When a group of young riders were given the opportunity to ask four of the world’s best riders for advice, it became very clear that what they want is to keep riding past the age when mom and dad will foot the bill.
At the recent Fourth Annual Wellington Junior/Young Rider clinic featuring Edward Gal, Steffen Peters, Volker Brommann and George Williams, young riders were given ample time to ask questions of the four clinicians. The first day, they seemed so intimidated by the famous riders before them that they hardly opened their mouths, which led the clinicians to begin asking them questions in order to start a dialogue. The only topic really initiated by the young riders dealt with questions regarding qualifications for young rider competitions.
But by the second day of the clinic, held March 10-11 at both Two Swans Farm and Bass Pond Farm, the youngsters discovered these celebrity riders were human after all and began firing off questions. And what did the young riders really want to know from this group of successful competitors? How to find a sponsor.
The Cost of Dressage
Everyone who competes in dressage knows it’s not cheap. The costs add up quickly – the horse, his board and feed, training, lessons, trailering fees, show fees and more, like veterinary and farrier bills. Certainly a good number of young riders help defray the costs to their parents by working themselves. It seems that most young riders are quite aware of just how expensive is their dressage passion and how hard it will be to pay for it on their own. Hence, one thing they hoped to get from Gal, Peters, Brommann and Williams was some useful advice in landing a sponsor who will help pay the costs.
Finding sponsors is an experience that all but Brommann had shared. When Brommann commented that he didn’t have sponsors, Williams jokingly said to him, “you don’t need them.” For the young riders who will one day need them, Williams told them that finding sponsors is very much about luck. “It involves being at the right place at the right time.”
Focus on Your Riding - Be the Best that You Can Be
Gal admitted that sponsors may be easier to come by for Europeans simply because equestrian sports are so much more popular in Europe. Hence, there are more shows, larger amounts of prize money and more people involved and that all adds up to more money.
If there was one common piece of advice all four clinicians had for any young rider with dreams of finding a sponsor, it was this – focus on your riding, not on getting a sponsor. Williams told the youngsters that if they are lucky enough down the road to meet someone willing and able to sponsor a rider, they’ll miss that opportunity if they aren’t a good enough rider to snag this sponsor.
“You need to focus most on your riding,” Williams told the young riders. “Because if an opportunity comes, you need to be ready to meet it.”
Find the Right Horse, Communicate, Appreciate
Peters added to this by telling the young riders that what a sponsor wants is someone who is capable of selecting horses that have potential and then has the training and riding talent to bring out that potential. Hence, if young riders don’t educate themselves on all phases of training so that they can bring horses along from initial break-in to the upper levels of competition, then they won’t be as attractive to sponsors.
“Some sponsors don’t know much about horses so you need to be good at picking those horses with which you can get good results,” Peters said. And if one is lucky enough to get a sponsor, then Peters said the way to hold on to that sponsor is to communicate. “Stay in touch. Call each week and just give an update of how the week went.”
Gal, one of the Netherlands’ top dressage riders, said he didn’t start riding until he was 14. Despite a later start, he’s an international dressage star and he credits his success to hard work. “If you really want to ride and are capable, you’ll get there,” he said.
No Guarantees, Hard Work is the Key
The main message the four clinicians wanted to import was first, that there is no guarantee of sponsorship and young riders must be willing to face the fact that in order to ride, they must work and work hard. And part of this work effort needs to be put into their education as riders.
Both Brommann and Peters told the young riders that they need to take every opportunity to learn in order to improve their riding. That meant attending clinics like the one the Junior/Young Rider Clinic, and also, it means going and watching good riders whenever possible. Brommann told the group that they should never be afraid to walk up to the better riders and ask them question about their riding. He said most of them actually like talking to young riders.
“Riders like to be bothered. We are all human beings and we are very approachable,” he said.
About Show Nerves - Ride for the Moment
Peters gave the young riders a piece of advice that is actually useful regardless of career path they follow. He warned them to watch their behavior, particularly in public. “You have to get your name out there, but once you do, what matters is how you conduct yourself in public. It’s important that you show good manners and show respect for people,” he said. Peters said bad manners will not attract sponsors.
One other issue important to young riders for which they sought advice, was how to deal with show nerves. Gal showed them much empathy. He admitted to being extremely nervous when he rode his first Grand Prix test. He said show nerves are normal and the best thing riders can do is prepare. This means exposing their horses to things that are not part of their normal routine.
Brommann’s advice was be prepared. If your horse has problems with flower pots at a show, then ride with flower pots in your ring at home. If riders prepare their horses to handle the shows, then the horse won’t be nervous and that will help calm the rider.
Williams said nerves often result from the fact that riders are overly worried about what others think of their ride. Focus on yourself, was his advice for dealing with nerves. “Don’t worry about what other people think of your riding. Do the best job you can and rider for yourself.”
Williams especially warned young riders not to let a bad ride get to them, especially when the ride isn’t over. “Ride for the moment. As you ride through the test, forget what has gone bad and don’t hold on to your fears of what is ahead in the test. Just ride each moment as it happens.”