The Ins and Outs of Being a Sponsored Rider

There is more to becoming a sponsored rider than you may think.

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An equestrian jumps a horse over a cross country fence
Photo by Rachel/Adobe Stock

As things continue to get more expensive, it’s no surprise that lots of riders have looked for creative ways to afford to keep doing what they love, whether that’s recreational trail or national competitions. Sponsorships can look appealing on the surface – I could get paid to show my own horse? Sounds too good to be true and that’s because, for the most part, it is. Here are the ins and outs of becoming a sponsored rider in the equestrian world (and what you really get you of it).

What is a Sponsorship?

If you grew up in the sports world, the world “sponsorship” may excite you. You think of million-dollar Nike deals being made with hard-working athletes just to wear their shoes during a game and talk them up online.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be paid to show your horse? Unfortunately, in the equine world, this type of sponsorship is definitely a unicorn – rare, hard to find, and even harder to get.

“Almost every sponsorship we’ve seen within our clients are product sponsorships,” shares Aaron Taylor, president and founder of NewStyle Digital, a marketing and advertising agency with many clients in the equestrian world, including both sponsored riders and companies with sponsors. “We really haven’t seen any monetary sponsorships, which even include globally-recognized riders. Because the equine world is so niche, most brands within the industry cannot necessarily afford to pay their athletes. However, they do offer product sponsorships that are very first-class.”

Most equestrian sponsorship deals are for product: you receive free product in exchange for using the items and talking the company up on your social media, in interviews and while competing.

While it might not sound complicated, sponsorships are not something you should go into lightly. After all, businesses are expecting something in return for the free product they have given you, no matter how low the price point.

Does Being a Sponsored Rider Affect Your Amateur Status?

Most organizations including the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), allow amateurs to be social media brand ambassadors or social media influencers who receive remuneration in the form of goods and even cash. However, it’s always best to double check the rules of every organization you plan on showing under, as rules change yearly.

If you find your organization does not allow amateurs to have sponsorships, then you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it to give up your status for a bit of money or free product.

“I think that no rider should lose amateur status over receiving free products from a company as a sponsorship,” shares Taylor. “I understand that when a rider is technically getting paid [in money] they should have to deal with this issue. As an example, college teams are sponsored by brands and they get free products, this doesn’t mean that they should all lose their amateur status. There are many influencers who are sponsored by brands that don’t even actively compete. Should they be considered professionals? My advice here would be to not lose amateur status over some free stuff, it really just isn’t worth it.”

On the flip side, if you find someone willing to foot your entire show bill, including lodging and transportation, you may decide it’s worth losing your amateur status within the organization you show under, if applicable. And while extremely rare, some people have luck asking family members, bosses or – in the case of youth – their parent’s bosses for sponsorships. Youth usually have better luck with this approach than adults, but you never know – your boss just might like the idea of sponsoring you on the weekends. In these cases, the companies are doing it more for the “giving back” aspect then getting something out of it, and are usually happy with logo placements on trailers and stalls.

Why Become a Sponsored Rider?

The first question you should ask yourself is why do you want to be a sponsored rider? If the answer is just to get free stuff, you may want to rethink your plan.

Think about what made you purchase your latest saddle pad or show shirt? Did you see it on Instagram or TikTok being used by your favorite equestrian? Brands have quickly adapted to the influence social media has on their customer’s buying habits.

“Many [sponsored] athletes receive custom products to their specifications, and at any time,” explains Taylor. “The good thing about this dynamic is that when you see a sought-after athlete wearing or using a specific product, they’re using that product because they like it, and not because they’re being paid to use it.”

This also means that businesses are looking for riders who can help them increase brand awareness and, ultimately, their sales. “Most companies and brands sponsor athletes that have leverage where they do not,” Taylor adds. “That leverage could be their social media following, their industry presence or their stats.”

Advice From the Professionals

Allegra Peardon, 19, is a sponsored rider who competes in jumpers with Fédération Equestre International (FEI), Fédération Française Equitation (FFE) and USEF. She has almost 35K followers on her TikTok account.

Sponsored rider Allegra Peardon
Photo courtesy Allegra Peardon

Peardon reached out to companies herself for sponsorships, but also had companies contact her.

“The goal was to make more connections in the horse world and get my name out there as well,” Peardon says about why she decided to get sponsors. “It’s always good to have a relationship with different types of businesses because it helps you get your name out as a rider while supporting brands that you believe in and stand behind.” Her current sponsors are Equisite Elements of Style and Purvida Healthy Horse,

Her advice to anyone thinking about going after sponsorships is to make sure you research the companies and pick ones where you genuinely like the product.

“My second piece of advice is that you shouldn’t look for sponsors just for benefits on your part,” she says. “A sponsorship works both ways. Being sponsored is great, but you also need to be committed and ready to establish a strong connection before anything happens. Once you find a company that you appreciate and would love to support, that’s where the magic happens.”

“I think the most helpful advice we can give a rider looking for sponsorships is the realistic expectation of what they’re going to get out of it,” says Taylor. “Essentially, you’ll be getting free products and maybe even featured on their website, social media accounts or advertisements. If you’re set on finding a sponsor, I think approaching brands that you personally love and use are where you should gravitate towards. More than likely, your sponsorship benefits will primarily include free products, and the last thing you would want to do is not like the product you’re getting.”

Next Steps to Becoming a Sponsored Rider

Still want to be a sponsored rider? Having some kind of social media following is helpful. Elizabeth Tinnan is a mounted archery competitor, trainer and clinician. She has 5.4k followers on Facebook. Being from a more niche sport, you may think there is not a lot opportunity for sponsorships, but she is currently sponsored by Steve’s Archery Leathercraft, Stonewall Saddle Company and Wild Montana Leathercrafting. All three of these are product sponsors.

“The sponsorships I have were obtained by reaching out to each company or through my testing, feedback and support for their products,” explains Tinnan.

Sponsored archery rider Elizabeth Tinnan
Photo by Scott Hodlmair

“Just like other non-equine sports, companies sponsor athletes who are winning, who are well-known or have a large audience that they would like to reach,” says Taylor. “As for social media followers, there is not an exact number of followers you would need to have on any particular channel. However, your following should be large enough (and also engaged enough) to display that you are someone with influence on their followers.”

And while you can go it alone, research companies and reach out to them on your own, you may decide that for your dreams, you need someone in your corner. That’s where a company like NewStyle Digital comes in. They help riders get sponsorships as well as help companies find riders to sponsor. They may be a good place to start if you are not sure if your profile is ready to take on sponsorships.

“We will typically review their physical and digital ‘resume’ and image to see what may need improvement,” shares Taylor. “From that point, we can provide services or suggestions to help them in their search for sponsorships.”

At the end of the ride, sponsorships can help an equestrian become more well-known, and of course give you some cool perks in the way of free products. But you have to prepared to think of it as job, with duties and time commitments that you need to follow through with or you will lose them. Coming at it from this perspective and not just “I want free stuff or a way to show my horse for free” will help ensure success for both rider and company.

This article about becoming a sponsored rider is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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