The College of Performance Farms

Thursday, July 9, 2009

[#27523 override="Dr. Cesar Parra" title="Dr. Cesar Parra"]

[#27523 override="

" title="
"]When it comes to describing Performance Farms, Cesar Parra likens it to a university. "It's like an informal college," he said. "I want the young riders to learn about everything, not just horses and riding. They also need to learn about business and life. They need to understand that releases have to be signed, that hay has to be ordered. And, they need to learn to represent themselves well. There is often this impression that people who love horses and animals don't care about their appearance. I don't believe in that and my riders also learn to be presentable." To help them learn those lessons, Cesar brings people from all walks of life to the farm, not only top dressage clinicians, but also people from the business world, such as from Wall Street. "We bring in people who are successful and they come and they talk to us and we learn something."

It was his desire to surround himself with good riders and fun people that led Cesar to build his team at Performance Farms. In the early days of his career, his business was centered on his individual riding career, but he quickly realized that a life of riding, showing and then going home could become boring and empty. An outgoing and social person, Cesar wanted to ride and train with others who not only shared his passion for riding, but also his enjoyment of life. "I like to have people around me who I enjoy, who I feel honored to be with and who are fun. Basically, I wanted to be around nice people who ride. And then I decided that I needed good riders and that I wanted them to stay with me."

Hence, he shifted his focus away from himself as an individual rider and toward the idea of building team of riders with him essentially as coach. "We set it up so that we could get working visas for the riders. And we've had riders from the U.S., Canada, Colombia, Argentina and Europe. We have top German riders who spend a year with us and then go back and take their master's test and then return," Cesar said. To house his growing group of young riders, Cesar bought a townhouse "that is like a dorm. They all have their own rooms but learn to live in a community." He also got them a car to share. But what he most gets for them are good horses to ride.

[#27523 override="

" title="
"]Cesar admits he once thought as many riders do – that he needs to keep the good horses for himself to ride. But then he learned that the real key to a successful business is to sell the best horses. "Very often 'horse for sale' means 'I can't ride my horse so therefore my horse is for sale' or 'my horse became a monster so it's for sale' or 'my trainer doesn't like my horse, my child is going to college, I'm getting divorced, so my horse is for sale.'  What we try to do is buy the best horses and then we compete them and train them and then sell them to someone who is a good match," Cesar said. That strategy, he said, has not only made his business a success, but also provides the young riders on his team with access to top quality horses. They are the ones who get to ride and compete the sale horses.

One of the key elements to Cesar's college environment is an idea he calls "Cross Ties." "Cross Ties is a broad idea that came about a couple of years ago.  I feel a responsibility to these talented kids to try and teach them as much as I can. Cross Ties is about providing a place for young people to learn that also teaches fair play, respect for others, as well as the importance of keeping a positive attitude."  In an effort to support this idea, Cesar is developing a network of friends and clients who in invest in sales horses. "We have a whole network of good people who help to bring in good horses for training and they know that by doing this, they are providing a young rider an opportunity to ride and they are providing me with income so I can give these young riders a job. And yet, it's also a business for the owners because they buy a good horse and it gets trained, shown and then sold."

One might think the downside of this strategy is that members of the Performance Farms, including Cesar, loss the chance to hold onto the horses that could take them into the international arena. But Cesar said he doesn't worry about such things. "My main goal is to ride, to support this operation and to support Cross Ties." What matters most, Cesar said, is that his young riders get access to good horses and the chance to compaign them until they are sold. So long as his network of good owners keep supplying good horses, all the team members will get the chance to be in the winner's circle. Cesar said he is confident that with each horse sold, another good one will come along.

Photo: Senior trainer Katie Riley plays a central role not only as a trainer, but also in helping to keep the business of Performance Farms on track.

Managing a team of talented young riders is not without its challenges. Cesar admits that jealousy does occasionally arise. "But I squash that very quickly." If one watches the interaction of the young riders at Performance Farms, it's clear that there is much respect among them. They also understand that not every rider matches will with every horse. They easily trade off horses when told to do so and learn from one another. Talent alone cannot earn one a spot on the Performance Farms team. "One important condition here is they have to breathe horses," Cesar said. "They have to love it because it is 24-hours a day, seven days a week and if you don't love it, you will burn out."

[#27045 override="Building an International Reputation" title="Building an International Reputation"]