During the four years that I worked in marketing for a major equestrian brand, I was inundated daily with sponsorship requests from amateur riders to burgeoning professionals. As I've warned any friend who has thought about letting their child "try out" a few riding lessons, this is an expensive sport, and trying to support it can prove challenging. Many of the letters we received were from teenagers and young riders who were looking to be competitive in their discipline but due to financial constraints were hoping someone or some brand might be their prince charming and make it all possible. I've had similar aspirations and understand the frustration of not being able to have the opportunity to see them through. But after reading these requests day in and day out, I began to realize that there were a number of misconceptions about what an equestrian sponsorship realistically provides for an endorsee, and how one might successfully clinch a deal.
So for those looking for some corporate support, here's a few takeaways to keep in mind.
1) Be Realistic About Your Expectations - Many sponsorships for entry level endorsees are for product, not cash. Even endorsers with substantial reputations often still sign deals for product only. A sponsorship is not going to be your ticket to free horse care. However, it's possible to start with a limited sponsorship for product only and renegotiate as you prove to brands that you can effectively market their products.
2) Build Influence - Brands work with endorsers because they are people who have perceived influence over potential buyers. Traditionally, these people were competitive riders at the top of our sport, but technology has changed that. You don't have to be on the Olympic team to have influence. Today, brands are expanding to social media to find people with loyal followers who can provide exposure for their products. There's a number of junior and young riders who have found a way to create interesting content on platforms like Instagram and as a result have 20,000+ followers. It's likely that those social media accounts have greater clout among buyers than many dressage trainers who have less reach, and brands are beginning to realize that.
3) Talk About How You Will Help The Brand, Not The Other Way Around - Time and time again I received letters from riders who wanted a sponsorship so that our company could help them realize their competitive dreams. While there's nothing wrong with having these personal goals, leading with them isn't the way to land a sponsorship. Many equestrian brands already support equestrian charities and organizations, so when they search for an endorser they want someone who is going to help build the brand - not look out for themselves. In your sponsorship proposal be sure to be professional, and make a solid case for how you can benefit the brand and their products. Simply using the products unfortunately is not enough to win a company over, you must be able to demonstrate how you will increase exposure and drive sales.
4) Moms, Resist The Urge To Write The Letter For Your Teenager - While I understand that parents want the best for their children, there's nothing that I wrote off faster than a mom or dad asking for a sponsorship on behalf of their junior or young rider. If you're old enough to write and you'd like a sponsorship, then you should be the one making the proposal. Hard work and determination are essential qualities in endorsers and mom's handwritten letter doesn't speak to that. I witnessed one special letter written by a tenacious elementary schooler who reached out to the founder of our company directly, and earned herself a sponsorship through charming determination.
Lastly, if you do find yourself lucky enough to land a sponsorship be sure to take the partnership seriously and hold up your end of the agreement to promote the brand. Don't be caught photographed wearing another company's products because you forgot to wash your logoed saddle pad before a big show, or post a photo on Facebook with your horse in a competing brand's turnout blanket that you've had since before your sponsorship began. Endorsement contracts are often reviewed annually, and partnerships that aren't mutually beneficial are dropped. Instead, build your reputation as a valuable endorser and you'll likely see your corporate opportunities increase.
Editor’s Note: Securing a sponsorship or receiving products for promotional purposes can impact your status as an amateur. Please consult the USEF rulebook prior to doing so.