Samantha Clark embarks upon a series discussing the future of U.S. eventing. She kicks things off today with an interview with Sinead Halpin, who is fresh off a second place finish at Burghley.
This is the first part of a series to discuss the future of US Eventing, which perhaps surprisingly, actually looks rather bright; many thanks of course to everyone for their time and generosity in contributing. Once again, I’m touched by the wonderful camaraderie in our sport, the hope and determination that prevail, and I feel positively buoyant after my conversations with everyone who talked to me for this piece. America’s young riders are smart and talented and have plans; and there are smart, talented people behind the scenes who care enough to try and help them execute them. As Sinead Halpin’s dad Eamon told me at Burghley, if corporate America could bottle the essence of eventing there would be no such thing as recession or unemployment!
Despite being last year’s USEF National Champion and completing Burghley, Sinead was not on the 2012 London Olympic team, but instead finished second at Burghley CCI**** this September, in between Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt, cementing her reputation as one of the brightest hopes for US Eventing’s future. We chatted about that show-jumping round at Burghley, “I’m much more comfortable in the show-jumping arena because of the work that we put in down in Florida this winter with Lauren, and I think that made it an easier pill to swallow when we were done because I felt that if you don’t put the work and the time in, and you go in crossing your fingers, you’re always leaving yourself doubting, wondering could I have done more? I felt like Tate and I have been very strong in the show jumping all season, and he jumped a great round. I felt confident that I’d done enough work to jump a great round with him, and he was just a bit tired. We’ll figure it out.”
“I’m so excited – it’s funny because David is almost like a dad to me, he’s been in my life since I was about 18 years old and we have a wonderful relationship. You always want to make that person proud and do a good job, and all of the American riders, we’re expecting a lot from David, but he’s expecting a lot from us and I think that it’s very important that we show up with our game faces on and our businesses working and horses showing and competing, because he’s got to have something to work with. I’m so excited going forward, I’m excited with the horses we have, and hopefully some new horses will come this way, that’s something you’re always working on, but I want to show up ready to work, and with horses that I can capitalise and use David and be there for the Team. I think it’s important that all of us look within and figure out the best way to show up to the party; we’re putting a lot of faith in David, I think it’s well warranted, I think he’s going to do a wonderful job. I’ve seen a lot of his thought processes written down on paper moving forward, and a lot of it is to do with us getting real honest, getting back to the basics and looking in – not blaming anybody but figuring out a way to really ‘fess up, and a lot of that comes with horse power, experience, making the supporters, sponsors and owners have a really positive and enjoyable time and come together – it takes a village to get medals won, and so we need to do a better job of bringing the community together. I’m really excited for the way David’s looking at the big picture.”
As part of this community, Sinead believes anyone and everyone can help,
“Get involved! People are on the internet all day long! You can onto the Experience Eventing website and there are so many people that are behind the scenes on that website, communicating and reaching out. I have a wonderful lady who is a client and a friend, and she doesn’t want to be involved in syndication, she doesn’t want to be an owner, but she has become so involved in helping me run better business practices, and there are so may different ways to get involved and help. I just feel there are a lot of jobs – we need help sometimes and it’s not always financial. You get so busy doing a hundred million different things it’s just nice to have someone lend an ear, or lend a hand. Now is the time to put forth ideas for change and ideas for whatever you think is going to help the sport and there are so many people to get in touch with and to talk to that if you really feel like there’s something you can do to help, or an idea that you have, and again, it doesn’t have to be financial, there are so many ways to grow the sport, and so many different things to be doing, just reaching out and getting involved will help.”
Sinead and I discussed whether the remarkable performances that she and Allison put up at Burghley were in any way due to a summer spent concentrating on just one horse each, on not having to ride so many, teach long hours, travel long distances to clinic and competitions, on basically a summer spent not earning a living at home,
“I don’t think it’s necessary that you spend two months preparing for a competition with one horse and that’s the only way you’re going to get focused! I do think we need to utilise this ‘village’ of people – everybody should help everybody. When riders are at competitions they are athletes and should be able to focus on riding, and just riding their horses. Event riders as a whole are such jack of all trades and masters of none because we spread ourselves so thin, and that’s why we should turn to our grooms and business managers more. I think reaching out and communicating and really using the community to help makes everyones’ lives a little easier so that everyone can focus on the job that they’re really meant to be doing. In England it was super just being able to focus on Tate for that week leading up to Burghley but it was hell for the whole summer, it actually made everything a lot more difficult because you could easily just over-analyse and over-stress and over-everything! The week leading up to the event it was great because you could hone in and focus but that’s again where the teamwork helped because we all focused on each other. Previous to that, I didn’t feel like a lot of conversations were open – everyone was just working so hard to get on the team that you couldn’t have open, honest dialague and it didn’t feel like a team because it felt like there were closed doors everywhere, whereas moving towards Burghley all that was gone and it just felt like everything was open, every conversation was open and it felt like a team effort.”
