The Dressage Owners Task Force might sound like a the name of a covert operation, but the only thing clandestine about this group is their work behind the scenes to support dressage's biggest stars. The group comprised of passionate "high performance owners" provides the United States' best riders with the horses and financial backing to achieve international success. As elite as it sounds, you won't find any "members-only" mentality here, in fact the DOTF is making high profile equine ownership more attainable than ever.
Kim Boyer, chairman of the four-year-old organization states "We're doing it for the U.S. and to hopefully see us stay as competitive as we were at the last Olympics," an effort which she believes requires the support of an entire team of people.
(Members of the Dressage Owners Task Force. Photo by Nancy Jaffer courtesy of the USEF)
Boyer is one of many owners on the organization's board who promotes high performance horse ownership as one of the most exciting ways to experience dressage and to show support for our country's best riders.
"I think it definitely gives owners the opportunity to go to the top of the sport...Ultimately, people who own high performance horses are animal lovers, they love horses and they love the sport. They understand the commitment that having an equine athlete requires, not just passion but the financial commitment just as you would have with a human athlete. And they really sponsor two - not just the horse but the riders as well."
Boyer views the partnership as a symbiotic relationship in which the owner gets to enjoy the thrill of high profile competition, while the riders benefit from high quality horses and the financial freedom to go as far as their scores will take them.
Like many other owners on the DOTF, Boyer believes the landscape of competitive dressage is changing. No longer are the sport's top horses owned by the riders, or one very wealthy owner, but a team of owners who share the financial responsibility in the form of syndicate.
"We (The DOTF) suggest several different models for upper level horse ownership and the biggest one that we are trying to promote in the dressage world is syndications. Rafalca, the mare owned by the Romneys as well as a group of other people, was one of the earliest syndications in our sport and the model worked very well. Since that time there has been another high profile syndication put together for a horse that is currently with Adrienne Lyle."
"It's a new concept, but I think it's an important one in our sport. The really top horses, horses that are capable of scoring in the mid seventies and higher, they are going to require a very big commitment and bringing together a team of people to meet that commitment seems to make a lot of sense."
However, for those interested in becoming an owner of a professionally competed horse she says there are several options for entry with a widely ranging price tag. Some syndicates have as many as 10 owners making each individual responsible for only 1/10 of the horse's purchase price or care. This situation can make the acquisition of a "made horse" who is already in the upper echelon of dressage a more feasible buy, but Boyer also reminds us that purchasing a horse as young as a foal can be extremely economical while still eventually providing an international quality horse.
"Paying for a made horse that already has the big scores, and the big price tag, is a very high profile way of bringing a horse to the United States for team potential, but there are lots of other ways."
"If you look at a horse like Verdades, who is one of the top horses in the world and top horses on our team, this horse is a story where a mother bought her daughter a horse as a yearling from a video. So there you have an example of very entry level pricing of buying a foal and bringing it along. That is highly unusual and it is a wonderful story, and a lot of owners aren't going to do that because of how long you have to wait, but what that story illustrates is that you can get into this sport at any level whether it's through young horses or made horses."
Boyer goes on to explain that the DOTF is working on increasing interest in the organization and in high profile horse ownership by spreading the word about the ranging affordability of ownership models, and developing a fun, tight-knit group of fellow owners.
"We want to grow the community and we feel that by bringing owners together is the best way to do that. By letting them talk and share experiences, having them together at big shows, helping them to travel together, helps to grow their interest in the sport and their interest in bringing better horses to the country."
Currently, the DOTF supports these owners by making the ownership experience as pleasurable as possible.
"We've done some things through the Federation to give benefits or concierge services to owners who have horses representing the United States on various teams."
In addition, the DOTF will expand upon these services in 2017 with a slate of owners receptions and educational seminars planned for various locations across the country. These events will be open to all owners of competitive dressage horses, not just those competing at the highest levels.
They also hope to increase the number of educational opportunities to benefit both owners and riders by providing support for the horse-buying process.
"The young horse market is another one that we want to focus on. We want to spend time educating Americans on the young horse market and we're hoping to plan some trips to young horse auctions where owners could go together as a group. In this situation people can syndicate a young horse or even purchase one on their own and then put them with a good American rider. Again, the whole idea is to put together a community that is knowledgeable and passionate, and suggest the best way for them to channel their investment in competitive horses."
In fact, Boyer hopes the next owner or syndicate is plucking future Olympic equines from the pasture as we speak.
"As a task force our immediate goal is to have six or eight really top scoring young Grand Prix horses going into the next Olympics. So at the end of 2019 we are seeing that we have depth in our team, with top horses that will allow us to go in and medal again."
Spoken like a true competitor, Boyer's goals for the DOTF are ambitious, but achievable. More importantly, the organization's multi-tiered plan to improve the quality of dressage horses in the United States, provide a better platform for success to professional riders, and expand educational opportunities will undoubtedly strengthen the foundation of our sport all the way from the Olympic podium downward. To us it sounds like a winning combination.
For more information on the Dressage Owners Task Force visit www.experiencedressage.com