The following is a guide for athletes and owners looking to form a successful partnership. It provides the information and tools necessary to build a mutually agreed upon partnership in which everyone’s needs and goals are met.

Forming a Partnership

The owner-athlete relationship may take several different forms, these partnerships include those in which: the athlete only rides one owner’s horses, the athlete rides for multiple owners, the athlete owns a part in a horse and contributes towards expenses and/or a group of individuals (sometimes including the athlete) own a horse(s) through a syndicate.

Each situation is unique and it is important that both parties come to an agreement on all aspects of the arrangement prior to entering into a partnership. It is important to establish clear roles and responsibilities for each party and to establish communication guidelines and methods among team members that satisfy everyone’s needs. In many cases it may be prudent to formalize the owner/athlete agreement as a legal document signed by all involved parties.

Addressing some of the below topics will be helpful for both the owner and the athlete to avoid future conflicts and come to a mutually agreed upon partnership:

  • What are the goals of the partnership? (Competition related and otherwise)
  • Who will be part of the team? (Include groom(s), vet, farrier)
  • How and how often does the team communicate?
  • What are the expenses involved and who will be responsible for each?
  • How are outside sponsors dealt with? (e.g. product, supplements)
  • How is the glory shared? (Does one person receive the prize money or is it divided? Who keeps awards such as trophies and medals?)
  • What is the code of conduct for the team?

All owners and athletes should think carefully about the answers to these questions. In addition, athletes and potential owners considering syndicating a horse should consult an attorney experienced in equine law matters to formalize the intentions of the parties and comply with legal filings. Please refer to the Syndication ABCs, particularly the Checklist for Multi-Owner Syndication Agreements.

Goal Setting

In your partnership, who will be responsible for setting the goals – the owner, the athlete, or both collaborating? Some owners may start with an existing horse and choose the athlete to reach a certain goal. An athlete in turn, may have a personal goal and reach out to an owner/sponsor for assistant in realizing that goal.

Setting realistic short term and long term goals are essential for the success of partnerships as these will dictate everything from the type of horse in need to which competitions to attend. The goals may also include an eventual sale of the horse, if that is the case owners and athletes should include details on when the sale of the horse may occur and how the profit is shared in their initial partnership agreement.

Many partnerships will focus their goals on national and international level championships, it is important to become familiar with such competitions before setting a goal.

International Championships

The primary international level championships for Big Tour (Grand Prix) Horses are:

  • Olympic Games
  • FEI World Equestrian Games
  • Pan American Games
  • FEI World Cup Dressage Final

The primary international level championship for Small Tour (Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire I) Horses is:

  • Pan American Games

The primary international level championship for Young Horses (ages 5 and 6) is:

  • FEI World Breeding Championships for Dressage Young Horses

Qualification and selection processes for Big Tour Championships/Finals vary year to year, however the bar is now set very high. Based on the results of recent Selection Events, a combination will need to score a minimum of 72% or higher in the Grand Prix to be part of the US Squad. If the goal is to earn an individual medal at the World Championship/Final level, the world has set that bar at 80% or higher.

Team USA has had much success at the Pan American Games, taking home the Team Gold at the last four Games. In the 2011 Games, Team USA made history by winning the Team Gold and all three individual medals. The new Pan American Games format for the 2014 Games will for the first time include both Small Tour and Big Tour combinations.

The qualification and selection process for each Big and Small Tour International Championship is posted on the USEF Dressage High Performance Page.
Further information on the Olympic Games can be found here.
Further information on the FEI World Equestrian Games can be found here.
Further information on the FEI World Cup Dressage Final can be found here.

For Young Horses (5-and 6-year-olds), the FEI World Breeding Championships for Dressage Young Horses is always an exciting event to aim for with the top horses from around the world competing in Verden, Germany every summer. Horses qualify through national competitions and are invited to attend the Championships based on their competition record.

The qualification and selection process for the FEI World Breeding Championships is posted to the USEF Dressage National Page.
Further information about the Championships can be found here.

National Championships

The USEF hosts two National Championships, which includes 11 divisions, each year:

The U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions presented by The Dutta Corp, which includes the: Pony Rider, AGCO Junior, AGCO Young Rider, Young Adult ‘Brentina Cup’ presented by Dressage Today, The Dutta Corp. Intermediaire I and The Dutta Corp. Grand Prix Dressage National Championships. Combinations qualify through designated qualifying competitions throughout the year with the top 12 being invited to compete in the Pony Rider-Brentina Cup divisions and the top 15 being invited in the Intermediaire I and Grand Prix divisions.

