Many moons ago, when I was but a gal of 17 and fell star struck in awe of this fabulous dressage rider I knew who I just thought was the mutts’ nuts and had everything and anything a person could ever want for – a fabulous barn, one of the best grand prix horses in Canada and an up and coming horse – I remember him saying to me after I explained to him how I would be a professional rider one day too, “Be careful as it is very difficult. I have all this money behind me and it is still very hard for me.” Pah, I thought….hogwash!
Ten years later, I started to figure out the truth of his statement and the reality that his horse had but a fraction of the talent of the great dressage horses and he probably went to bed every night banging his head about how he could get more and better quality animals around him instead of the Cinderella-like vision I had of everything being perfect for him back when I was a teen.
Now in my thirties, I have a very healthy grasp of what he meant. Now, don’t jump all over me here. I am not asking for a violin or for anyone to grab the tissues on my account. I willingly went down this road and continue to do so despite the fact that I was privileged enough to get multiple degrees that could have led me down some other life path.
But the truth is, most of our compatriots are independently wealthy, married wealthy, or have some form of fairy godmother that endows hundreds of thousands upon them. True story, most of my friends doing what I do are still getting money (serious money, not the $40 I get from my mom for birthdays in the mail…which is usually Canadian btw, lol) from their parents. Otherwise, they would not be able to survive in the life they are living.
So, for the rest of us that do not fall into the categories above, it is difficult. Leslie and I have had one day off since January 1st of this year. Our clients can attest that Leslie will often be in the ring or beside the ring from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the ‘season’, seven days a week. He has seven medals…Point being, if you are not born with a silver spoon, or find one rather quick, no matter how good you are, this is a working man’s lifestyle. Luckily, most of the time, we love it as we love the animals so much.
We make a life for ourselves by working our tails off, being good at what we do, and luckily have some help from terrific sponsors that, thank god, appreciate what we do. We all know equestrians, especially three day eventers, are hardly a recognized and appreciated sports personality in North America. We should be, however! I firmly believe that all of us, from the dressage riders to the show jumpers to my fellow eventers, are a hard-working, extremely talented, very brave, and very dedicated and competitive bunch. There is no reason why we are not real athletes and thus should be comparatively treated as such. In Europe, the equestrians are treated as such and are able to make a living off of riding, but this is not the case here (unless you are a top show jumper) and until it changes a bit, I fear we will always lag behind our friends across the waters. The change must start with us, the riders, and us, the supporters and lovers of the sport, and this is why we must NEVER sell ourselves short which brings me to the crux of my blog…
The media has gone mad over Nike giving a lovely dressage girl some form of ‘sponsorship’ they call it. Now, my info is coming almost solely off the Chronicle’s one-page coverage, but from that article I took it that in exchange for some undershirts, a promise of cash if she wins some major events, and the basic ‘privilege of wearing the swoosh’ this girl is now considering herself sponsored by Nike. I understand that this girl is young and this no doubt is a big deal in her life, HOWEVER… the media needs to not make a hero out of this act.
In my humble opinion, rider’s should not be whoring themselves out wearing company logos because they were offered free undershirts and a cash bonus (of undisclosed amount) if they win a major event!
But this example aside, as riders, we are valuable. Our exposure to brands, logos, our media airtime, our press tent interviews…these things all have VALUE. We should not give ourselves away for free. Leslie and I have turned down quite a few ‘sponsorships’ where people think giving you 10 per cent off brush boots should equate to a sponsorship, or for one horse’s supplements per month you should put their company name all over your trailer or website. I’m sorry but our exposure is worth more than $90 in supplements or $20 off a pair of boots that I may buy six times a year.
Sadly, so many of our up and coming young Riders are so starved for either money or a feeling of importance that they will grab onto these so called sponsorships which then dilutes any real sponsors that are out there. It is a little like that saying my mom used to warn “Give them the milk for free and they will never buy the cow”!
My dream is that one day our sport will be recognized in our continent for the wonderful and unique creation it is but while we are so willing to be happy begging for scraps that will most likely never happen. Perhaps at the end of all this Nike will come around and sponsor a $100,000 grand prix dressage class in Wellington next year; that would be nice.
So, a toast to our sport’s greatest sponsors to the Rolex’s, the Mitsubishi’s, the Pfizer’s, AIG, Adequan and every other true equestrian sponsor out there! And to our personal sponsors whom we owe much gratitude to.
Maui Jim Sunglasses