It’s easy to get wrapped up in the event horses who are the stars of the sport. But some additional stars hover at their shoulders, usually out of sight. Though they might be out of sight, they shouldn’t be out of mind since they, in so many ways, make eventing possible. Who’s that then? The event horse owners, of course. I connected with Annie Jones, owner of horses like Woodburn, The Foreman, and Connaught (all ridden by Phillip Dutton) to find out not only what life as an event horse owner is like, but to find out (for you!) how easy it is to become one. Fancy being an owner at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy? Tune in here.
Q. When did you first become and event horse owner?
I really backed into it. I was involved with horses all my life, mainly racing. My family has a polo team and we foxhunted. When I was growing up we were neighbors to Bruce Davidson. He went to the ’78 Championships in Kentucky and I followed it for a while. My children were in Pony Club and so doing three-phase things. In ’82 this unknown rider appeared literally at the bottom of the hill. I went over and had a lesson on a young horse I was trying to make into a fox hunter. He said “Why don’t you try a dressage test?”. We went around the dressage ring and he leapt up and said “Bloody Hell that was good!” That was Phillip [Dutton]; he had just arrived. No one had said bloody hell to me and I liked it.
That summer or spring he needed help to take a horse over to Europe to try out for World Championships at the Hague representing Australia. I sponsored the travel. That was for True Blue Girdwood. In exchange I was given part ownership of the horse. It went on from there.
That won’t happen to everybody. My point is that there is a lot of local talent knocking on the door and trying to get started. It’s feasible for people looking for action and fun and who have horses to become involved. Not everyone ends up with what turns out to be best rider in world, that was happenstance. The fun is the journey–Going along the road and helping someone who may have a one-horse stable get a second horse. Find a friend in neighborhood with whom you would like to go into partnership. It’s very feasible. You don’t have to travel internationally to make it fun. There are plenty of local events and wonderful organizers and volunteers. You can easily travel almost every weekend without having to drive more than 3 or 4 hours. With friends it’s all the more fun.
Q. Do you have a favorite horses whom you’ve owned?
I’m very lucky because Phillip has been able to spot very talented animals. I credit Phillip with the ability to train and bring them on. My favorite horse was Cayman Went by the sire Easy Goer. He was the one who took me to Badminton. He was the youngest horse at Badminton and went clear. He had back issues so now he’s my fox hunter! Phillip cringes every time I bring it up!
Then The Foreman. I’m very partial to American Thoroughbreds. I don’t believe you have to travel around the world to buy a good horse.
The rest have their own tale. Recently it’s become more of a business and we haven’t had as much time to make the horses. We bought Tru Luck after he’d done a 2-star at Radnor. We bought him from a student who had gone to Texas and turned him out in pasture for two years. Woodburn had been produced through Prelim and maybe one Intermediate. They were already established. I try to keep a maximum of three at advanced and young one coming on. Purely from a financial point of view it’s more feasible. Those are my top horses at the moment: The Foreman, Woodburn and Tru Luck.
Q. What do you like about eventing? Why not stay in polo or racing?
It’s the ultimate test, really, to have to do all three phases. What I like is the synergy between horse and rider. It’s unique in that there must be complete trust. That’s where Phillip is so brilliant; he doesn’t ride any two horses the same way. That’s the magic. In addition to that it’s because I’m older and my friends are beginning to retire and rest on their laurels. It’s fun to be with younger people who have a future and energy and ambition. It’s great for me to have friends of another generation.
Q. Where have you traveled with your event horses?
France, England, The Hague, Rio, and Canada. Everywhere in this country except the west coast. We haven’t gotten there yet. Since I’m on my own I always rent a car; I love to explore. When I went to France I spent the morning driving around looking at farms and exploring villages. I love doing that, it’s a lot of fun. I’m very much at home in England because for years I would go foxhunting there and I have friends in the racing industry and hunting worlds. Going to England is always great for catching up with people. It’s especially nice to travel with a purpose. I’m not one for going on tours. It gives you a real reason to be someplace and to be part of it. Then you can make all kinds of things happen around it.
Q. Do you have a favorite competition?
A. Each one has own character. Badminton and Burghley are my favorites and I’m lucky enough to have had several horses run at each place. The hospitality is great. They treat owners properly! When you go to England you passes to everything, they practically put out the red carpet. So they’re my favorite because of the way they treat owners, the courses being fantastic, having all the best riders in the world, and my friends being there too.
Q. What’s the life like of an owner? How much do you see your horses? How are you involved?
A. I’m in a unique position and Phillip is very tolerant of me. I love to be involved. As a result I do ride almost all the horses. I don’t ride Woodburn because he’s pretty temperamental. The others I walk, trot, canter and gallop. Phillip does all the dressage and jumping. He lives about 6 miles from me. It’s very easy for me to run over there and get on a couple. We go to South Carolina in the winter. I’ve been going to Aiken for years first with racehorse and then with polo and now with eventing. Our winter base is there. It’s great. Especially now that my husband died two year ago. I’m lucky to have reason to get up and out in the mornings and do something exciting and fun.
Q. How does event horse ownership work?
A. Each case is unique. Now we’re trying to put together proper syndicates. It’s a great idea. There are forms on the web site and some sample forms you can actually use if you want to form a syndication. Mine is based on long-term friendship and mutual trust. If something comes along or we’re in danger of losing a horse we talk it over and work it out. For someone starting out and supporting a young rider means you might want to put things on paper. Financially it’s important. When we started out the cost of running the operation-Phillip had one horse and one saddle and no help-wasn’t really a big deal. Now he’s riding 12 horses and maybe 8 of them at a weekend event. It’s become a much different operation. Just buying horse isn’t whole thing; it’s the cost of event fees and stabling and vet fees which were minimal 17 years ago. It cost $75 to enter an event. It’s quite a different things now. Even at the lower levels syndication is a good idea to help share cost.
Q. How can we get involved with event horse ownership?
A. Look at the Event Owners website. The other thing is you can keep an eye on local events to see who’s successful and dedicated. Dedication and work ethic are the most critical things to back a rider in it for the long term. And you want to go for long ride. Watch young riders and talk to them. Ideally it would be better if you could find someone in the area so you can have the pleasure of watching your horses school and attend events. If you do become involved with a rider and the rider has other owners that’s another aspect. There is a real camaraderie between all the people who have supported Phillip over the years. I went to hong kong even though I didn’t have horse of my own running and that was so much fun.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
Go out and enjoy the sport. Local events are so well run and fun. They really do make it fun for everybody who comes. Go with that spirit and have a very good time. Sharing that is really important.
If you want to learn more about event horse ownership, syndication, or which horses and riders are looking to invite new owners (including your fave riders like Boyd Martin, Amy Tryon, and Gina Miles) check the Event Owners Task Force site. And we’ll see you in Normandy!