Sloane Coles was asked to participate in a Dutch chain letter by Mark Leone, talking about her experiences riding in America. The translated text is below and consists of her experiences, and then her passing the letter on to François Mathy.
In the American system of riding, equitation is an important basic and is used as a building block toward the Grand Prix level. I have been lucky enough to be trained by a number of very talented equitation trainers. For me, that was the foundation of my junior career and is the basis of my riding. I started in the equitation at the age of 10 and competed in it for 10 years until I was no longer eligible. I truly believe that my experiences in the equitation ring have made me the rider I am now.
In America, the basis of equitation competition is judging the rider. There are pieces of dressage that are incorporated, and like dressage an equitation course requires perfect execution of highly technical courses. Equitation classes are very complex competitions that require an exact number of strides between fences and a perfectly consistent length of stride throughout the entire course. In addition, the horse has to jump all the fences the same. While the fences might not be high (about 1.20m) perfection is what counts as it confirms the connection between you and your horse as that is what allows you to execute a flawless round.
While generally time plays no role, in some equitation classes there is a maximum allowed time. However, a rider is always judged on the accuracy of the ride and the performance of the horse and rider as a pair. That is one of the reasons why American young riders come out of their junior careers with such a strong basis. As a result, I have learned that at the end of the day the equitation classes will always be the day-to-day experience. The problem is that in our country and our sport the equitation is so expensive that sometimes junior riders have to choose between competing in the jumpers or the equitation. Unfortunately, everything around our sport is just very expensive in America because of the management of the horses and riding competitions. This makes progression in our sport difficult.
American young riders all have a similar goal of representing their country in team competition and benefitting from the training that team members receive. Competing in Europe is also a big goal for many. In Florida, there are new Grand Prix classes that only riders under a certain age are eligible for. The top five may then compete in Europe. For many riders, the hardest part of competing in Europe is the high costs. To get there, horses must be shipped to an airport, flown overseas, and then stabled in Europe. Affording all of this requires a good sponsor.
It is hard to find sponsors when a rider is just starting out at the Grand Prix level. The exception to this is riders whose parents are already in the business or whose parents support them financially. If this is not the case, this road can take a lot longer. It is a valuable experience for any rider to compete in Europe, especially representing their country in team competition. When I competed in Europe, I rode a lot of practice courses. During my stay I also had the option of going to competitions with courses of 1.20-1.30m and 1.40m. Unfortunately, we don’t have that here. I wish that we did have these kinds of small competitions in America, because they allow you to develop your young horses. Most American riders who travel to Europe usually go to the biggest three-, four- or five-star events.
In America, obtaining sponsorships doesn’t depend on how well you ride. A large part depends on your personality and your interactions with people around you. You have to be hungry and take the chance in order to ask someone if they want to buy a horse for you. It doesn’t happen if you are not asking. You have to go to dinner parties and social events to get people excited and invested in you and your future. It is also important to surround yourself with good staff and good connections. You need people who can help you manage your business and can contact people to ask if they wish to be involved with your career. In America, there are plenty of people who ride very well but still don’t have a sponsor. That’s the difference in America. For a large part riding is important, but you always need to remember that there are other aspects involved. It’s not just about talent, you need to also have a good team around you.
It’s hard to find a sponsor even at the higher levels, but it’s also difficult for the sponsors themselves. They have to not only to buy a horse, but also finance that horse all year round as the horse travels and goes to competitions. You don’t earn any money at first while teaching your 6- and 7-year-old horses. The cost for keeping and competing a young horse is enormous and much more expensive than the horse itself. You only earn money when you start winning Grand Prix events. You must be lucky with your sponsors and find people that go for the sport rather than for the business. A lot of people earn money buying and selling horses for juniors and amateurs, not bringing young horses up through the ranks.
Two years ago I started my own business, and I am lucky enough to have made a good start. My parents own the stable where I work. I ride about 15 horses for sponsors and a few that my parents and I own together. I also take on clients to train. Usually, all of my horses go to competitions because in America there is no limit to the number of horses you can compete. I would love to have more young horses, but it is not possible right now because of how expensive it is to campaign them. I think we really need to look in to changing the management and cost of competitions in America.
While my goal is to eventually ride in European competition, I first want to give myself time to settle in to American competition at the national Grand Prix level and build my pool of sponsors. I do want to go to Europe, but only if I’m going to be successful. Currently I ride an 8-year-old gelding named L’ami Noir (v. Cormint), and I am optimistic about his suitability for the highest levels of international competition.
I wish to pass on the chain letter to horse dealer François Mathy from Belgium whom I worked with for eight months. In 1976, he was an international show jumping rider and medaled at the Montreal Olympics in both individual and team competition. For me it was a great experience to work with him. I learned a lot about the business side of things and that gave me the confidence to start my own. François Mathy is also known for selling Sapphire (v. Darco) to McLain Ward.
What do you miss the most about competing? What advice would you give a young horse dealer? What advice would you give to a young professional rider? Tell us about your other animals on the farm besides hoses?