We’ve all been reading about the sales of international Grand Prix horses to new riders lately because, in order to qualify for an Olympics under Fédération Equestre International rules, a horse has to have at least one owner of the same nationality as its rider by Jan. 15 of the Games year. That deadline was Monday, and many investors both in the U.S. and abroad have made major purchases in the past month or so to bolster their riders’ chances of securing an elusive team spot.
The people who sponsor riders are amazing, and we can’t be grateful enough to them. This is a wildly expensive sport no matter how one does it, and having help along the way is critical for those of us trying to do it, and do it well. Lessons, clinics, sales commissions—those are just so rarely enough to support a horse at the top levels, particularly if you have to take time off from that teaching/riding day job order to campaign that horse.
I hope that everyone who has acquired a finished Grand Prix horse for this year achieves their dreams, and has a long, sound and healthy relationship with that new horse. I hope our riders earn medals, and our fans are inspired by excellent horsemanship.
And I also hope that at least one will be riding a horse they made themself.
The Olympics, of course, is a showcase of athleticism. It is a showcase of the world’s best talent, doing incredible things, and that’s inspiring in and of itself. I have as much chance of making the Olympic team in the 50-meter freestyle or the uneven bars as I do of waking up one morning on Neptune, but that doesn’t stop me from watching the gymnasts and swimmers and thinking, “Whoa. That’s incredible.”
But as someone who makes horses up the levels myself, I particularly want to be inspired by seeing riders that are doing the same thing I’m trying to do: people who got access to the best young talent they could find, put in the blood, sweat and tears to develop it, and emerged from the mayhem on top.
Isn’t it fun to be inspired by the backstory? Isn’t it thrilling to know that Jane the Jockey brought that horse up from scratch? Isn’t it comforting to know that Valegro Junior was also once at the Florida dressage show doing first level, test 3, and running away a little bit? Isn’t it inspiring to learn that Daniel the DQ was struggling and broke and tired and then, one day, his horse got good?
I can connect to those stories. So can lots of people, from those trying to ride Grand Prix to those just trying to get their youngster off the property for the first time. But just as I can’t connect to the Olympic swim team, I also can’t connect to someone who’s gotten the ride on a seven-figure, proven winner. Very few people can.
Again, I can’t be grateful enough for all who support riders, in whatever way they support them. Many of the ones who’ve bought proven Grand Prix horses for their riders also bought or bred young horses for them to develop. And often their contributions to sport go well beyond the stables of anyone particular rider: They sponsor clinics and educational opportunities for youth and professionals. They fund grants, build fantastic show facilities, and employ world-class coaches who provide education for the next generation. Their contributions to sport beyond just ownership at the top level are vast, and they are greatly appreciated.
I certainly don’t want to suggest that we shouldn’t be able to make horses and then sell them. A part of my income is based on being able to sell the ones that don’t get far enough for my own ambitions. Some become teachers and beloved friends for other riders, both youth/amateur and professionals alike—or even a team hopeful, as I did last year. The income from those sales allows me to start over with new bright young talent, and the cycle continues.
I’m not naive. There’s no amount of time or money or resources or expertise that guarantees a young horse, even one impeccably bred with an excellent and healthy body, will get there. Sometimes they don’t want to be Grand Prix horses. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they colic, or are weird about shadows, or have one or more of the million things that can interrupt a horse’s journey to the top. It’s very possible that, even if a benefactor had dropped seven figures on a stable full of the best youngsters money could buy, and parked them into the hands of proven trainers, that there’d be no team contenders to show for it at the end. I’d imagine that some of these purchases, both foreign and domestic, are to help give riders whose homegrown horses have gotten hurt or sold a bite at the Olympic apple.
There is no One True Way. We all know that Grand Prix ain’t easy, no matter how you do it. Being handed the keys to the best horse in the world doesn’t guarantee anything. And whenever we plan, horses laugh. But the gritty how-they-got-there stories are what I like to read about. They keep trainers like me going. It keeps the dream alive—the dream that, if we dig in and work hard and get the right young talent, maybe we’ll have our shot one day, too.
So, I hope we put together the best Olympic team we can with the three combinations most likely to bring home a medal. But I also hope that at least one of them is homegrown. And I hope there are even more in the Olympic cycles to come.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist with distinction making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s C. Cadeau, as well as her own string of young horses, with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.