Cindy and Eliza Sydnor: A Family Dressage Venture

Monday, November 7, 2005


By Amber Heintzberger

At Braeburn Farm in Snow Camp, NC mother and daughter Cindy and Eliza Sydnor work side by side day after day sharing their business and their passion for horses. To some this may sound like a dream come true, for others it may sound like a recipe for disaster, but this mother-daughter duo is definitely making a success of their shared interest.

Cindy and her husband, Charles Sydnor, own a 400-acre farm in central North Carolina. He raises grass-fed Red Devon beef, and Cindy and Eliza train dressage horses and teach riding lessons. Mother and daughter have each formed LLC’s: Eliza Sydnor Dressage LLC and Cindy Sydnor Dressage LLC. They work side by side and keep their own horses and training horses in Cindy’s barn. They use the entire facility together, often teach in the arena together and ride together daily. Their only constraint is that the barn has only nine stalls, which limits the number of horses they can take in for training.

When horses come in for training with Eliza, the client pays her for the training and Cindy for the boarding and all other bills - shoeing, worming, vet, etc. This way Eliza is basically a private contractor working out of Braeburn Farm.

Cindy’s business consists also of judging dressage with her USEF “R” license, giving clinics away from home, and being an examiner for the USDF Instructor Certification program.

Eliza, 24 in November 2006, is a USDF Certified Instructor through second level and will probably test for the third and fourth level certification in 2007. She has already gathered a good group of students locally and in several locations around the state of North Carolina. She has taught on Maui, Hawaii, also.

Cindy and Eliza Sydnor: A Family Dressage Venture
By Amber Heintzberger

Sharing Their Lives and Interests

Both Cindy and Eliza love music, good literature, and a few movies. “I played the piano a little but not as well as Eliza, who also plays the guitar quite well and sings. Eliza reads many good books; I like to listen to books on tape and CD’s,” says Cindy. “I don’t share Eliza’s love of hiking and camping, but I’m thrilled that she loves it. We both like writing and seem to find interesting projects in that area.”

Asked about the pros and cons of a mother/daughter business venture, Cindy answers, “I think this is the ultimate mentoring situation. I have always loved seeing Eliza learn to ride and handle horses. It is one of my greatest joys in life to see her love and enthusiasm for horses and dressage. She was never pushed; she pushes herself more than enough.”

Eliza finds working with her mother a positive experience. “The pros are many: we get to spend most of the day together doing what we love, we trust each other, we work with each other to solve problems,” she says. “Also a big pro for me is that I get some of the best training in the country every day for free - although I work my butt off for it in return!” She considers, “The cons are that since we are so close sometimes it gets hard to work together. We both love the horses so much and each other so much that emotions sometimes run high.”

Cindy and Eliza Sydnor: A Family Dressage Venture
By Amber Heintzberger

Working With Others in the Sport

Sometimes they find it easier to go to an outside instructor who can give them an unemotional outlook. Eliza explains, “When a student works with an instructor that she doesn't have a personal relationship with, then it is just business. But when my mother tells me to do something that I don't agree with I feel totally comfortable telling her that I don't agree with it! So, sometimes it is easier to go to an outside trainer that we both really respect to get advice. We both try to get into ‘business mode’ rather than ‘mother/daughter mode’ but sometimes that line gets blurry.”

Cindy continues, “From a business point of view, it is good, because we trust each other completely and want the best for each other. When I don’t have the time for a new client, I refer them to Eliza, and I’m sure the reverse will happen soon as Eliza becomes more popular. Another advantage is that we help each other in our daily training and riding. Eliza is very good at teaching and coaching, and I appreciate her corrections. Everyone needs a ground person. Everyone.”

Eliza’s riding goals are to continue training and showing her horses up the levels and continue to help her students progress as well. Her big goal is to compete her horse Lancer at Grand Prix next year. “I have taken him from pre-training level through Intermediaire 1 with my mom's help, and he is so close to the Grand Prix I can taste it!” she enthuses.

Eliza also has many young horses that have been competing at the lower levels. Prince Hopeful, a 2002 Hanoverian gelding owned by The Hopeful Group, LLC, is an exciting young prospect that she is hoping to compete in the FEI 5-year-old tests next year. The stallion Wilmington is a 2001 Hanoverian (Waikiki/Fabriano) owned by Lucile Broadley of Honey Locust Farm in Chapel Hill, NC. This is a Hannoverian breeding farm where Eliza also works starting young horses under saddle. “He’s a super young horse who has done very well this year at First level and I hope to continue working with him for many years to come,” says Eliza.

