it all back. Raised and educated by brilliant economic minds, I'm incredibly frugal; I've never bought anything I couldn't pay for all at once, with the exception of Fender, whose loan I paid back within months.
But I also know, as do my trainer friends, that the only way to get from here to there, from being a trainer to being on the U.S. Team, is to have the right horseflesh. I can't afford them trained, nor could I, or would I, ever borrow enough to get a trained horse of the quality I'd need to get me there. I have to train them myself. I have the great pleasure of riding horses owned by others, like Bev Thomas's wonderful Fiero. And I hope that, as I prove my skills, other owners will come forward with horses they'd like trained up the levels.
Until they do, I have to own them myself. So welcome to the family, Dynton! His first job as a Sprieser is to learn his new name, since I think Dynton sounds too much like Dentist: his new name is Dothraki, the horse lords from Game Of Thrones, for those not familiar with the series. He'll be Rocky in the barn.
And if you'd like to learn more about the Ellegria Syndicate, email Michael. We all have to figure out how to keep good horses underneath us if we want to get anywhere. It's simple. Train the riders, and then train the horses, lots and lots of them. That's a system anyone could get behind.