The Accidental Owner – Louise Weir
I didn’t set out to be an “owner”. I thought that was something that Lady or Lord So and So did… not someone like me (a forty-something working mother of two). Like many things in my life that have actually turned out to be ultimately worthwhile, it was accidental: I fell into owning when I was sold a totally unsuitable horse (yes, yes, I know I too fell into that cliché) who was mega talented but totally unsuitable and actually dangerous for an amateur like myself. So, faced with the impossible task of being able to show him off sufficiently well to sell him myself ,I phoned up the local event rider who I knew vaguely and asked him if he would like to take the ride with a view to selling him. Sadly the horse was taken from us too soon but by that stage I was bitten by the bug that comes with being an owner, and 4 years on I am still there…
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t own a string (although at one stage I did have part or full ownership of 5 in full work which was a little bit scary in terms of cost and control), I just have a lovely 7 year old Shannondale Sparky with young event rider Ginny Howe, and a mare that I bought to ride myself but have also shared the ride with Ginny as the mare is very new to eventing so Ginny gives her confidence, oh and also the old boy in the field eating his head off and laughing at the youngsters that still have to “work”.
So why have I continued with something that was born out of necessity but continued when that necessity faded? I have thought about this long and hard because after all it is not cheap and when you don’t have a bottomless pit of money at your disposal it may seem like a very odd thing to do to spend money every month on a horse that you don’t actually ride. The result of my ponderings can be distilled into two main reasons: one more selfish than the other. The first is that as I get older, I become more and more aware of my lack of “bounce”, the inevitable (although not too frequent thankfully) falls hurt more and take longer to recover from (my osteopath reckons that without riders and rugby players she would be far less busy) and the two children sharpen the responsibility gene somewhat. Also, as time passes my ambitions have faded into a “let’s just go out and have fun” type approach rather than the desire to get placed although the current mare’s determination to come last in the dressage is testing even that seemingly humble aim. So if I can’t do it, then I can take immense pleasure in watching someone else do it. Secondly, it is a tough sport for those riders that are not blessed with the support of family money. Horses are expensive and fragile – never a good combination. So if I, in my own little way, can help a young rider by providing a young horse then that also satisfies the altruistic side of me.
Back to the selfish reason: I was surprised to realise that I actually enjoy watching as much as I enjoy riding. I am my own worst critic of my own ability, but with Ginny I am 100% confident that Sparky is having the best start in life that he could possibly have by being brought on as correctly and sympathetically as possible.
Many, many horses are ruined by misguided “production” techniques and that will never be said of Sparky. There is also the thrill of hearing your name over the loudspeaker (note to Organisers: it really DOES make a difference when the commentator announces the owner!), and flashing the “Owner’s Badge” at the entrance to a marquee! Sparky is now competing at a level far beyond my own capabilities and so I get to participate in the sport I love in a different way. He has taken me to massive highs – at Rockingham Castle this year I did actually cry as he came over the xc finishing line in his first CIC * where he was 7th, and he also made me ache at Chatsworth where he had his first “I don’t understand” wobble at the “moat”, and I worried about his confusion for days afterwards. He is now (as long as the bubble wrap stays in place) taking me to Barbury – an event at which I have always wanted to participate, with the ultimate season aim being Hartpury CCI* in August.
Of course, the events themselves are just a culmination of all the hard work that is put in behind the scenes, and the pleasure that I get from my role as an owner is as much about being involved in the preparation as the events themselves. Ginny is an amazing rider to support –she is unfailingly positive and kind and the whole yard has a family feel to it which, whilst appearing slightly chaotic at times, is actually run with clockwork efficiency. The horses thrive on the busy yet laid back atmosphere and it means that they are mostly unfazed by anything they encounter at events. It may sound strange to say but the single most important attribute that Ginny has to me as an owner is that whilst I know that she loves Sparky as much as I do, she always remembers that he is mine and takes the time to seek my opinion on matters regarding his training and event timetable. She also seems to know instinctively when I am having a really stressful day at my desk in London and all of a sudden a video of Sparky on the gallops or jumping in the field will appear on my phone and make me smile. I truly feel part of his training and progression even though she lives a good hour’s drive from me. The difference is that now rather than rushing to get ready for events after a week at work, I still get up at stupid o’clock but this time all I have to do is get myself and my daughter ready which is much less stressful!
I love being an owner and really wish more people realised just how much fun it is. If you work with the right rider and club together with others it also doesn’t have to be that expensive. My biggest tip would be that it is really, really important that you pick your rider carefully. The rider/owner relationship is at the end of the day a business relationship as you are paying for a service. And yes that relationship can morph into a friendship but if you don’t see it as a business relationship at the beginning then the prospect of misunderstandings are huge. You have to document everything especially if you are sharing the ownership with others, even if that other is the rider. It’s like a pre-nuptial – you hope you will never need it but it will save a lot of pain if you get it in place in case things go wrong. There is a great article in Eventing Life Magazine this month about owners and I think the EHOA comments in the side box should be stapled to the wall of every up-and-coming event rider’s tack room! I have had some truly amazing experiences at some events as an owner and then another where I had to pay the entrance fee to watch my own horse compete!
All event riders and their approaches to their owners are very different. I have only experienced directly two event riders during my time as an owner and their approaches were polar opposites. It must feel like a partnership with both inputting what they are best at, otherwise the owner can feel like a cash machine and the rider might feel he or she is being faced with unreasonable demands day in day out.
In summary, being an owner is not for everyone but I think it is more accessible than most people think, especially if you share it with like-minded friends. It is a way of accessing and being part of events that you may not ever access yourself as anything other than a spectator. You still share the highs and the lows but not the risk (well, except for financially). We are the backbone of the sport at the end of the day. Very few event riders can run their own string by their own means… and without us there wouldn’t be so many coming through the ranks. In fact just writing this has made me really wish I could finance more… now where is that Horsequest shortlist???
All photos of Ginny Howe and Shannondale Sparky at Chatsworth Horse Trials by kind permission of MDR Photos.