Many people have wondered about my motivation in writing this particular blog about the future of American dressage as I envision it. Some people have labeled it as self-promotion, although most have viewed it as political suicide to speak out against the old, established way of doing things. Some people think I’m interested in coaching or managing the team. However, none of these assumptions is correct from my own perspective.
My motivation is singular: to help competitive dressage in my own country morph into a force to be reckoned with worldwide. Why? Because I want to be part of that force. I have spent 20 years in Europe, Rita. If I do not share all that I have learned from my experiences here, the last two decades of my life will have been for naught. So, I’m putting my opinion out there and hoping it may be of some use in spurring the entire industry FORWARD in America.
Having said that, we need to move on to the fourth and final element that I believe is crucial to developing a world-class dressage team: Marketing and Finance.
Paying for the development of a contemporary, successful U.S. dressage team isn’t going to be easy. We have to start with a proposed plan and then find a way to come up with the money for it. The task seems daunting, but for me it’s just another challenge.
I moved to Germany in 1993 with $3,000 in the bank, three credit cards, two average horses and one bicycle. After 20 years of training and showing in the heart of Germany’s competitive horse industry, I am returning to the USA with $3,000 in the bank, three international Grand Prix prospects, two dogs and string of successes in international sport. I believe that if I can achieve something so unlikely, we citizens of the U.S. dressage industry can put our heads together and find a way to finance our sport in America.
4. Marketing and Finance
Obviously funding is the major hurdle to the development of any Olympic sport and in particular the dollar-intense equestrian sports. I am sure that anyone in charge of developing a team for 2014 and 2016 would love to follow the plan I laid out in my last blog IF funds for dressage were unlimited. Unfortunately, we are weakly funded which makes the position of marketer/fundraiser one of the most important for a strong future dressage team. We need a professional in this position whose job is to MAKE THE MONEY WE NEED TO SPEND for success.
Let’s be clear on one thing. All the dues and fees we pay to the U.S. Equestrian Federation go to covering the expenses of the USEF. Private donations to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation currently provide the only avenue of team support for the seven high performance disciplines, although I’m not sure what percentage of donation income actually makes it to dressage.
In 2011, the USET appropriated $2.1 million to the USEF for support of all high performance disciplines. In 2012, the USET will make $2.7 million available for high performance use. God bless the ladies and gentlemen at the USET for busting their butts to raise those funds. Up until this point, they’ve been our only source of support.
But frankly, Rita, $2 million is what private sponsors spend on one horse in Europe, not the development of seven disciplines. So yes, we do have a problem.
Most private donors to the USET are interested in horses and equestrian sports. Many of them are the vital private sponsors who purchase top horses for our top competitors. If we could relieve them of supporting our teams with donations, perhaps these private donors could turn more money toward the purchase of future mounts.
Finding a neutral source of team support would level the playing field for all competitors. In our current system, when a top donor to the sport enters his personal horses in Olympic qualifications, this creates the perception that his horse could be favored for team selection—a conflict of interest that becomes the elephant in the room at every selection trial, especially in dressage.
Now Rita, I personally believe that very few riders and horses have gotten on our teams due to the influence of their owners. Everybody has to produce real results to get on a team.
That said, when it comes down to choosing who to put on a team, it makes financial sense to choose the horse owned by the private donor when your team has no other means of support. Whether this actually occurs or not is irrelevant. The perception that it occurs makes it a reality to be dealt with, which is the basic nature of all conflicts of interest.
The solution, of course, is to find other ways to fund our sport so that private sponsors can continue to support the careers of their riders and horses without conflict of interest. This is just as good for the sponsors as it is for dressage.
Fair funding for fair sport. It levels the playing field and creates a truly competitive sport.
Possibilities: Lottery And Corporate Sponsorship
I see two possibilities to finance our team in the future: lottery proceeds and corporate sponsorship.
Great Britain established a national lottery, the profits of which went toward funding training for all its Olympic athletes. Can we develop a national lottery or even a few state lotteries to help us fund our equestrian sports? Instead of Power Ball, bettors can buy tickets for Horse Ball. This is a sensational and successful tool employed by Brits—let’s borrow that ideal! It won’t be the first time we have taken a British concept and run off with it.