Qualifying information on the Pony Rider-Brentina Cup divisions can be found here.
Qualifying information on The Dutta the Intermediaire I and Grand Prix divisions can be found here.The Dutta Corp. Intermediaire I and Grand Prix divisions can be found here.
Complete event information can be found here.

The Markel/USEF Young and Developing Horse Dressage National Championships, which includes: Young Horse divisions for 4-, 5-and 6-year-olds, Developing Horse Prix St. Georges and Developing Horse Grand Prix. Combinations qualify through designated qualifying competitions throughout the year with the top 15 being invited to compete in each division.

Qualifying information on the Young Horse divisions can be found here.
Qualifying information on the Developing Horse divisions can be found here.
Complete event information can be found here.

Selecting Your Support Team & Team Communication

A successful athlete/horse combination has the support of capable professionals who ensure that the combination can compete at their best. It is vital that the athlete and owner work together to select a cohesive team who can work together with the best interest of the horse in mind. This team could include, but not be limited to: a groom, veterinarian, farrier and physiotherapist.

Defining each person’s role within the team is critical. Some examples of roles that should be assigned when a team is formed are: who will handle the paperwork (USEF/FEI membership renewals, competition entries etc.), who will handle the logistics (especially when international travel is required for both horse and rider), who will handle the payment of expenses, and who will receive accreditation (access to stables and athlete stands) at Team Competitions or any International Event/CDI with limited accreditation access (2 owners per horse).

Determining the most effective way to communicate and defining how frequently such communication should occur will also greatly aid in creating a cohesive team. One team may communicate mostly through email, others may prefer texting or calling; some owners may prefer to know every time the vet is called, others may take a more hands-off approach. There is no right or wrong answer; the important thing is to establish clear roles, responsibilities, communication methods and frequency guidelines that satisfy everyone’s needs.

In addition to communication within the team, communication with the media will also become necessary as the horse and athlete enjoy success. The media both in and out of competition will request interviews, predominantly with the athlete, but often will include the owner(s) and other team members. It is important to establish a united front to present to the media and coordinate among the team who is primarily in charge of communicating with the media and what information is shared.

Expenses and Grants

Once an athlete and owner have established how day-to-day expenses will be covered, they should next evaluate expenses associated with national and/or international competition which will involve travel expenses for the entire team. Establish how expenses such as lodging, transportation and per diems will be handled for each team member traveling. Keep in mind that when a horse is away from home for an extended period of time, arranging for a farrier and physiotherapist may become necessary.

Once a combination is selected as a U.S. Dressage team member for a given Championship or Games, the USEF offers logistical support as well as some financial support. The USEF Dressage staff will coordinate with the athlete and owner on the planning of the trip and continue to provide logistical support once at the event.

There are several programs and grants which provide support to high performance combinations throughout the year:

USEF Dressage Training Sessions: for combinations at the Elite, Developing, Youth and/or Young Horse level sessions are held throughout the year and are led by the USEF coaching staff. The majority of these sessions are by invitation only, more information can be found here: Elite, Developing, Youth, Young Horses.

USEF Grants: the USEF may make available training or competition grants for which certain qualification criteria is set. Grant recipients are typically selected through an application process announced on the USEF website here. (Note: to receive all program and grant announcements via email subscribe to USEF News here).

The Dressage Foundation: several grants are offered for high performance combinations including the Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize which is awarded to riders seeking to excel at the elite, international level. Find out more and apply here.

Sponsorship Agreements

An athlete may be approached by a vendor to endorse a product or service. Athletes must understand that a horse is a separate entity, not automatically part of a sponsorship agreement. If the image of the horse is used as part of the endorsement, not only is the vendor benefiting from the notoriety of this horse, but the owner(s) may become liable in endorsing a product or service. Athletes and owners should discuss who communicates with vendors and reach an agreement that satisfies all the parties involved, financially and legally.

Sharing the Glory!

Seeing your horse coming down centerline in magnificent show venues, or watching the American flag go up in honor of the US team, are a few of the many joys that one can experience owning a high performance horse. There are many people who contribute to the success of a horse and athlete and it is important to discuss how the good times and glory will be shared. Questions to consider: Who will travel with the horse? How is the prize money split? Who keeps the trophy/ribbons/medals? Who attends the awards ceremonies?

Code of Conduct

Each team will be uniquely defined by its members. The athlete and owner should take leadership in setting a code of conduct for its team members. What is the most important value for the team? What is the code of ethics? What is the appropriate behavior and dress code, which appropriately represents the team?