Monday, May. 20, 2024

Should The Event Horse Ownership Model Change?

Members of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s new High Performance Eventing Owners Task Force are confronting an ever-growing concern: who will step up to support our next team?



Members of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s new High Performance Eventing Owners Task Force are confronting an ever-growing concern: who will step up to support our next team?

There’s a clear realization by most in the eventing community that the cost of upper-level competition is increasing exponentially every year, and it’s leading to a potential shortage of up-and-coming riders and horses in our nation. As we anticipate next year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games here on our home turf and then look onward to the 2012 London Olympic Games, the United States could be hard pressed to remain in medal contention in the not-too-distant future.

The recent economic crisis has sharpened the focus on the rising costs, and there’s a consensus that our most viable option is to broaden the ownership base in eventing to provide the financial resources to enable horses and riders to reach their medal potential.

The reality is that, especially given today’s fragile economy, the cost of ownership by one rider or one private benefactor is often prohibitive. In light of these concerns and to provide better communication with owners, the High Performance Eventing Owners Task Force was created last summer by the USEF. Comprised of High Performance eventing owners chosen by their peers, the EOTF is working to develop a system to expand opportunities for new owners and to provide support for an enhanced list of developing horses and riders.

Our nation was fortunate to win a team gold at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2007, but came up short at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, despite having what looked to be a very strong team on paper. Since then, it’s been back to the drawing board with the consensus being that we must identify talent—human and equine—as early as possible.

The USEF is currently developing an “Equine Pathway” (modeled after the British Eventing program) to identify exceptionally talented young horses across the country. Some of these may be team horses of the future, and they may be eligible for additional support to make sure they’re managed properly and given every chance to reach the four-star level.

In addition, our riders need help. No matter how driven and gifted they may be, many young professionals are unable to adequately finance their upper-level pursuits and are eventually forced to sell their one promising horse before they can make it onto a team.

At the same time, there are also many established Olympic-level riders who have no depth in their stables. Our best riders cannot be solely dependent on one horse for an entire WEG or Olympic cycle. In the event that their top mount becomes unable to compete, they should have another horse waiting in the wings. The U.S. team needs them competing at the Olympics, not sitting at home watching on TV—a crushing waste of experience and talent following a considerable investment of time and money.

What’s Best?


Whether we’re talking about a young rider with a young horse winning consistently at the advanced level or an established Olympic veteran winning CCI***s with young, self-made mounts, the best method for continued future support is syndication.

Over the years, individuals have typically owned our team horses, but the economic climate is changing rapidly. It easily takes four or more years to bring a horse along to the advanced level, followed by further experience at international competitions just to be competitive enough for team consideration. Realistically this process may eventually cost up to $50,000 per year, which equates roughly to a $200,000 investment, in addition to the original purchase price of the horse, to get to this stage.

Syndication breaks down costs into two parts: the acquisition of the horse and the ongoing annual maintenance and competition expenses. The latter can range from approximately $25,000 per year for a preliminary/intermediate horse to $50,000 per year for a four-star horse in international competition.

By forming syndications, we can help spread the cost of training while encouraging new owners to become an integral part of our U.S. teams. We need to become far more inclusive and welcoming to those who make up the backbone of our sport. These individuals want and need to participate in the process of fielding competitive international teams more than ever before.

Syndication can offer a wide array of arrangements for riders, horses and owners, and can provide individual flexibility. Some owners may choose a specific rider they want to associate with, and others a particular horse. Groups can be of any size, but five to 10 shares per horse seem to be the most manageable arrangement. Syndication is a common practice in the Thoroughbred racing world; Funny Cide’s ownership was a great example of a wildly successful venture among a group of friends, and then there was eventing’s own Theodore O’Connor Syndicate.

Fortunately, the sport of eventing has a distinct advantage in that the IRS tax code has specific provisions regarding tax-deductible contributions for the support of international competition. There are already a number of established 501(c)(3) foundations solely focused on supporting upper-level eventing.

What Will Work For Us?

Many national equestrian federations, such as the German federation, which saw its riders win team and individual gold medals in Hong Kong last year, generously support their top riders to enable them to concentrate all their efforts toward team performance at world competitions. Since our riders don’t receive government or lottery funding to subsidize their pursuits, they must find horses and owners independently. They rely on the generosity of those with a passion for the sport to secure a shot at a gold medal.

While our sport may not have the broad national popularity that equine disciplines enjoy in Europe, we recognize that eventing in the United States has a tremendous grassroots following—just witness the thousands of enthusiastic fans that make an annual pilgrimage to Lexington, Ky., to attend the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. They’re volunteers, riders, parents of riders, Pony Clubbers, veterinarians, artists and horse lovers of all ages. Syndicates mean that more people, including those whose involvement with the upper levels was previously only as spectators, can have the opportunity to be a stakeholder as an owner of a team horse.


Eventing is a unique sport that naturally creates a special connection between riders at all levels of competition. In what other sport can a novice amateur compete side-by-side with an Olympic medalist at a local venue? Surely there are eventing enthusiasts out there who dream of having a closer personal connection with some of the current and future stars of our sport. Imagine the excitement of preparing for and attending the WEG in Lexington next year or the Olympic Games in London as part of the team with your horse.

Some of us have been incredibly lucky over the years to be associated with a number of exceptionally talented horses and riders and have enjoyed the tremendous opportunity to travel the world with them as they compete. It’s truly amazing to participate in and witness the entire process of winning Olympic and WEG medals from the inside as part of a great team.

The journey is thrilling, from local horse trials to training sessions for long- and short-listed horses to the Sunday jog at the Burghley CCI**** in England to the goose bumps you get while watching your horse represent your nation at the Olympics. The joy of watching a young horse develop and rise to its highest potential on the world stage is perhaps the most personally fulfilling side of being an owner.

We need more involvement. Based on years of experience from previous and current owners, the EOTF has developed model syndicate agreements to assist riders and prospective owners in the formation of successful new partnerships. We’ve also established some accounting protocols for syndicates to assist in keeping the expenses eligible for tax-advantaged status through charitable foundations.

The EOTF will host an open owners forum reception at the Kentucky Horse Park on Thursday afternoon, April 23, during the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.

We welcome anyone with an interest in learning more about our plans for the future to join us for a presentation of our ideas and objectives.

Key USEF staff members, U.S. Chef d’Equipe Mark Phillips and a number of our top riders, as well as current and previous Olympic owners, will be present and available to meet attendees, answer questions and discuss their thoughts on how to best achieve our common goal of putting the United States back on the top at our next world championship in Lexington in September 2010 and beyond.

For an invitation or more information, please contact USEF Managing Director of Eventing Sara Ike at or EOTF Chairman Mark Hart at

Mark Hart and Ann L. Jones

Dr. Mark Hart is the current chairman of the USEF High Performance Eventing Owner’s Task Force and a co-owner of Amy Tryon’s Olympic and World Equestrian Games mount, Poggio II. A cardiologist in Portland, Ore., he’s also spent the past decade working as a devoted eventing dad for his daughter Megan.

Ann L. Jones, Coatesville, Pa., serves as EOTF vice-chairman and has owned multiple four-star mounts for Phillip Dutton, including True Blue Girdwood, Truluck, The Foreman and Cayman Went.




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