Money! Money! Money! The more you dedicate your life to dressage or an equestrian lifestyle and the higher levels you ride the more the discussions turn around to money. As much as we try to open dressage to the mass public, one of the reasons it (and most equine sports) has an elitist name tag is the price tag! One of the ways we try to offset the increasing costs of competition is through sponsorships. The last few years this has become an increasing issue for me. I have gotten lots of input from many different and insightful individuals. For example, my dad is in sports marketing and has been since he left his athletic career. He has been with the Dallas Stars, the Texas Rangers, and is now with Legends Cowboys. This gives him a view from both sides of the sponsorship coin. My mom had several graduate classes on marketing and used to be on the sales end of the banking industry. My Uncle James (who I am waiting to hit up soon) studied sports and entertainment law before he started practicing real estate law. Jeremy my trainer is deeply embedded in sponsorships of his own from riding and training as is my friend Reese Koeffler-Stanfield. I have garnered advice from all of them. I also went to the recent owner’s task force meeting and got to hear some of the horse owner’s perspectives. I also talk to my riding friends who are working on this same issue and we try to bounce around ideas.
So what did I come up with over the last few years? First, remember that there are several layers of difficulty for young people to get sponsorships more than adults. First, the adults have a longer proven track record of success and a recognizable name than we do. Second, they are adult professionals who are more business minded. They have experience at this and we don’t. Sponsors aren’t worried that adults will get two or three years into a project and they will ‘change their career path.’ Historically, we all talk about how the 18-25 years are the black hole for most riders. At this age we go off to college, bounce around majors and careers, get married and start families. That often pulls promising riders out of our sport at least temporarily. So sponsors often want to wait until those years are over to solidify relationships. Third, we have different perceptions on things like social media and behavior than adults often do. They did not grow up using FB, twitter, snapchat and instagram. Corporations and industry leaders are older and fearful in some ways of our ‘openness.’ So remember who your audience is. The corporate leaders and owners are not 18. Their perceptions are different than ours. But you are asking them for help. That means it isn’t up to them to accommodate or accept you. It is up to you to accommodate, understand and except their perceptions. So you need to get strict with yourself. What image do you want to present to future sponsors. What image do you want to build for yourself as to your values and beliefs about not just dressage and riding but about behavior and attitude? If you want sponsors to know you are hardworking, dedicated and focused it would be unwise to post FB pictures and twitter messages that lead people to perceive that you are not. One picture speaks 1000 words. I daily see posts from fellow young people and adults that make me think; I wonder what my grandmother would think about that. I have chosen over the years to let people know that I am as cautious in person as I am online. If my mother would give me "that look" I don’t post it or chat about it. There is no need. If you think this long enough, it becomes natural not only in your online communication but your daily life. If you constantly think about the image you want to present. The person you want to be; you become that person in your actions.
Why is image so important? Sponsors spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars developing their own image. They will want your image to reflect or enhance theirs. This is why even industry greats like Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods have lost millions because of their behavior. More importantly they have lost respect and have tainted their lifelong athletic achievements. They dedicated and sacrificed decades and lost what to so long to build for a moment (or two) of stupidity. Once this is done it is hard to recover from. It is hard to change people’s perceptions of you once they are formed.
So part of my strategy is and will be that I am not only dedicated, hardworking and focused but loyal to my sponsors. For example, Schleese was the first company to sponsor me. They supported my goals and dreams before I had proof that I could achieve anything. In 2012 a few weeks before the Festival of Champions my saddle broke. I had purchased years before a used Schleese that I had been riding in for a long time. It had been lovingly used but had seen better days! Schleese jumped in and gave me a new saddle to use while they fixed my old one. It was phenomenal. It was like riding in a couch. It was their Infinity II which I still use. It has brought me two National and 6 North American medals. We have traveled a nice road together. Over the last two years many of the people at Schleese have emailed me to congratulate me personally. Any time I need a saddle pad, or anything I need they get it right out to me the next day. They have been helpful, supportive, loyal and professional. The values they have shown me that they have; reflect the ones that I hold important. So after NAYRC this year I contacted them about maybe increasing our commitment long term. I don’t want to be that girl who jumps from sponsor to sponsor depending on who offers me the most at the time. I want to be that girl who is loyal to her owners, her sponsors, her family, her horse, her trainer. Heck I moved from Texas to Washington my senior year on two weeks’ notice to train with Jeremy. Then after less than a year I put off a full ride to a private four year Jesuit school to follow him 1000’s of miles to California. I want to build long term dedicated relationships not only with my trainer but my sponsors and hopefully someday my owners.
So what happened with Schleese? Amazing things! They have a similar belief in developing relationships and loyalty. They feel they have been part of my story from the beginning and want to continue to be. They are changing in my Infinity II saddle (which I am going to miss) for the new Obrigado!!!!! I am so excited it feels like Christmas and my birthday at the same time. They are sending their local representative to measure Sjapoer and I. They are sending me Mr. Schleese’s new book "Suffering in Silence"; which I cannot wait to read. As soon as I get my butt in my new saddle I will let you know how it feels. Really, I have a bony butt and until I got my Infinity II I had trouble with my butt getting numb in the saddle. I used to have fairly bad back and hip problems. Regular chiropractor treatments, increasing exercises for the area and my Schleese helped with that! (Sounds like the topic of another blog).
So back to the point about sponsorships; I want to look back 40 years from now at my long dressage career and still have the Schleese symbol on my pads and their saddle on my horse. I want to share my memories over those forty years with the same people. We can grow and succeed together. I want my sponsors, trainers, vets, massage people, farriers and owners to know that about me. That is the product I want to sell. That is my brand.