2011 USEA New Years Letter

2011 USEA New Years Letter

Dear Riders, Trainers, Parents, Sponsors, Barn Owners, Event Organizers and Friends,

As a card carrying “Horse Person” I thought I would start out reminding you that regardless of this new designation as USEA President I am still very aware of the realities of our culture.  As I am most days I was up this morning in the dark and after answering e-mails, attending a morning business teleconference and working on USEA committees I headed to the barn to teach, ride and be with the horses.  I had set the majority of the day aside to work on this letter and a year-end letter to my equestrian clients that is long overdue.  By the time I got home, answered some calls, organized a clinic and got some more business done it was 10:30PM and I was just able to force myself to get started on writing.  Then it struck me!  I will write the letter to both my clients and the USEA membership.  Just change a few words and I would be done!  So, I wish you each a Happy New Year and send my best wishes for a successful and safe eventing season.  I would also like to offer some perspectives on our sport and the lifestyle we all share.

We are finding ourselves in a period of history where the economy is still challenging our financial security.  I want you to know that I share in your concerns and empathize with the sacrifices many make to enjoy the sport we enjoy so much.  The Equestrian sports are in most cases a powerful passion for the participants. This passion is for many a lifetime commitment and for others a brief but memorable moment.  I am still in contact with many former students that have not ridden in over twenty years and yet remember every day fondly.  More critically, many of the life lessons learned with horses have been carried forward into their lives and careers.  Horses do make an incredibly powerful difference in people’s lives.  No kidding, horses really are that important.  We all sacrifice for this sport and I believe the sport warrants our sacrifice.

Those that make a life with horses are well aware that the activity is very expensive and immensely time consuming.  How we interact with our equestrian community as we travel this road is varied but the overriding truth is we are all in it together with our horses.  As such, we need to be individually aware of the challenges faced by others in our community.

Riders face a number of financial and time management concerns.  Lessons are expensive, training is expensive, board is expensive, shows are expensive, transportation is expensive, equipment is expensive, horses are expensive, vets are expensive, farriers are expensive and the time spent is expensive.  On top of that, understanding horsemanship can be frustrating and has a slow learning curve.  We accept this but it does make the process seem odd to those outside our community.  Major breakthroughs are not commonplace and the norm is slow steady progress with regular setbacks.  Sometimes, it seems that everyone and everything is aligned to take every penny you or your parents or your sponsors can provide. And, all this activity takes time, a lot of time.  Riders have school or work or family or all three all clamoring for a piece of the 24 hours we each have to make a day work. Multi-tasking is not an option it is a requirement.

Trainers face a number of financial concerns as they progress.  The work is typically long and hot or long and cold.  Students are late, horses misbehave, and the other professionals you deal with are also in the same time warp so your day can be completely out of control after one hour at the barn.  People forget to pay their bills or don’t pay their bills.  Students leave for other trainers on a whim, use and break your equipment, “borrow” your best stuff (books, blankets and bits are my most commonly vanishing items), wreck your trailer and ignore your advice on buying/selling horses. However, on most days the great moments far outshine the difficult ones.  The look on the face of a young rider finally feeling “thoroughness” or understanding the value and application of a half-halt make any price worth the paying.  Seeing a 60+ year old Adult Amateur finish their first clean Cross Country is as inspiring as any International medal.

Parents fall into two categories.  There are Horse Parents and Non-Horse Parents.  Both types of parents are basically the same other than the Horse Parent can be just as crazy with the credit card as the Rider.  The Non-Horse Parent gradually turns into the Horse Parent from overexposure to dust, mud, manure on the carpet, odd things in the washing machine, and endless weekends in the garden vacation spots our equestrian activities call home.  Non–Horse Parents wake up one day, recognize and enjoy the smell of clean leather and it’s done...they are Horse Parents.  We even start to see them in beginner lessons and notice them eyeing the Area adult rider groups having fun at the events Saturday night parties.  By the way parents, I strongly encourage you to look into lessons for yourself.  Your kid’s trainer will probably enjoy working with you more than your kid and you will have a blast.

Sponsors are a relatively new breed of horse enthusiast.  Yes, there have been great sponsors around for generations but the new breed is quite different than the old breed.  There are sponsors of High Performance riders that have been personally handed from generation to generation and have been as famous for their generous donations to the sport as their riders are famous for their athletic success.  These sponsors are responsible for the majority of the great horses throughout the entire lifespan of our sport.  Frankly, without these sponsors it is unlikely our sport would exist in the form we enjoy it today.  The new sponsor is more likely to be a shareholder in a “syndicate” and although just as vital as the sponsor of the former type, syndicate partners are very different just based on the numbers involved.  This increase in numbers is a positive for the sport but the new sponsor must realize that the riders they help so graciously are typically not well prepared to provide all the contact and connection that the sponsor wants and deserves.  I would simply ask for patience on the part of the sponsor and more persistent and personal action on the part of the riders.  This is a new area and everyone is learning a new paradigm. By the way sponsors as you know the USEA is a 501c3 organization with some absolutely fantastic plans for this year and we could use your help...again.