Cindy and Eliza Sydnor: A Family Dressage Venture
By Amber Heintzberger

Cindy Sydnor - USDF Instructor Examiner, Instructor of Instructors

An examiner for the USDF Instructor Certification program for almost thirteen years, Cindy works with one or two other examiners once or twice a year at “testings” where the candidates are tested on longeing horses, longeing for seat, teaching private and group lessons, and riding familiar and unfamiliar horses. They also have to take a written exam and a verbal exam.

She explains, “In addition to acting as an examiner, I and the others on the “faculty” teach workshops in all the disciplines mentioned. A “Pre-cert” is also in the program. This is a mock testing so the candidates can do a practice exam before the real one. The Pre-cert turns out to be very valuable for the candidates’ time management in the exam and it settles their nerves a little.”

The program is the first certification program of a high standard to exist in the U.S. It is patterned after the British Horse Society’s and the German Federation’s programs, both of which are enormously successful and productive in those countries. “It is quite an honor to be certified by the USDF,” says Cindy. “Students are asking instructors if they are certified, and we are very proud of those who are.”

Cindy’s involvement in instructor certification prompted Eliza to start organizing USDF IC workshops in NC when she was just 15 years old. “I discovered that I really enjoy organizing events like this, so over the years I have organized around 15 workshops, two pre-certs, one final testing, a USDF L Program and many other educational events,” she says. “I really like the USDF IC program. It is tough but fair, and I found it to be really fun!”

Eliza teaches many juniors and a few adult amateurs. “ I have really grown to love teaching, and I get a lot of joy out of seeing my students progress,” she says. Eliza passed her Training - 2nd USDF Instructor Certification in 2004 at the age of 22 and hopes to test for 3rd-4th level next year.

She reasons, “The workshops, pre-cert, and even the testing make you think about what you're doing, express it, and do it better. Without pushing myself, I feel that I would get stuck in always being ‘pretty good’ at what I do. The process is humbling, but it makes you realize how much more there is to learn. You can look at that as a scary, overwhelming thing, or as a really exciting thing. I choose to look at it as being really exciting. Look how much more I have to learn, and look how good I could become if I keep learning.”

Cindy and Eliza Sydnor: A Family Dressage Venture
By Amber Heintzberger

Sound Business Advise for The Equestrian Professional

Asked what advice would she give to other people going into business with a family member, Eliza emphasizes that the business aspect needs to be taken seriously. “Sit down with a lawyer, an accountant, and other people whom you admire in the business world and plan out how you want things to work,” she says. “Make a written business plan, make your business a legal entity, keep track of finances, learn how to really be a business owner/operator. We're all in this because we love horses, but if you don't figure out how to make it work for you as a career, it's easy to get burnt out and broke and not know how you got there.”

When she decided to make horses her career, Eliza sat down with a long time client of theirs who was a very successful businesswoman. “I wrote a business plan and had her critique it,” she says. “Then I started working with a wonderful lawyer who helped me create the LLC that is my business and also put together the syndicate that owns one of my young horses. I've never had business classes in college, but I can assure you that I know a lot about all of that now!”

Cindy answers, “First, there has to be a feeling of total trustworthiness and good intentions. Both parties have to want to see success for the other person and for both. If there is jealousy or dishonesty, it would never work, as in any relationship. Secondly, it is very important to outline who does what, so that responsibilities are clearly defined. Thirdly, it is essential to have regular business meetings to discuss goals, plans, and any problems. And lastly, the financial information must be well-kept, accurate, with good business principles, with a profit.”

She advises, “It is actually very difficult to go into business with a family member. One must be honest, considerate, and somewhat unselfish. Otherwise, not only the business will fail but the family bond can be severed.”

For this proud mother and her aspiring daughter, there seems to be no limit to their dedication to learning all that they can and sharing what they learn. In admirable fashion, this mother/daughter team is making a success of their venture. With planning, openness and love for their horses and each other, their business grows and prospers.

HorsesDaily Who's Who - Cindy Sydnor