Sinead’s father was at Burghley and I chatted to him for a little while after the prize-giving, and asked him, among other things, what his favourite part of the weekend had been,
“This summer he saw the raw heart of the sport, and decided he wanted to be a part of it, it’s been fun having him around” – Sinead
After a summer of discontent, a protective Eamon has decided to become hands-on involved in the horse business, and has invested his daughter’s neglected college fund in a very nice 7 year old gelding, once again sourced by Uptown Eventing’s Rachel Wakefield (fingers crossed it’s a lucky omen, as it was Rachel who sent Sinead to see Tate).
“We’ll keep him for a year and then we’ll make a plan because I think if he’s going to be a great horse then we’ll try and maybe move in the syndicate direction, and if it looks like he may just be a two star horse or something like that, then we’ll sell him on; so my dad came on board for that which was exciting and unexpected. The horse needs a little more time so I made a mental promise to myself that I wouldn’t compete him until Florida; he could probably go out and do the job now, he’s very genuine and very straight but he just needs a little more time so I think we’ll just to get to know him during the Fall and that way he can come out with a fair chance of getting to know me and vice versa.”
Kristin Michaloski, a handbag designer for Coach, snapped up half of On Cue by buying five of the ten shares in syndication, which means that there are still shares available, and I asked Sinead why Kristin didn’t just go ahead and buy all of her?
“Independently owning a horse can be overwhelming, and not just the purchase price because that’s the cheapest part, but I think it’s the monthly expenses that can get a bit exhausting. When you go into syndication you can budget for what it is, and that doesn’t change. You can do it whereby you pay monthly or pay every six months or a lump sum every year, and you can arrange it so it’s a tax write off, so anyone who’s in a ‘real business’ can budget into their year exactly what it’s going to cost to be part owner of a horse and that doesn’t change. I think that from working with past owners and clients that the main thing was that they would get these bills that they hadn’t counted on at the end of each month that might have been a random vet bill or shipping to a horse trials or something like that, but the way that the syndication works is that everything is budgeted into a one-time budget and if anything goes above that, then for me, it would fall back on me. When Kristin came on she really wanted to be significantly involved but it was a really big relief to be able to split the difference with five other people. Kristin actually owns a horse with Doug Payne and keeps one of her horses over there – it’s great for her because she’s friends with all of us and it gives her more of a chance; just like as a rider, like a broken record I know we keep on saying we need a team of horses in your barn just so you get the experience and you get the chances, it’s the same for the owners – they invest a lot of time and money and love, so to be able to spread it out and be able to be a part of a couple of different syndicates for a few different riders really increases their chance to get to some of these bigger competitions which I think is a really great way of growing the sport and giving back to the owners in that way.”
Sinead had been looking for another horse with Kristin as an owner in mind for quite some time, “It would be nice for Tate to have another horse or two in the barn to take some of the pressure off him.” and she explained what had attracted her to Cue, and why she thinks she has the potential to go all the way.
“There’s nothing limiting her – obviously you don’t know until you keep going up the grades but she’s very special and from what I can see right now she’s got a really cool brain; she’s workable and she likes the job. She’s got tons of expression, she’s very curious and interested in things without carrying any tension with that, which I think is a really good trait; I like horses that are always looking and a little bit spooky but it’s just when you associate that with tension and they’re nervous that that can be a bad thing, but she’s just very curious. She’s a lovely mover without being overly extravagant whereas a lot of times the ones that are just such big punchers are hard to keep sound. She’s a super jumper, she’s light and athletic through the air, she’s got a really easy gallop, so right now I don’t see anything that’s going to hold her back, she just has all of these nice things about her that really suit her for the modern sport.”
Sinead’s short-term plans include trying to complete the syndication package for On Cue (watch the video and tell me you don’t want a piece of her, click on the Experience Eventing link and now tell me you’re not surprised at how reasonable the package is!) as well as picking up her thriving business teaching, giving clinics and of course, riding. Tate, meanwhile, oblivious to it all, is happily enjoying a holiday in the field! My thanks again to Sinead for her time, Go Team SHE and Go Eventing!
Look out for Part 2 in the Series next week. Thank you for reading.