Barn Owners and Breeders are people who spend countless hours and a fortune building their business while others think they are making a fortune.  Just when the bottom line finally hits bottom, hay prices skyrocket, the insurance goes up, the water main breaks and the shavings are late.  Then, the water truck breaks, the tractor dies and the resident trainers need more stall bedding, hay, jumps, stalls, lights, respect and the never ending request...better footing.  And, they want all this for the same board price as last year.  It’s just a hard business model to understand and implement. My sage and obvious suggestion is for both professionals and clients to put on the other person’s boots and ride a few miles in their saddle.  We are all in it together and primarily for the same reason.  We love horses.  If customers recognize their professionals need to make a profit to survive and professionals realize their customers need to get the best bang for their buck we can maintain a great relationship. 

Event Organizers/Officials are really amazing.  I just participated in my first USEF Eventing Technical Committee meeting.  Once again I came away with more respect and admiration for the work you do.  I spent some time trying to come up with a clever quip but the bottom line is... You Rock.  This entire sport exists because you will it into existence.  You protect the land, the horses, the riders, the culture and the very sport itself because you love Eventing

So for 2011 lets all pull together. For all the difficult, time consuming, frustrating and expensive qualities of our sport the truth is we love it, are willing to work hard to make it better and it is an immensely worthwhile endeavor.  One of the key purposes of USEA is to facilitate our community effort to make our sport the best it can be.

Riders... do the work.  If you are going to be spending your money or someone else’s money at least do the work to gain all the benefits from your participation.  Riding is hard work and that is one of its most attractive qualities. Show up early, ask to help the others on this list and pay your bills on time.  Volunteer at your local events and always remember it’s first and foremost about developing an understanding and relationship with horses. Horsemanship must be your primary goal. And by the way...clean your tack and polish your boots. Make it a habit.  It will make a difference.


Trainers...do the work.  You are lucky to be in the profession.  Defend your students, your horses, your parents and your barn owner.  Charge fair rates, do fair work, and don’t mess with people’s children, money or time.  Keep educating yourself. Read books, attend clinics, seminars and symposiums.  Be a professional at all times.  If you’re not ICP certified fine but you’re missing out on a great resource and we would love to hear what you have to say and learn from you. It wouldn’t kill you to get out and share your expertise with other trainers.

Parents (both kinds).  Thanks!  You’re doing fine.  It is a good investment in your kid’s future even if they don’t ride in the Olympics.  Seriously, they will learn amazing things that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives.  I promise.

Sponsors are the super heroes of the sport.  Thanks for the money we really needed it!  And, thanks for the interest in our riders, our horses and most of all, thanks for the belief in our sport.  We do love you we just forget to say it often enough. We do love you!

Barn Owners, you deserve to charge a fair rate that makes a legitimate profit.  Buy the best hay, bedding and help you can afford.  Keep the water flowing, the stalls clean and the footing harrowed.  Everything else is secondary.  If you have too, raise rates to accomplish this. Take some time off... you look tired. 

Event Organizers and Officials we want to offer a huge “Thank you”.  I will personally volunteer more, complain less and I promise to print more clearly on my entry forms or use electronic entries.  You really are the best.  Sometimes, when things don’t go smoothly I pick on you but please forgive me as I am just tired from spending last night with the sick horse, dog, kid or water line.  I sincerely thank you for the work you do.  Oh, I also promise to pick up my trash before I leave.  Honest!

Oh, I almost forgot, the “Friends”.  Friends are those people not in the horse world.  They are simply not “horse people”.  We know it, they know it and there is no explanation needed.  Love them but never think you will get them to understand.  Not going to happen.  They are friends, smile, accept it and move on.   We all need friends.  Friends are our connections to the other “real” worlds.  These worlds are typically clean, run on time and understand the latest trends in clothes, television, music, culture and politics.  Be a “Friend” in someone else’s life and have a conversation about something other than horses at least once a week.  Really!

At this point in my “other” letter (to the trainers, students, barn owners and parents I work with) I break the unwelcome news that I have raised my prices after holding the line for the last two years.  As USEA President I am a volunteer so those reading this can all relax.  At least until your trainer reads this and thinks “Hey!  I need a raise too!”.  Stay tuned for my next letter where I clearly explain the root cause of inflation.

Thanks for your time. 

Brian Sabo

Back to Community Articles

Jul 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm